With the 2019 Texas Rangers season now over, I’m going to do a series of posts handing out grades to every player who appeared for the Rangers this year. I’m starting with pitchers, will go in alphabetical order, and then will do position players in alphabetical order.
Grades will be based on a combination of performance, expectations, and my own whims at the moment I happen to be typing this up. They aren’t to be taken too seriously.
And today, Part IX...
JOE PALUMBO — B-
I really struggled with what sort of grade to give Joe Palumbo. The lefty, who turns 25 in a few days, only threw 16.2 IP in 7 major league outings for the Rangers in 2019, with a 9.18 ERA. For a guy who was seen, coming into the season, as being someone who could jump into the rotation by the middle of the year, the results were disappointing.
And Palumbo also was slowed by physical issues. A blister on his throwing hand slowed him on a couple of occasions when the Rangers were planning on plugging him into the major league rotation, and also kept him from pitching in the Arizona Fall League, where the Rangers were hoping to get him some additional innings, after he logged just 97.1 IP this year between the minors and the majors.
That said...if you watched Palumbo, you saw what has folks so excited about his potential. His work in the minors this year — he started off in Frisco and pitched in Nashville later in the season — was solid, as he put up a 3.01 ERA between AA and AAA with 108 Ks in 80.2 IP. He showed flashes of brilliance in the majors, interspersed with some major struggles. He’s someone who, if it all comes together, could be an impact starter on a first division team.
It seems like a cliche — or a tautology — to say about a young pitcher that their future success hinges on how their command develops, but in Palumbo’s case, it is especially true. Palumbo misses bats at the major league level. He has swing-and-miss stuff. What Palumbo doesn’t have is the repetitions and the experience to know what to do with it, which is understandable given he missed most of 2017 and 2018 with Tommy John surgery, and that things really only clicked for him in the second half of 2016.
Palumbo reminds me of Derek Holland somewhat — another later-round lefthander whose stuff took a big jump forward while in the Rangers’ system, but who struggled for some time to figure out how to harness his newfound weapons. Like Holland, I suspect Palumbo will have games for the Rangers where he looks untouchable, and like Holland, he’s going to have games where opponents are squaring up everything and he looks like he’s throwing batting practice.
Of the Rangers’ upper level pitching prospects, Palumbo is the guy who is most exciting to me. There are guys who probably have a better chance than Palumbo of having a useful major league career, but I think Palumbo is the one who has the best chance of being special, and he’s one of the handful of guys I’m most intrigued about for 2020.
PEDRO PAYANO — B
From the “development is not linear” files...
Righthanded pitcher Pedro Payano made the major leagues in 2019. He didn’t pitch a ton in the majors — he had 22 innings over 4 starts and 2 relief appearances — but just the fact that he made it to the big leagues and has a major league line now was an unexpected turn of events.
Payano was born in New York City, but signed out of the Dominican Republic and spent the 2012-14 seasons pitching in the Dominican Summer League — an unusually long period of time for a guy to spend outside of the States, if he is considered a prospect. Payano appeared on the radar in 2016 after a nice season in Hickory, but his stuff was marginal for a righty, and he was never a real serious candidate to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft. Payano became a minor league free agent after 2018, and re-signed with the Rangers.
For whatever reason, Payano was better in 2019. His velocity was up, his performance at Frisco and Nashville was better, and he showed enough that he got to the big leagues. He had a 5.73 ERA/5.62 FIP and almost as many walks (15) and strikeouts (17) in the majors, but he didn’t drown.
probably gets has been dropped from the 40 man roster in the near future, and I don’t think he’s going to establish himself as a regular part of a major league rotation anytime soon. But if he maintains the improvement he showed this year, he could end up being an up-and-down/AAA depth guy for the next half-decade, someone signing minor league deals each spring with different teams with a shot of picking up major league innings, which isn’t what we would have expected just a year ago.