Going into spring training, the Texas Rangers will look to piece together a dominant ‘pen from a multitude of quality pieces.
After examining the “locks” to the 2016 Texas Rangers bullpen in part one of this series. It is now time to examine the second grouping of bullpen candidates. These are the pitchers who will engage in a spring training dogfight under the Arizona sun, in an effort to lay claim to one of what will likely be 2-3 remaining bullpen spots. In reference to the fight these players will find themselves engaged in while trying to net a major league job, I’ll call them the “Spring Training Gladiators”.
The arms who fall in the Spring Training Gladiator group, find themselves so positioned for a variety of different reasons. From a former bullpen stalwart trying to reclaim former success in Tanner Scheppers, to an international signing trying to transition closing success in Japan, to a job in the Texas Rangers bullpen, in Tony Barnette.
Once again, it should be noted that I have left out several pitchers who could factor into the Texas Rangers bullpen situation, because they will come into spring training first competing for a back-end rotation slot. These pitchers include, Nick Tepesch, Nick Martinez, A.J. Griffin, Cesar Ramos, Chi Chi Gonzalez, and Anthony Raunado.
The Texas Rangers have a checkered history of trying to transform strong bullpen arms into starters. The primary success story stemming from this tendency is C.J. Wilson. However, over the last few seasons such experiments have turned out rather sour for the Rangers, with Neftali Feliz, Alexi Ogando, and Tanner Scheppers all suffering from injury, under-performance, or both when attempting the transition.
After emerging to become the Rangers primary right-handed set-up man in 2013 by posting a 1.88 ERA across 76 appearances. The Rangers decided to try to transition Tanner and his power arm into a starter role in 2014. A fateful decision as it would turn out, as Tanner managed only four starts and an even 9.00 ERA, over the course of a rather forgettable injury marred campaign for both Tanner and the Rangers organization as a whole.
Wisely, the Rangers decided that Tanner’s role was in the bullpen and sent him back there for the 2015 campaign. Unfortunately, it seems the damage has already been done as he once again continued to struggle with health in 2015. When he was on the field, he was a pale shadow of his 2013 self, managing only a 5.63 ERA while also struggling with control (5.4 BB/9) and ultimately being relegated to a minor role out of the bullpen.
Heading into 2016, Tanner will look to regain his 2013 form in order to lock down a job, and regain his former role of responsibility in the Rangers’ bullpen.
After being drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2006, and playing four seasons in their minor league system. Barnette elected to take his talents to Japan. After some initial struggles in Japan, Barnette established himself as a reliable reliever, and ultimately as Japan’s premier closer this past season by posting 41 saves and a 1.29 ERA.
As a result of his success in Japan, the Rangers elected to take a chance on Barnette, and gave him a two year contract in December. Barnette’s case is an interesting one, transitioning success from a foreign professional league to MLB is a hit or miss proposition. Barnette does have his previous experience with the minor leagues of Arizona, so it will be interesting to see what he brings to the table.
Looking ahead to spring training Barnette is one of the players I am very interested to see. With a general haziness surrounding the quality of his stuff, and the mystery of how his game will transition to the MLB environment, Barnette seems to enter the spring as a wild card.
Sam Freeman ultimately ended up in the role of 2nd lefty for the Rangers in 2015. He was used much more as a match-up specialist, rather than a full inning guy, especially late in the season. Ending up with 54 appearances, but only 38 1/3 innings pitched. Sam proved himself quite capable in the limited role he ended up in, compiling a 3.05 ERA and striking out more than a batter per inning (9.4 K/9). Control was a bit of an issue at times, as he ended up with a 5.9 BB/9 rate, but he was generally able to overcome this issue and remain effective.
Entering spring training, Sam will be battling to accompany Jake Diekman as a 2nd lefty in the ‘pen. Sam will be the beneficiary of his position as one of few candidates competing for that 2nd lefty specialist role, but he will still need to put up a solid spring, or else find himself on the outside looking in come opening day.
Formerly a starter in the Rangers’ minor league system, Luke Jackson made the transition to the bullpen this past season due to continued struggles as a starter at AAA Round Rock. The transition seems to be a positive one for the 2010 first round pick, as his electric stuff plays up in short stints out of the bullpen. Only time will tell if the transition is permanent, or if Jackson still has a future as a starter.
A September call-up from Round Rock in 2015, Jackson flashed potential in a limited role during the final month of the season. Across 7 appearances and 6 1/3 innings pitched at the major league level, Jackson was able to put up a 4.26 ERA to go along with a .200 BAA and 1.11 WHIP.
As a result of the potential he showed at the end of the last season, and the power arm he possess, Jackson will come into spring training competing to lock-up one of the limited bullpen roles available. As a result of his inexperience, ability to be optioned, and still being viewed below the likes of Tanner Scheppers, and Tony Barnette on the depth chart, Jackson will have to put up an outstanding spring to leap frog his way into a bullpen role to start the year.
Another September call-up in 2015, Andrew Faulkner served as a 3rd left-hander down the stretch. In his limited service with the Rangers in 2015, Faulkner was solid with a 2.79 ERA across 11 appearances. An on again, off again starter in the minors, Faulkner’s future role is unclear, though my guess is he ultimately ends up as a full time reliever.
Heading into spring training, Faulkner will likely serve as the primary competition to fellow left-hander Sam Freeman in the battle for a 2nd lefty slot in the opening day bullpen. Once again, his inexperience, and option-ability will place him at a disadvantage to start the spring.
The Big Picture
When pitchers and catchers report to Surprise, Arizona on February 18th, these five pitchers will begin a battle to snap up the spots left by the “locks” in the bullpen. With only 2-3 spots likely available, some capable arms will be left on the outside looking in come opening day, and be relegated to serve as depth, or have their ties with the team severed completely.
While the pitchers highlighted in this section of the bullpen outlook, will be the primary candidates to fill the remaining spots in the bullpen, the “Longshots” that we will look at in part three, will be coming into camp trying to force their way into the bullpen discussion, and make themselves that unexpected opening day roster member that seemingly comes out of every spring training.
Which of these pitchers do you think will make the opening day bullpen roster? What are your predictions for what the opening day bullpen will look like? Please feel free to express your thoughts on the Rangers bullpen in the comments below.