Surprise position outlook: Setup relievers
It may not be the most glamorous part of a baseball team, but the bullpen is critical. And the Rangers had a lot of work to do this offseason on that relief corps. Scott Feldman, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara are gone. Robbie Ross is being stretched out as a starter and will compete for the No. 5 spot in the rotation if the club doesn't sign someone else. Alexi Ogando is in the rotation for sure, so he's out of the bullpen mix.
But the Rangers' front office has shown the ability to re-assemble bullpens on an almost yearly basis. If that means making deals at the trade deadline (like for Adams and Uehara) or taking a risk on players coming back from injury or making offseason trades that yield relievers, they'll do it. We've seen in recent years that there are few guarantees in the bullpen. So Texas likes to give itself plenty of options and see what happens.
We know that Joe Nathan is closing, and we'll talk about him Tuesday. Down the stretch, the plan is for Joakim Soria, who was signed at the winter meetings in December, to be the primary setup man. Soria continues to rehab from Tommy John surgery and expects to be ready at some point in June. If all goes according to plan, he could provide a big boost to the bullpen. He has closing experience, which means he can step in when Nathan needs a break. And he's got enough experience to help some of the younger pitchers, too.
Jason Frasor, signed to a one-year, $1.5 million deal earlier this offseason, is likely the primary setup man until Soria is ready. And even then, it will depend on how Frasor is doing. The veteran was on the DL for six weeks last season with right forearm tightness but returned and finished the final month.
There's a gaggle of folks who could end up in the club's bullpen, depending on how things go in Surprise. The list includes: Jeff Beliveau, Cory Burns, Josh Lindblom, Coty Woods, Tanner Scheppers, Nate Robertson, Neal Cotts, Kyle McClellan and more. Some could end up as long relief options and others as options for the sixth or seventh innings.
Lindblom came over in the Michael Young trade and had a 3.00 ERA with the Dodgers before being dealt to the Phillies at the trade deadline. The 6-foot-4 right-hander has a slider and fastball, but will mix in a curve and change. His goals: reduce the walks and home runs.
“I just come after guys,” Lindblom said in December. “Last year, I walked way too many guys. The long ball was a problem for me last year and part of that was a problem of pitching up the zone too much. I want to continue to get better and continue to get used to that role of throwing 70 to 75 games a year, hopefully.”
Lindblom walked 35 batters in 71 innings in 2012 and allowed 13 home runs. Lindblom allowed the third-most home runs among relievers in the majors last year.
Scheppers, 26, comes in after going 1-1 with a 4.45 ERA in 39 appearances (32 1/3 innings) for the Rangers in 2012. He was also 1-1 with a 4.45 ERA in Triple-A Round Rock (31 innings). Scheppers made progress with his control in 2012, allowing four walks to 31 strikeouts in Triple-A (9 walks and 30 strikeouts in the big leagues).
Cotts, if you'll remember, nearly made the club last year before an injury ended his bid. He was basically in the final two with Robbie Ross for that left-handed spot in the pen.
McClellan is a guy that could end up in a variety of spots. He's capable of starting, but could end up as a long relief option or a middle reliever.
Manager Ron Washington, pitching coach Mike Maddux, bullpen coach Andy Hawkins and the rest of the coaching staff and front office will have plenty of folks to evaluate as spring training gets underway. It should be a very interesting part of camp to see who jumps up and claims some of those key bullpen spots.
Who do you think will stand out in spring training? Anyone you expect to surprise and grab a spot?
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