Sometimes the youngest is the weakest. Coddled from the start, the youngest are occasionally soft and gentile by nature. But sometimes, the opposite happens. Sometimes the youngest of a brood is toughened against the gird of the family that surrounds them. This is true for the Rangers' newest pitcher. Andrew Faulkner is the youngest of 7 sons from Aiken, South Carolina. Drafted in the 14th Round in 2011, Faulk used that toughness to plod his way to the the ultimate destination in the game and now joins a suddenly rather ferocious list of hard throwing fellas populating the Texas bullpen. A starter until a few months ago, many thought Andrew's future would always be in the pen. He has a CH, it's not particularly great, but it does exist, and he feels comfortable enough with it to pop one out every now and then in a relief role. But the big get, the one that ultimately made him a big leaguer, was the development of his slider this season. A true breaking ball that whips away from lefties and can cause uneasiness on the back foot of righties, the SL was the last key to the puzzle this season. Faulk relied on a splitter as his breaking ball last year in Myrtle Beach, but upon his late-July promotion to Frisco it was shelved by the powers that be (including Texas' invaluable Minor League Pitching Coordinator, Danny Clark) in favor of a more traditional slider. They felt the SL would not only play better off his FB, but also that his mechanics and arm slot would work well with the pitch.
But just telling a player he needs to develop a nearly entirely new pitch 4 years into his professional career is far from a guarantee that he'll do it. Actually, more times than not, the player doesn't completely buy into the coaching and doesn't put in the work, and subsequently might never reach his potential. But Faulk wasn't like that. A 6'3" 165lb 18 year-old Andrew Faulkner has become a 6'4" 215lb 22 year-old. Originally a Gamecock commit, the kid who spends winters hunting and fishing in South Carolina or a half-hour's drive across the Georgia state line, has used his deceptiveness and mid-90s FB in tandem with his new and improved SL to catapult into the big leagues less than 2 months after converting to full-time reliever.
Speaking of deception, that's a lot of how Andrew gets his mojo. He'll set up on the far first base side of the rubber. He does that deal where he strides not directly at the plate, not in a straight path, but in a diagonal line even closer to the 1B chalk. Then he whips the ball across his body from a 3/4 angle. The damn thing literally starts a couple of feet behind the backs of left-handed hitters. Ideal for shoulder health when he's 50? Probably not. Ideal for someone who can dial up their FB to 95-96 and has a chance to use said FB to make a few million dollars? Yep. As for the SL, it stays on the same line as the FB for about the first 55' and there in lies part of it's effectiveness. Am I worried about him leaving one over the plate to righties, sure. Am I worried about him trying to come inside to lefties, absolutely. Am I worried about his toughness or ability to shake off a mistake pitch, a home run, or even a train-wreck of an outing? Not at all. You're not going to see much emotion from Andrew, not outwardly anyway. But the fire is there, and along with his pure stuff being big league caliber, the toughness, the steel of the youngest of 7 sons; that's what will make Andrew a successful big league reliever for years to come.
As Always, Enjoy Baseball! Love Ya!