Cody Buckel Scouting Report: Texas Ranger minor league pitcher Cody Buckel ranked #26 on the LSB Community Prospect Rankings.
In the days leading up to Opening Day, I'm going to offer write-ups on the 31 players who made the Rangers' LSB Community Prospect Rankings Top 31. I've done this the last couple of years, and I don't want to re-invent the wheel, so some of this will be a repeat of what I've written before, particularly regarding draft history or performance pre-2013. Also, this is not based on my personal observations -- I'm not a scout, and haven't seen most of these guys. I'm just aggregating the numbers and what others say about these players.
So, with that out of the way, let's take a look at Cody Buckel...
Cody Buckel is a righthanded pitcher drafted by the Rangers out of high school in Simi Valley, California, in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft. Although listed at B-R at 6'1", 170 lbs., Baseball America had Buckel listed at 6 feet even when he was draft-eligible. His short stature and slight build contributed to Buckel being ranked just #157 overall by Baseball America in the 2010 pre-draft rankings, despite a fastball that could touch 94 and what BA described as "an excellent array of secondary pitches."
The Rangers, who have targeted smaller pitchers like Robbie Ross and Robbie Erlin in the early rounds of late, weren't scared off by Buckel's lack of height, and grabbed him at #72 overall in 2010. Buckel signed for $590,000 -- a little over slot money -- and had a brief stint in the Arizona complex league in 2010, throwing 5 shutout innings in 4 games, striking out 9, walking 1 and giving up 2 hits and no runs.
Although most high school draftees at least start out their first full pro season in a complex league, the Rangers challenged Buckel, sending him to Hickory in the low-A South Atlantic League. Buckel responded to the challenge better than, I think, anyone could have reasonably expected. After allowing 2 runs in his debut appearance, a 2 inning relief outing that was his only appearance in April, Buckel rattled off monthly ERAs of 2.40, 2.16, 3.28, and 2.16, before finishing the year with a 5 inning, 1 run appearance in September.
For the year, Buckel had some eye-popping numbers, with 120 strikeouts in 96.2 innings, walking just 27 and hitting only one batter on the year, whlie allowing 7 home runs. Although Buckel didn't get enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, his 2.61 ERA would have been good for third in the Sally League, had he met the innings requirements, and his strong August resulted in his being named the Rangers' minor league pitcher of the month for August. Baseball America was impressed enough with Buckel's 2011 to rank him the #19 prospect in the South Atlantic League, and the #7 prospect in a deep Ranger system (and since BA included Yu Darvish in the rankings, the essentially had Buckel #6 overall).
In 2012, Buckel continued to build on the success he had in 2011. Starting the season with Myrtle Beach in the high-A Carolina League, Buckel struck out 91 batters in 75.2 innings while walking 25 and allowing just 2 homers, resulting in an incredible 1.31 ERA. In 13 starts spanning 75.2 innings, Buckel allowed just 12 runs with Myrtle Beach. This performance earned him a mid-season promotion, and Buckel held his own as a 20 year old in the AA Texas League, putting up a 3.78 ERA in 69 innings for Frisco, striking out 8.9 batters per 9, walking 3.0 per nine and allowing 7 homers. Baseball America ended up ranking Buckel 5th in their Carolina League top 20 prospect list, and 14th in the Texas League top 20 prospect list.
So, that's where we were heading into last spring. Here's what I said last year, in February, when writing about Buckel and the difficulty in ranking him:
Buckel is another guy whose rankings right now seem all over the map. While the LSB community ranked Buckel #5 overall, John Sickels ranked him 4th. Jason Cole, however, had him ranked 12th in the Ranger system – behind, among others, Justin Grimm – and Jamey Newberg had him ranked 9th. Baseball America slotted Buckel in at #8, although they included Leonys Martin in their rankings, which the LSB community rankings and Newberg didn’t do. MLB.com had Buckel ranked #87 on their top 100 list – the #4 ranked Ranger prospect overall, and the #1 Ranger pitching prospect. Scout.com, meanwhile, did not include Buckel in their top 100 list. Keith Law ranked Buckel #90 on his top 100 list, and the #3 ranked Ranger prospect overall.
I struggle to figure out where Buckel should slot in a strong, deep Ranger system. I wrote last year that he is reminiscent Joe Wieland, the righty who was sent to San Diego as part of the Mike Adams trade, in that he doesn't have overpowering stuff, but has quality secondary pitches and knows how to pitch. The problem is, there's a danger in getting too excited about how well "pitchability" guys do in the lower minors, particularly pitchers who rely on their offspeed stuff. Hitters at those levels are so raw, and so seldom see pitchers with decent secondary pitches, that they can often be overmatched by pitchers who don't have the stuff to succeed at the upper levels. Buckel dominated against high-A hitters, but was somewhat exposed when he got to AA. Buckel is young, but his repertoire is fairly mature, which suggests that he has less growth potential than some other pitchers, and being young for his level is less of an advantage as it is for someone like Martin Perez.
A couple of things here...Buckel generated a wide range of opinions. The Rangers clearly liked him a lot -- there are reports that they refused to include him as part of a Mike Olt/Martin Perez/Luis Sardinas package to land Justin Upton from the Diamondbacks, and he went into spring training last year being one of the young pitchers who was supposed to get a close look in camp.
But then...well, here's what else I wrote in last year's Buckel write-up:
2013 should be a big year for Buckel.
Well, it was a huge year for him, in terms of his baseball future and prospecty-ness, but not in a good way.
Despite coming to camp as one of eight pitchers battling for the #5 starter spot, Buckel had an awful spring and was sent to the minor league camp early on.
And then, when the minor league season started and he took the ball for Frisco, the wheels came off almost immediately. Here is Buckel's game log from last year:
In one of the most mysterious developments in player development I can recall, a young, cerebral pitcher known for his command contracted Steve Blass Disease. He completely lost his ability to throw strikes. His line for the season with Frisco was 6 games, 9.1 innings, 27 runs allowed (21 earned), 28 walks, 2 homers and 9 Ks. He then was sent to the Rangers' complex league team in Arizona, where he walked 7 batters in 1.1 innings over 2 games before the Rangers shut him down for the season.
Drew Davison had a detailed piece in the S-T last month about Buckel's struggles last season and the work he is putting in to get himself righted again, and it is well worth reading.
At this point, Buckel is an absolute mystery. He doesn't turn 22 until June. He's got plenty of time to get the ship righted. But Buckel is going to have to show that he has gotten over the "yips," and then show that he isn't going to have them come back, before you can start talking about him in the same way he was discussed prior to 2013.
The ceiling for Buckel now is probably the same as I said it was last year, a guy who could be a #3 if everything goes right. Its just a lot less likely that he reaches that ceiling, because of what he's going to have to overcome in terms of getting over the yips going forward.
And at this point, its an open question, as far as I know, where Buckel starts the season. He could start in Frisco, he could go to extended spring then pitch in the AZL, or he could land in any league in between, and it wouldn't surprise me, at this point.