2015 Preview – The Bullpen

We continue with the Texas Rangers 2015 Season Preview, as we go around the diamond and compare last year’s misery of a team to this year’s hopeful competitor. Last week, we detailed the anchor of the bullpen, probable closer Neftali Feliz. This week, it’s time to take a look at the crew that will be in charge of passing the baseball to Feliz: the bullpen.

In 2014: It took a while, but down the stretch, the bullpen became one of the more intriguing and fun parts of the season. Several new names made their presence felt, and the bullpen was the site of the two players who stayed on the 25-man roster the entire year. With injuries to starting pitchers Yu Darvish and Derek Holland, two stand out mainstays in the bullpen ended up being used as starters to begin the year.

Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross, Jr. stretched out over the winter and competed for rotation spots in Spring Training. It was practically by default that the duo found their names among the starting five. The experiment was not nearly as successful as prior migrants C.J. Wilson and, to a lesser extent, Alexi Ogando. Scheppers was lights out as an 8th inning setup man in 2013, coming close to acquiring a spot on the All-Star team. Tanner ended up making all of four starts before succumbing to elbow injuries of his own. Upon his return, he was shuttled back to the bullpen for four more appearances before his season came to an end with a recurrence of the injury. Ross actually had had experience as a starter in the minors, making him a prime candidate for the bullpen-to-rotation experiment. Robbie started 12 games in 2014 before being demoted to the minors, returning for one start, being sent back and then coming up in September as a reliever.

Those two were what the bullpen was missing. What did they have? Jason Frasor, Neal Cotts, Alexi Ogando and Joakim Soria as the supposed star pieces in the pen. Cotts had an up and down year, far less reliable than in ‘13, although he was one of the guys that was on the roster the entire year. Ogando never recovered from the command and location issues after his three-DL-stint year as a starter in ‘13. Frasor and Soria were the most effective pieces, if the Rangers had a lead. The rest of the bullpen? At the start, you had Seth Rosin, Shawn Tolleson, Pedro Figueroa, and a month into the season, Scott Baker. Frasor and Soria were traded away midseason to playoff contenders Kansas City and Detroit.

Rosin was a waiver claim by the Rangers from the Dodgers, and was DFA’d shortly after the season began. Figueroa was lost in the first month of the season to the Tommy John bug after displaying a lot of promise. Tolleson and Baker proved to be two of the more valuable pieces in the bullpen.

Unfortunately for Scott Baker, being a valuable and busy swingman/long-man out of the bullpen is like being a very busy EMT or firefighter. You’re great at your job, but you really shouldn’t be being used as much as you are. Baker made 25 appearances, comprised of eight starts and eleven games finished for the Rangers. His appearance in a game either meant that the game was out of hand or another injury had befallen the rotation, with the last four appearances made as a fairly regular member of the rotation.

Tolleson was probably the biggest surprise out of the pen for the Rangers. He appeared in 64 games, totaling 71.2 innings and yielded a stellar 2.76 ERA. Amongst all of the bullpen members, the waiver-claim Tolleson appears to be a definite lock for the 2015 bullpen as a set-up man.

Throughout the year, these other pitchers made their mark in the bullpen: Aaron Poreda, Lisalverto Bonilla, Phil Klein, Alex Claudio, Nate Adcock, Spencer Patton, Ben Rowen, Jon Edwards, Ryan Feierabend, Michael Kirkman, Hector Noesi, Justin Germano, Matt West, Phil Irwin, Daniel McCutchen, and position players J.P. Arencibia, Mitch Moreland, and Chris Gimenez. That equals a full, active, Major League roster plus one player.

In 2015: Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross will be preparing for bullpen roles. Their return to the pen should allow Rangers Nation to let out a big sigh of relief. The club also signed former swingman/long-man Ross Wolf who will likely compete for the same position for this year. Shawn Tolleson will also be in the bullpen again this year. The other two spots could belong to two free-agent signees and former closers.

The highest profile free agent signing (which says a lot) for the Rangers so far has been former Chicago Cubs pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa. Like most free agent relievers that Jon Daniels signs, Fujikawa is a recovering Tommy John patient. He had the procedure in mid-June of ‘13 and returned to pitch 13 innings last year. Since coming over from Japan, he has made 27 appearances with the Cubbies with an unimpressive 5.04 ERA, which means the Rangers see potential in the right hander the stats have so far not shown. While he was in Japan from 2000-2012, Fujikawa established himself as a dominant closer. He established that role full-time in 2007, a season in which he posted 46 saves for the Japan Central League Hanshin Tigers. All told, in his career in Japan, Fujikawa amassed 220 saves with a ridiculous 1.77 ERA and a WHIP of just under 1.00. A year and a half removed from the TJ surgery, the Rangers are looking for the 34-year-old to take up the mantle of set-up man to Neftali Feliz.

Juan Carlos Oviedo, the former Leo Nunez, joined Texas on a minor league deal, no doubt with the opportunity to earn a spot in the Major League bullpen. Oviedo’s Tommy John surgery happened just a month after he served his suspension for identity fraud with the Marlins in 2012. He missed the entire 2013 season and pitched in only 32 games for the Rays last year with a respectable 3.69 ERA in 31.2 innings pitched. With injury and legal troubles behind him, the Rangers could use him as a bullpen piece or as minor league depth, something they evidently have a lot of in the relief area.

If we go with that, the 2015 bullpen looks like this: Neftali Feliz, Kyuji Fujikawa, Tanner Scheppers, Robbie Ross, Jr., Shawn Tolleson, Ross Wolf, and Juan Carlos Oviedo…OR one of the stand-out relievers from ‘14. Those names that will likely compete for that last bullpen spot are Phil Klein, Alex Claudio, Jon Edwards, and Spencer Patton. Everyone else that made a bullpen appearance for the Rangers last year (non-position player) has either been DFA’d, released, or traded.

Hot Stove: It’s not entirely out of the question that the Rangers could make one more acquisition to lockdown the last bullpen spot, although it’s been rumored that JD and company would rather allocate resources to signing a middle-to-back-end rotation piece or more offensive depth at catcher and outfield. The step-up performances from the “Calvary” bullpen pieces last year will probably prove to be enough of a pool for the Rangers to choose from. Cotts remains a free agent, but the 35-year old lefty made $2.2 million last season, which is much more than what the team will want to spend on a potentially infrequently used bullpen piece.

What kind of faith do you have in Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross, Jr. going forward as relievers? Do you feel there is enough internal depth for the Rangers to choose from for the bullpen? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think! Next week, we’ll keep with the pitching trend and head to the rotation.

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Matt Fisher
Matt Fisher is an Editor/Staff Writer for ShutdownInning. He is a baseball lifer, preferring to use the eye test and rely on the knowledge and analysis of baseball minds greater than his, while using relevant stats to encourage situational discussions. He is also co-host of The Most Valuable Podcast on the NextWave Radio Network, talking sports, entertainment, and sports entertainment.

While Matt's favorite team will always be his hometown Texas Rangers, he knows the ongoing story lines of every team in Major League Baseball. If you sit next to him at a game, be prepared to hear him try and do play-by-play. If you're famous and reading this, just know that he's not afraid to drop names.

Matt Fisher. ShutdownInning Editor/Staff Writer

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