The Texas Rangers have optioned reliever Joe Barlow to AAA Round Rock, per the beats.
This qualifies, I guess, as a mild surprise, as Barlow was seen as one of six pitchers whose spots in the bullpen were relatively safe. Barlow has not been sharp this spring, however, and his velocity has been down, and so he will be starting the season in the minors.
Right now, the Rangers have Jose Leclerc, Jonathan Hernandez, Will Smith, Taylor Hearn and Brock Burke as pretty close to locks. With the rotation full and Jake Odorizzi set to start the season on the injured list, that leaves three spots available in the bullpen (assuming the Rangers carry the maximum number of allowed pitchers — 13 — on the active roster, which seems like a safe assumption).
The pitchers on the 40 man roster who haven’t been optioned and would thus still potentially be in contention are Dane Dunning, Spencer Howard, John King, Glen Otto, Cole Ragans and Josh Sborz. The Rangers have Ian Kennedy, Zack Littrell, Dominic Leone and Danny Duffy still in camp on minor league deals. Josh Sborz is out of options, so if he doesn’t make the team, he’d be removed from the 40 man roster, opening up a spot for one of the NRIs. If another spot is needed, or if the Rangers want to keep Sborz on the active roster but also clear a spot for another pitcher, you might see someone like Yerry Rodriguez traded.
Ian Kennedy seems to be the popular pick for a bullpen slot, but he did not pitch well for Arizona last year, and since the start of the 2020 season has a 4.77 ERA and a 5.57 FIP in 120.2 IP, with 30 home runs allowed. He would not be someone you’d want to be relying on for meaningful outs late in games.