The Rangers bullpen seems to have settled a bit over the past week, and if you take a peek at their bullpen depth you’ll understand why that’s something to be very thankful for. Matt Bush and Jeremy Jeffress have been good, Alex Claudio is a groundball machine, Keone Kela appears to be on his best behavior, and Jose Leclerc looks like he’s on his way to cementing a role for himself. After that... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Sam Dyson has been relieved of his duties and sent to Round Rock where he hasn’t looked much better than he did in Arlington. The rest of the Round Rock roster is full of guys like Clayton Blackburn and RJ Alvarez who you can maybe squint and see a future role for but who haven’t been anything close to good so far in 2017. Andrew Faulkner is an Oriole. Tanner Scheppers is currently running through the darkened streets of Cleveland on all fours, searching for tablescraps and an Alpha male to follow dutifully.
They’re on a pretty delicate teeter-totter at the moment, where some overuse or a dip in performance or an injury could throw off the balance of the pen and all of a sudden you have guys like Anthony Bass pitching significant innings. If you move a level lower though, you’ll see that the Rangers org isn’t totally and completely bereft of possible ML-caliber bullpen arms. The RoughRiders have some interesting guys that they bring out of the pen, and it isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility that one of them will be called on to pitch some innings in Arlington as soon as this season.
Cook was drafted straight out of Amarillo High School as a 17-year-old in the 9th round of the ’08 draft by the Indians. He showed promise as a starter before a torn labrum derailed his career and he missed most of the 2012 season, all of the 2013 season, and some of the 2014 season. Coming back in ’14 and ’15 and posting ERAs in the 5s and 6s, it was clear he was just a different pitcher (he was topping out at 88 as a 24-year-old in High-A). Released by the Indians, then released by the Braves, he tried his luck indy ball and got into some Driveline stuff as well. A weighted-ball program helped him get some of the velo back, and the Rangers signed him in August of last year.
Now 26 and in his 10th (!) season of pro-ball, he’s been hitting 97 out of the RoughRiders’ pen. He also throws a 12-6 curve that flashes plus potential and he’s in the process of developing a change. Through 9 innings so far this season he’s struck out 13 and walked 1. He’s allowed an earned run and has an FIP of 2.36. At the moment he has better raw stuff than the others on this list and the numbers are backing it up. He’ll still need to work on control/command and missing bats. Clayton is a good kid and a lifelong Rangers’ fan who’s had to work his butt off to get to the level he’s at, so he’s one to root for in Frisco.
Small world: here he is giving up a grand slam to young Myrtle Beach Pelicans slugger Joey Gallo.
No relation. The Rangers traded for Dykstra over the winter and surprisingly I found that AJM wrote like 700 words on the subject. Dykstra is 26 and is a member of the “Drafted 3 Times” club, being taken in the 40th and 50th rounds in 2009 and 2010 before signing with the White Sox, who took him in the 6th in 2013. He’s been a middling SP prospect for most of his professional career but it appears he’s going strictly bullpen with the Rangers org and it’s worked out well for him so far. In 13.2 innings for the Riders he’s struck out 12 while allowing 5 hits and a couple of walks. He’s missed bats, thrown strikes, and hasn’t gotten hit very hard at all, which has yielded some impressive results.
Dykstra sits at around 93-94 but can touch 96 and the fastball has decent movement. The change is okay as well but he’s in need of a third pitch if he’s gonna take the next step. As of right now he’s probably viewed mostly as organizational depth. He’s capable of overpowering AA competition though, like in his first appearance of the season where he went 9-up, 9-down and struck out 6, including the last 5 batters he faced. The 6’4” righty has an uphill battle but has logged a couple awesome outings early in 2017.
The youngest of the three and the only Rangers’ draftee, Gardewine has held his own in his AA debut. Texas took him with the 24th pick of the 7th round of the 2013 draft and flirted with Gardewine as a starter before moving him to the bullpen full-time in 2016. He had a pretty stellar season last year as a 22-year-old for High Desert, appearing in 29 games and pitching 54.2 innings. He struck out close to 10 per 9 and only walked 14 while posting a 2.47 ERA.
In 2017 he’s been, in a word, inconsistent. He’s only pitched 5 and 2/3rds innings and hasn’t taken the mound since the 20th (when he faced 4 batters and allowed 3 hits, including a HR), after which the Riders placed him on the 7-day DL. When he has pitched, he’s shown flashes of a very useable righty out of the pen, throwing 93-96 with a slider that has some good bite to it. He’s fooled some dudes with that slider, I recall seeing one AA hitter going full Beltre-to-one-knee swing on one of them (only, you know, he whiffed). There are other times though where he’s lost his command, walked guys, or otherwise just left pitches fat over the plate. I tend to believe that these are just young pitcher problems and that Nick will continue to grow more and more into the pitcher he’s been teasing, and depending on how quickly that comes about he could be called upon by a big league club in need of some righty swing-n-miss out of the pen.
There are other guys, too. Sam Wolff is still around and has taken on a sort of hybrid closer role with the Riders where he can just reach back and burn guys. David Ledbetter is edging towards NP at this point but he’s thrown 8.2 shutout innings in relief. And of course there’s Connor Sadzeck, who the Rangers could decide at any time to try out in a bullpen role. But the ones I listed are some standouts at the AA level so far and might actually be the best in-house options when it comes to possible big-league relief arms.