The Rangers added a couple of NRI lefty pitchers today, signing Kevin Walker and Jesse Carlson to minor league deals.
Walker turned 29 in September, and is a journeyman AAA lefty, a guy who will be this year's Tony Mounce or Victor Santos, someone who can start or relieve at Oklahoma as needed and can be pressed into service at the major league level in an emergency.
Jesse Carlson, though, is a very interesting pickup. In fact, if you are looking for a candidate for the 2006 version of Carlos Almanzar or Ron Mahay, Carlson might be your man.
Carlson is 24, and spent last season with Toronto. He was a 15th round pick of the Tigers in 2002, and had a very impressive debut in the New York-Penn League that season, posting a 1.66 ERA with 47 strikeouts and just 10 walks in 38 innings.
Strangely enough, though, he was apparently released by the Tigers after the season, and signed by the Astros. According to two different online sources, Carlson was released for participating in a skit that made fun of his manager's wife. Also, per the first of those links, he has a bunch of tattoos...
Carlson dominated in the Sally league in 2003, striking out 84 and walking 16 in 63 1/3 innings, while posting a 1.56 ERA. At the end of the 2003 season, Jim Callis had this to say about Carlson:
Q: Francis from Puerto Rico asks:
What's the word on reliever Jessee Carlson? Do you see him in the Astros bullpen any time soon?
A: Jim Callis: Terrific sharp slider, could move quickly as a lefty reliever who can also get righties out.
Alas, he struggled with the jump to Round Rock in the 2004 season, posting a 5.04 ERA, albeit with strong peripherals (51 Ks, 21 walks and 5 homers in 55 innings). And the Astros apparently lost interest in him, letting him walk after the season.
Carlson signed with the Blue Jays, and was incredible at AA for them in 2005, with a 42/5 K/BB ratio in 39 innings, with just 2 homers. He struggled some at AAA, though, although he still struck out 17 while walking just 7 in 18 2/3 innings.
BA has Carlson as a six year minor league free agent for the Blue Jays, but he doesn't have six years as a professional. Apparently, since he was released by his original drafting organization, he can become a free agent at the end of any season where he's not on a team's 40 man roster, rather than having to spend the full six years in pro ball to be eligible.
In any case, Carlson really looks like an interesting signing. If Callis's take on him is accurate, he could end up sliding into the 2nd lefty spot in the Rangers pen at some point in 2006. He struggled with the longball pitching for Syracuse last year, but in his 194 professional innings below AAA, he allowed just 10 home runs, a terrific ratio.
Minor league free agent pitchers with Carlson's combination of youth, a track record and strong peripherals are few and far between, and whether he pans out or not, the front office deserves kudos for identifying Carlson and bringing him in. If you are looking for a darkhorse candidate to contribute to the Rangers pen next season, he's someone to keep an eye on...