Texas Rangers 2017 Positional Breakdown: The Bullpen

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Jul 20, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Texas Rangers relief pitcher Tanner Scheppers (52) delivers a pitch during the ninth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. The Rockies won 8-7. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 20, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Texas Rangers relief pitcher Tanner Scheppers (52) delivers a pitch during the ninth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. The Rockies won 8-7. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports /
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If the bullpen can build off a shutdown September the Texas Rangers could bolster one of the best in the division. Could we see some closer controversy heading into Spring Training?

The Texas Rangers bullpen struggled early on in 2016. Shawn Tolleson started the season as the closer. After blowing four saves in 15 opportunities he was relived of his duties. Keone Kela struggled with injuries throughout the year putting up a 6.09 ERA. Tom Wilhelmsen was brought in via trade before the 2016 season. He ended up being a total disaster, putting up a 10.55 ERA before being outright released.

April through July the bullpen posted the 3rd-worst ERA in baseball – 4.78. Despite the early struggles, the bullpen turned it on for the final stretch of the season. Their 3.15 ERA in September was 10th best in league.

A consistent showing from the bullpen mixed with a healthy rotation could spell trouble for other American League teams. With only a couple of spots in the bullpen safely secured, there are a few pitchers to look out for in Spring Training.

Projected Bullpen

LHP Alex Claudio
LHP Dario Alvarez
RHP Tony Barnette
RHP Keone Kela
SU Jeremy Jeffress
SU Sam Dyson
CL Matt Bush

Alex Claudio had a fantastic 2016 season. Posting a 2.78 ERA and a 2.12 ERA in the 2nd half, Claudio was a cog in the Rangers playoff push. He’s absolutely shutdown against left-handed batters. Left-handed batters posted a .190 OPB against Claudio, the 6th-lowest in baseball.

Aug 26, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers relief pitcher Dario Alvarez (39) walks off the field during the game against the Cleveland Indians at Globe Life Park in Arlington. The Indians defeat the Rangers 12-1. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 26, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers relief pitcher Dario Alvarez (39) walks off the field during the game against the Cleveland Indians at Globe Life Park in Arlington. The Indians defeat the Rangers 12-1. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Dario Alvarez was acquired via trade from the Atlanta Braves near the deadline last year. While the ten earned-runs given up in 11.2 innings needs vast improvement, Alvarez’s stuff is completely filthy.

With Jake Diekman being out until the All-Star Break the Rangers need Alvarez to step into the left-handed-specialist role.

One of the pleasant surprises from last season was Tony Barnette. After spending six-years in Japan, Barnette came to Texas and quickly became one of their most consistent relievers. Barnette didn’t have a single month where he posted over a 3.50 ERA on his way to a 2.09 ERA over the course of the season.

Oct 9, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Texas Rangers relief pitcher Keone Kela throws a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays in the 6th inning during game three of the 2016 ALDS playoff baseball series at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 9, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Texas Rangers relief pitcher Keone Kela throws a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays in the 6th inning during game three of the 2016 ALDS playoff baseball series at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports /

After an electric rookie season in 2015, Kela experienced a sophomore-slump in 2016. Requiring surgery in April to remove a bone spur from his throwing elbow, Kela missed a large portion of the season.

In his limited time Kela pitched to a 6.09 ERA, almost four-runs higher than his 2.37 ERA in 2016. A healthy 2017 and a return to form is the goal for Kela heading into Spring Training.

Oct 9, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Texas Rangers relief pitcher Jeremy Jeffress throws a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays in the 5th inning during game three of the 2016 ALDS playoff baseball series at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 9, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Texas Rangers relief pitcher Jeremy Jeffress throws a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays in the 5th inning during game three of the 2016 ALDS playoff baseball series at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

Jeremy Jeffress was traded to Texas last summer as part of the Jonathan Lucroy deal. A bright spot in the bullpen, putting up a 2.70 ERA in his 12 appearances as a Ranger. Jeffress’s arrest and stint in rehab was disheartening, but all signs point to a trouble-free 2017. A full year of Jeffress could be huge for the Rangers bullpen.

After becoming the full-time closer in May, Sam Dyson converted 38 of 43 save attempts. His 65.2% ground ball rate was the 3rd-best among qualified relievers. While putting up solid numbers, Dyson doesn’t miss bats like you would expect from most closers. His 7.04 K/9 was the 5th-lowest among closers. It is possible that Dyson could fall into more of a set-up type role for a pitcher that can produce more strikeouts.

Oct 7, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers relief pitcher Matt Bush (51) throws against the Toronto Blue Jays during the eighth inning of game two of the 2016 ALDS playoff baseball series at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 7, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers relief pitcher Matt Bush (51) throws against the Toronto Blue Jays during the eighth inning of game two of the 2016 ALDS playoff baseball series at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

When Matt Bush debuted in May he sent a bolt of energy through Globe Life Park. Showing legitimate closer stuff throughout the season it was Bush’s September that proved he has closer potential. Striking out 16 batters and only walking one in 14.1 innings. Matt Bush could be the Opening Day closer.

DEPTH

It’s inevitable that a seven-man bullpen will face injuries throughout the season. With Diekman already sidelined until the All-Star break the Rangers bullpen depth is getting tested early.

Andrew Faulkner is a left-handed option. Putting up a 10.50 FIP in 6.2 innings last year, Faulkner will have to really open some eyes to make the Opening Day roster. Still only 24-years-old, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

Jul 20, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Texas Rangers relief pitcher Tanner Scheppers (52) delivers a pitch during the ninth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. The Rockies won 8-7. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 20, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Texas Rangers relief pitcher Tanner Scheppers (52) delivers a pitch during the ninth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. The Rockies won 8-7. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports /

Tanner Scheppers missed most of 2016 due to a knee injury. Staying healthy has been an issue for Scheppers since his stand-out 2013 season. His 4.15 ERA in ten appearances doesn’t tell the full story from 2016.

Scheppers had two outings giving up two earned runs in each. He did not allow a run in any of his other eight outings.

Jose Leclerc might have the most electric stuff in the entire organization. He features a mid-90’s fastball with a devastating slider. His 15 big league innings in 2016 produced a 1.80 ERA and 15 strikeouts.

Leclerc also walked 19.7% of the batters he faced, a staggering amount. Leclerc will benefit from starting 2017 in Triple-A working on his command.

Texas Rangers
Sep 2, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics relief pitcher R.J. Alvarez (37) returns to the dugout after the top of the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

R.J. Alvarez was signed to a minor-league deal this off-season. He hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2015 when he produced a 9.90 ERA for the Oakland Athletics.

Alvarez is a long-shot to make the team out of Spring Training. However, his ability to produce strikeouts at a high rate could land him in Arlington at some point.

When you talk about Triple-A players Nick Martinez may be the poster-boy. After putting up gaudily numbers in the minors, Martinez has still yet to put it together.

In five starts Martinez posted a disastrous 7.61 ERA. On the bright side, Martinez might have found his home in the bullpen. In 15 innings of work Martinez put up a respectable 2.40 ERA.

According to MLB Pipeline, Connor Sadzeck is the number ten prospect in the Texas Rangers farm system. Currently a starter in the minors, Sadzeck could move to the bullpen and reach Arlington this year. His 80-grade fastball mixed with his plus slider scream “back of the bullpen”. Sadzeck’s control issues could warrant the move to the bullpen.

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Brady Feigl has not given up a run since 2014. He’s also only pitched 6.2 innings since then. Coming over from Atlanta via trade this past December.

Feigl could be a left-handed option if healthy. It’s a long shot he’ll make the team at any point this year but if he can stay healthy it’s a possibility.

Jose Valdespina received an invitation to Spring Training. The 24-year-old reached Triple-A last year putting up a 2.45 ERA in 14.2 innings.

His 3.68 K/9 is much lower than you would want from a reliever and his 2.45 BB/9 needs improvement. If Valdespina continues to grow in Triple-A we could see him fill in with an injury occurs.

Another fast-moving prospect, 21-year-old Ariel Jurado also received an invite to Spring Training. Ranked as the Rangers number six prospect by Pipeline, Jurado is better off as a starter. His sinking fastball produces a lot of ground balls mixed with a solid changeup. Jurado could be an emergency call up to fill a long-relief role.

Long Relief Options

In today’s age of baseball a long-relief pitcher’s value has skyrocketed. Alex Claudio could fill this role but the Rangers could use him as a specialist since he’s excellent against lefties. Whoever loses out on the fifth spot in the rotation could fill this long-relief role.

Yohander Mendez may be better off gaining more experience in the minors rather than pitch out of the bullpen. However, the Rangers did use him out of the bullpen last year. A.J. Griffin is the front-runner for the fifth spot in the rotation. If he loses out he could provide innings and emergency spot starts out of the pen.

Aug 18, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Dillon Gee (53) delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins in the first inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 18, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Dillon Gee (53) delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins in the first inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports /

Dillon Gee was signed to a minor-league deal this off-season. If he loses out on the fifth spot we could see him in a role similar to Cesar Ramos a year ago. Mike Hauschild was selected in the Rule-5-Draft this past December. He will have to stay on the roster or he will return to the Houston Astros organization.

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