Texas Rangers Bullpen Outlook: “The Locks”

Sep 14, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers relief pitcher Keone Kela (50) pitches against the Houston Astros during the eighth inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Kela gets the win. The Rangers defeat the Astros 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 14, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers relief pitcher Keone Kela (50) pitches against the Houston Astros during the eighth inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Kela gets the win. The Rangers defeat the Astros 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

After transforming from liability into team strength, The Rangers bullpen will look to have a winning composition straight out of Spring Training.

After starting the 2015 season as a bona fide mess. The Texas Rangers bullpen, through trade deadline acquisitions of power arms Sam Dyson, and Jake Diekman, plus the emergence of Shawn Tolleson and Keone Kela as closer and power set-up man, transformed into a well oiled machine in the latter stanzas of the season.

After ranking 27th, 28th, and 27th for bullpen ERA in May, June, and July, the Rangers bullpen rebounded in impressive fashion. Posting the 13th best bullpen ERA in August and then finishing 1st in all MLB for September.  Now, with the report date for pitchers and catchers less than two weeks away, the Rangers will look to construct a bullpen that can dominate the way they did in September straight out of the gate this season.

Going into Spring Training, there are three distinct categories that the Texas Rangers bullpen hopefuls fall into. The “Locks”, the “Spring Training Gladiators”, and the “Long-shots”. In this three part series, we will take a look at each category individually, starting with the “Locks”, and give a prediction for who will be in the bullpen come Opening Day.

One thing to note before continuing. For the purpose of this series, I have left out several pitchers such as Nick Martinez, Anthony Raunado, Nick Tepesch, Cesar Ramos, Chi Chi Gonzalez, and A.J. Griffin. All of whom could factor into the bullpen situation, because they will come into spring training first competing for a spot in the back end of the rotation.

Now then, on to the first group of Rangers bullpen hopefuls.

The “Locks”

These are the pitchers who, for various reasons, are almost assured of a spot within the Rangers bullpen coming out of Spring Training. However, injuries are an unfortunate reality of spring training, which is the main reason one of these guys wouldn’t be in the bullpen come Opening Day.

Shawn Tolleson

After seizing the vacant closer job on May 20th of last season in Boston, Tolleson never let go en route to posting 35 saves in 37 chances. Ultimately capturing Ranger’s pitcher of the year honors, and a 10th place Cy Young finish. Though not as overpowering as many closers around the league, Tolleson still managed to strike out more than a batter per inning (9.5 K/9). He also showed the necessary “ice in the veins” composure of a closer. When runners would get on base he could bear down and get the job done. Going into 2016 the title of closer is Tolleson’s to lose. While Tolleson will get the first crack at sealing games in 2016, the Rangers have several other arms capable of seizing the role if Tolleson falters.

Keone Kela

One man capable of taking on the closer role at some point in the future, is Keone Kela. After putting up an outstanding rookie season, especially in the second half of 2015, Keone comes into training camp as a prime candidate for a set up role ahead of Tolleson. After posting a respectable 3.11 ERA with an 8.84 K/9 rate prior to the all-star break in 2015. Kela, following the all-star break, and a short rest stint with AA Frisco in early August, really turned it on late. Posting a 1.19 ERA and 12.31 K/9 rate in the second half. At only 22 years old, and possessing a dominating high 90’s fastball supported by average to plus off-speed offerings. Kela figures to be an electric figure in the back end of the Rangers bullpen in 2016, and for years to come.

Sam Dyson

The acquisition of Sam Dyson from the Marlins prior to the trade deadline in 2015 hardly merited even a brief afterthought at the time it happened. As all of us in Rangers’s nation, and the national media, were still swimming in the after glow of the Cole Hamels sweepstakes. But, as it turns out, the Rangers seemingly robbed the Marlins blind, and I would argue, made the best value pickup of the 2015 trading season in Dyson. In exchange for five and a half seasons of Dyson’s service the Rangers gave up two middling prospects, a deal which Miami is almost certainly already wishing it had a mulligan on.

Dyson managed a 3.68 ERA with a 1.32 WHIP, and .247 BAA against while pitching 44 innings for Miami 2015. All good, if unspectacular numbers. However, after bringing his bowling ball like power sinker to the Rangers pen, Dyson posted an outstanding 1.15 ERA, with a .894 WHIP, and .212 BAA the rest of the way. As a result Dyson is poised to enter 2016 and beyond as one of the key set-up men for closer Shawn Tolleson.

Texas Rangers
Texas Rangers /

Texas Rangers

Jake Diekman

Initially thought of as the “thrown in”, afterthought component of the Cole Hamels deal, by many Rangers fans, myself included. Diekman proved himself capable of being much more in the start to his tenure with the Rangers in 2015. Diekman has always possessed the ability to miss bats with a powerful high 90’s fastball from the left side, but control has been a key factor in the inability for Diekman to post anything more than middling numbers in any season save 2013.

Prior to being traded to the Rangers, Diekman was in the midst of a campaign that had seen him post a 5.15 ERA to go along with a rather unsightly 1.75 WHIP and 5.9 BB/9 rate. Part of that may be attributable to the abysmal situation in Philadelphia. After being acquired by the Rangers, Diekman was able to show more control, albeit at the expense of fewer strikeouts. This seems to be a good tradeoff for both Diekman and the Rangers, as he was was able to usher up a 2.08 ERA to go along with a much better .923 WHIP and 2.9 BB/9 rate with the Rangers. Diekman will head into spring training as the likely candidate to serve as the Rangers primary left-handed reliever and set-up man.

Tom Wilhelmsen

The acquisition of Tom Wilhelmsen from the Mariners in the Leonys Martin trade, has been one of the few moves made by the Rangers in a rather quiet off-season. Wilhelmsen brings experience, a closer’s pedigree, and another power arm, to a Rangers’ bullpen that is suddenly rich in power arms.

Last season with the Mariners, Wilhelmsen compiled a 3.19 ERA over 62 innings while also posting 13 saves in 15 opportunities. Wilhelmsen was acquired for a set-up or middle relief type of role in the pen, but his closing experience likely makes him the first backup plan in case Tolleson can’t repeat his outstanding performance as closer.

Looking Ahead

This group of five Texas Rangers relievers comprise the “Locks”, who, barring injury, will have five of the seven or eight bullpen slots locked down for Opening Day. This leaves 2-3 slots to be fought for among the other two groups. Next, we will examine the “Spring Training Gladiators”. These are the candidates who will come into spring training positioned as favorites to win those remaining spots, but, they will have to fight it out on the diamond in Surprise.

Let me know what you guys think about the Rangers’ pen in the comments below. Do you think any of the aforementioned players are not “Locks” in 2016? Do you think there are other players on the roster who are? Do the Rangers have what it takes to put forward a top 5 pen in 2016?

More from Nolan Writin'