The competition for spots in the Rangers bullpen figures to be intense. Some of the long-shot candidates will look to climb the ladder, and force their way in with outstanding springs.
After looking at the leading candidates for roles in the 2016 Texas Rangers bullpen we will now take a look at a few of the pitchers who will enter the spring as long-shots to net an opening day roster spot. Through sheer will and outstanding spring performance they will try to force their way into the thick of the bullpen battle.
Within this article I will highlight both pitchers already on the 40-man roster, and a couple of the non-roster invitees who come into camp as the dark horses, and long-shots to force their way on to the opening day roster.
Just as in previous iterations in this series, I have left off several pitchers who could factor into the bullpen situation, because they will report to Surprise first battling for a back-end rotation spot. These pitchers include, Nick Tepesch, Nick Martinez, A.J. Griffin, Cesar Ramos, Chi Chi Gonzalez, and Anthony Raunado.
Soft-tossing lefty Alex Claudio pitched in 18 games for the Rangers in 2015 and acquitted himself well in the process. Compiling a 2.87 ERA over 15 2/3 innings. The flaw that Claudio demonstrated was a tendency to give up the long ball, allowing 4 home-runs over his limited innings.
Claudio faces some serious hurdles in his quest to be in the Rangers opening day bullpen. For one, the fact that he is a soft thrower with a fastball in the mid-80’s , and thus must rely on control, movement, and deception. MLB clubs love power arms in the bullpen giving Claudio an immediate hill to climb. The other factor working against Claudio, is that he now finds himself somewhere around 4th on the left-handed reliever depth chart, behind Jake Diekman, Sam Freeman, and Andrew Faulkner.
Chances are that barring a combination of an outstanding spring by Claudio, paired with injury, and/or poor performance by those higher on the depth chart totem pole, Claudio will find himself serving as depth in the minor leagues.
A former 30th round draft selection, Phil Klein emerged from the shadows of anonymity attached to his late draft position, and forced his way onto the Rangers radar in 2014. By putting up an absolutely ridiculous 0.52 ERA and .132 BAA against Klein earned himself a 2014 call-up and acquitted himself quite well in his first big-league exposure (2.84 ERA in 17 games). 2015 however, was not nearly so kind to Klein. While he had his moments at the big league level in 2015, his 6.75 ERA and .303 BAA against certainly did him no favors as far as earning him a prominent role in the bullpen going forward.
Klein also found himself marked for a transition in roles from reliever to starter in 2015. He ended up making two fill starts for the Rangers in 2015, the first of which was solid, and the second of which was a disaster in Cleveland. As a result of his transition in roles and inconsistencies in performance, Klein found himself on the option bus between Round Rock and Arlington several times over the course of 2015. Going forward, it’s hard to tell whether the starter title will stick or if going back to relieving full time is the better option.
As a result of his position on the depth chart, his 2015 performance, and the uncertainty of his role it is unlikely that Klein will break camp with the Rangers going into 2016. The more likely outcome is that Klein will find himself serving as starting or relief depth at AAA Round Rock to start the season.
A veteran of 8 minor league seasons, all spent in the Rangers’ system, right-hander Francisco Mendoza will try to parlay his non-roster invite into a place in the Rangers plans. Across his 236 career minor league appearances, which have come almost exclusively in relief, Mendoza has compiled an even 3.00 ERA across more than 350 total innings. Featuring as low to mid 90’s fastball and a slider as his two best pitches, Mendoza has had occasional problems with control and also has shown falling strikeout rates over recent seasons.
While his chances of making the Rangers’ opening day roster are virtually zero, Mendoza can certainly position himself to be one of the top depth options for the Rangers out of Round Rock to start the season. My guess is that Mendoza will start the season in the Round Rock bullpen, and if he puts up numbers generally consistent with his career, then he will make his debut with the Rangers at some point in 2016.
A converted catcher and 11th round selection out of college in 2014, Scott Williams showed enough potential in his second season in 2015 to earn an invite to major league spring training. Playing with Hickory in 2015, Williams posted an impressive 2.28 ERA and sub 1.00 WHIP across 43 1/3 innings. Impressive enough numbers to catch the eye of the Rangers. Showcasing a mid-90’s fastball with late movement and a developing slider, Williams has shown an ability to miss bats (10.2 K/9 rate in 2015), while also cutting down on free passes from 8.5 BB/9 in 2014 to 3.1 BB/9 in 2015.
Taking into account the strength and depth of the Rangers bullpen situation, plus the fact that Williams has yet to play above the A level, the reality is Williams has no chance at making the major league bullpen. The Rangers just want to get a look-see at what Williams can do, and see if he is a potential fast track candidate for the future. Therefore, what Williams does have is an opportunity to cement himself as someone to keep an eye on in upcoming seasons, and put himself on the path to a major league job in the future.
So, Who is in?
Now that we have taken a look at the candidates for the Ranger’s bullpen in 2016, from the “locks” right on down through the longshots. The question becomes, who will the 7-8 pitchers who find themselves in the bullpen in Arlington come April 4th be? Health is always a big conundrum in spring training, but in the unlikely event everyone in contention for the bullpen stays healthy all the way through, my best guess in regards to the bullpen composition come opening day is as follows. Shawn Tolleson, Sam Dyson, Jake Diekman, Tom Wilhelmsen, Keone Kela, Tony Barnette, Sam Freeman, and then a long man, given as a consolation prize for one of the losers from the starters competition (my guess is either Nick Tepesch or Nick Martinez).
Regardless of how it ends up, the Texas Rangers bullpen battle should be a fun one to watch this spring. For the first time in some years it looks as though the Rangers have the components of a potential top 3-5 bullpen.
So, who do you think will make the Ranger’s opening day bullpen? Do you agree or disagree with any of the assessments? feel free to express your thoughts on the Rangers’ bullpen in the comments below.