Prospect Countdown #6 – Tanner Scheppers
Tanner Scheppers is a 6′ 4″, 200lb. 25 year-old relief pitcher for the Texas Rangers. Drafted 44th overall by the Rangers in the 2009 amateur draft, the hard-throwing righty fell to them at this position largely due to injury concerns. This is a player who, if he remains healthy, has the potential to dominate major league hitters in later innings with his electric fastball. He also features a power curve, slider, and changeup in his arsenal.
Scheppers’ fastball has been clocked as high as 99 mph, and Rangers minor league expert Jamey Newberg has compared his fastball to Stephen Strasburg, and his curveball to Justin Verlander. That is rarified air, and few compare to those two as far as raw talent goes.
Adding to the Strasburg and Verlander comparisons are the strikeouts. In two professional seasons, Scheppers has pitched in 123.2 innings, while striking out 134. At 9.75 K/9 innings pitched, his strikeout rate would rank near the top of the major leagues if it translates. That is certainly a big “if”, but the potential is there.
He has also done a very nice job at keeping the ball in the yard thus far. Last season, gave up only 2 home runs in 43.2 innings between AA and AAA, and only 6 in 80 innings in 2010. At Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, this is very important. If he can avoid the gopher ball, it will help solidify his spot on the roster.
Scheppers has had a hard time with the walk, especially when facing more advanced competition. In 2010 and 2011 at AAA combined, he walked 42 in 81.2 innings pitched. This combined with a .290 batting average against in that time span can be a bad combination. The high walks and high BAA make it seem that he tries to nibble a little too much while facing better hitters thus putting him in bad counts allowing them to sit dead-red. In the majors, belt-high 98 mph. fastballs in 3-1 counts are souvenirs, potentially dashing one of his strengths. Getting ahead in the count will be vitally important for a guy who has a hard time with the bases on balls.
The combined hits and walks lead to an ugly looking WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched combined for those not sabermetrically versed). The 1.62 and 1.69 in 2010 and 2011 respectively are certainly something to be concerned about. The highest on the Rangers staff, of pitchers who finished 2011 on the team, was Mark Lowe. His WHIP was 1.44, and Lowe barely clung to his position on the team. It’s an important statistic, and one Scheppers has to improve to be successful at the highest level.
Scheppers has a long history of injuries. The Rangers drafted him fully aware of his rotator cuff and labrum issues, and he also experienced back problems in 2011. Suffice to say, this black cloud of injuries will follow him for his entire career. Complications from those injuries could arise at any point, and his future in the majors will be tied to his ability to stay healthy and avoiding the walk.
At 25 years old, Scheppers is short on time to prove himself. He needs to be ready to make an impact this season or at the very latest next season, or the potential for him to be a major leaguer grow slim.
A comparable guy who comes to mind is former Ranger reliever Jeff Zimmerman. Zimmerman, who broke into the majors at the ripe old age of 27, went on to pitch in 3 seasons which included an All-Star appearance in his rookie season. However, his career was de-railed due to a series of elbow injuries, and Zimmerman never pitched in the big leagues again after 2001.
If Scheppers peaks, the Rangers could have a bee bee throwing setup guy and pure-gas compliment to the cutter wielding Mike Adams. This could bolster the bullpen for years to come, and allow the Rangers to spoil any late inning masquerades that may come their way. But, if he gets injured again or performs poorly, he could be short on time.
All things considered, Scheppers is worth taking a look at in 2012, and will have an opportunity to win a job in spring training. He’s also a guy who can provide depth at the AAA level if Mark Lowe, Joe Nathan, or Alexi Ogando somehow falter or get injured if he doesn’t make the team out of spring training. If he’s not ready to contribute by the end of 2013 though, he could quickly become a non-prospect.
2012 will be a big year for Tanner Scheppers, and now is the time for him to be the impactful player the Rangers hope he will be.