As I was expecting (and hoping for), the Rangers’ 5th starter is apparently down to two names: rookie RHP Nick Tepesch and LHP Michael Kirkman.
The idea is, if Tepesch wins the job, Kirkman will go to the bullpen and join Robbie Ross as the 2nd left-hander; should Kirkman take it, Tepesch would subsequently be sent down to AAA to join Justin Grimm and Randy Wells (and presumably Martin Perez once he’s healthy), and the Rangers would carry either Joe Ortiz or Nate Robertson as the 2nd lefty in the ‘pen.
If for no other reason than as a reference point, here are how the pitchers break down in their most recent seasons starting in the Minors:
Tepesch (2012) —
- Single-A Myrtle Beach: 71.2 IP / 2.89 ERA / 7.41 K’s per 9 IP / 2.26 BB’s per 9 IP
- Double-A Frisco: 90.1 IP / 4.28 ERA / 6.77 K’s per 9 IP / 2.59 BB’s per 9 IP
Kirkman (2010) —
- Triple-A Round Rock: 131.0 IP / 3.02 ERA / 8.93 K’s per 9 IP / 4.67 BB’s per 9 IP
As you can probably tell, Tepesch presents the safer, less volatile option in comparison to Michael Kirkman, mainly with respect to their strikeout and walk rates. Tepesch walks far fewer, but doesn’t possess the strikeout potential. According to the data, Kirkman has the better stuff, but gives quite a bit to Nick Tepesch in the command department — which is typically what separates starting pitchers from relief pitchers.
Kirkman has had a near-flawless spring thus far, allowing 3 hits in 9 scoreless innings, with a K:BB ratio of 8:0, which is excellent. The questions with him have always revolved around his command of the strike zone, which has been suspect — at best — even going back to his days at High-A Bakersfield. If he somehow figured “it” out, which happens with a certain percentage of pitchers his age, then we’re looking at a sleeper with the potential to be much better than a typical #5, as he possesses a true wipeout slider to go with a plus fastball. He has the ceiling to generate above- replacement-level production in wake of Colby Lewis‘s return, which is something I’m not as confident saying vis a vis his competitor, Nick Tepesch.
I don’t read much into spring training results, but I did see that Tepesch got plastered last night against the Rockies, which is sort of a microcosm of how I’d expect him to perform in the big leagues right now. Yes, he could reel off a nice start here and there, but due to his lack of put-away secondary pitches, he’s bound to throw up clunkers, too. My expectation for him this year is reminiscent of how Justin Grimm performed in limited 2012 action.
Regardless who claims the 5th spot, we know the commitment will be transient. Colby Lewis is on track to return in mid-May, which will signal either (a) Tepesch being optioned to Triple-A or (b) Kirkman being moved from the rotation back to the bullpen.
Part of me wants to see how Tepesch handles a Major League lineup, but the more rational side understands that the games in April and May actually mean something, and that Kirkman probably provides the better chance of winning baseball games.