In each of its past two seasons, there’s been a huge question mark coming into Opening Day as to who the Texas Rangers would tab as the team’s closer.
In 2019, there’s no such question. It’s already been answered by star reliever Jose Leclerc.
If a strong 2018 and a recent four-year, $14.75 million extension signed last week didn’t nail that down, perhaps Leclerc’s upside will.
A relatively unheralded prospect to begin his career, Leclerc was signed as an international free agency out of the Dominican Republic as an incredibly raw 16-year-old in winter 2010.
After two solid seasons to start his career out of the bullpen in A-ball, the team experimented with him as a starter at Double-A Frisco in 2015. Pitching out of the rotation was not his forté, to say the least.
He limped to a 5.77 ERA for the entirety of the 2015 campaign in 22 starts with the Rough Riders. The next year, he moved back to the bullpen, and hasn’t looked back since.
He improved his command and increased his average velocity to the 95-97 MPH range, and made his MLB debut in 2016- just one year after that disastrous campaign in Double-A.
After going up-and-down between Texas and Round Rock in that season and the next, Leclerc managed to stay on the major league roster for a majority of the 2018 season. He quietly emerged as one of the American League’s top relievers, and grabbed the team’s closer role in June
It wasn’t smooth sailing by any means- he blew five saves. But at age 24, he was more than serviceable. He held batters to a miniscule .126 average against and 0.85 WHIP, along with an impressove 1.5 strikeouts per inning.
Those numbers don’t lie. When it comes to Leclerc, there’s no questioning whether he’s got the stuff. There’s no questioning whether the closer role is his. The only question: Can he avoid the second-year slump?
Age: 25. Contract: Under team control through 2024.
2019 salary: $1,000,000
Leclerc’s 2018: 2-3 W-L in 57.2 IP, 59 relief appearances, 1.56 ERA, 25 H, 14/19 SV.
Projection for 2019: 5-5 W-L in 70.0 IP, 65 relief appearances, 2.35 ERA, 5 H, 30/35 SV.
2019 outlook: Leclerc heads into Spring Training as the undisputed closer- something Texas thought it had last year in Alex Claudio, who was traded to Milwaukee this winter after a disappointing season. But after a stellar 2018, Leclerc has a chance prove he belongs in the discussion with the game’s best at his position. There’s no questioning he has the upside and talent to do so.
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