Throughout the course of Texas Rangers history, you won’t find a plethora instances where multiple above-average, perhaps even elite, starting pitchers were in their starting rotation at the same time.
Recently, the run of Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish stands out. During the World Series runs to start this decade, “solid” starters like Colby Lewis, C.J. Wilson and Matt Harrison flanked Cliff Lee in 2010 and led the show in 2011.
This season, the Rangers have two of the biggest analytical darlings in all of baseball at the top of their pitching staff in Mike Minor and Lance Lynn. Based on Baseball Reference’s measuring of WAR, the pair is first and second in terms of wins above replacement for all pitchers in baseball. If you include position players, Minor falls to just third overall behind only Mike Trout and Cody Bellinger, the two players who seem to be guaranteed to win MVP in their respective leagues at this point in the season, and Lynn falls to sixth overall.
With both under contract for next year, the Rangers have a formidable top to their starting rotation. Unfortunately, there isn’t a large track record of teams having great seasons with just two starting pitchers splitting 162 starts. So, the Rangers need to figure out what they’re going to do with rotation spots 3-5 for 2020.
Texas has tried numerous options to solve this problem in 2019. They entered the regular season with a trio of low-cost fliers in Edinson Volquez, Shelby Miller and Drew Smyly. The latter two were off the team before the All-Star break and Volquez has been down with an injury since early April with only hope that he can return in September for a bullpen role before retiring. We’ve also seen Jesse Chavez play both the role of the opener and being submitted into the starting rotation. Not the greatest results compared to what Chavez has shown out of the bullpen.
If Jon Daniels, Chris Woodward and the rest of the front office could have what they wanted, it’d be at least two more solid, reliable starting pitchers slated in for 2020. The team could very well go out and spend big money on someone like Gerrit Cole in free agency this winter, or maybe even two shorter, more affordable deals on the likes of Homer Bailey or Wade Miley. Perhaps they could use their log-jam of left-handed outfielders at the major league level as means to trade for a capable middle-of-the-rotation piece. The options are there for the picking.
The option the club is likely most interested in is certainly for multiple young pitchers within the organization to step up this final quarter of the season and show that they can be big pieces for the team in 2020.
There certainly hasn’t been a shortage of guys auditioning as the summer has worn on and Texas has fallen out of contention for a Wild Card spot. Seemingly each night that Minor or Lynn isn’t starting, a 20-something year-old starter is on the mound trying to make an impression. While some have fared better than others so far, here are some of the notables:
Ariel Jurado, 23-years-old, 17 starts, 5.06 FIP, 1.5 WHIP
The Panama native got his first taste of the major leagues in 2018 with 8 starts and looked incredibly overwhelmed. 2019’s overall stats aren’t much better, if at all, but Jurado has certainly received an extended leash from Chris Woodward. Thursday night in Chicago, Jurado pitched the team out of the game by giving up several runs in the first few innings, but was tasked with just finishing the entire game to save the bullpen and perhaps to learn a lesson or two. Jurado was able to pitch all eight innings in just 112 pitches, but he did give up six runs.
Overall, Jurado’s flashes are just too sporadic and unpredictable. He has certainly had several outstanding starts with seven innings pitched and only two or three earned runs allowed, but far too often his starts see him get beaten around like a pinata. Looking at his game log, you see starts with earned runs allowed totals of 5, 6, 7 and 8 for Jurado. That just isn’t going to work. Long-term, he’s probably a spot starter at best who can occasionally give you innings out of the bullpen when your starter has a short night. In over 91 innings as a starter in 2019, his ERA is 6.21 compared to an impressive 1.17 in 15 innings as a reliever.
Joe Palumbo, 24-years-old, 3 starts, 8.37 FIP, 1.969 WHIP
One of the more hyped Rangers pitching prospects in recent years hasn’t had the greatest of starts to his time in the majors. His first start back in June got off to a nice start with three scoreless innings, but things haven’t been great in Palumbo’s spot starter role ever since. In his start earlier this week, he had to leave in the second inning due to nasty blister on his left thumb.
Not sure if that injury will place him on the IL, but one would expect that he would have to miss a turn or two in the rotation. There will certainly be opportunities for him in September if he’s able. For his confidence’s sake heading into 2020, let’s hope they go well.
Brock Burke, 22-years-old, 1 start, 6 innings, 0 runs allowed
Even though he has just one start under his belt, there is plenty to be excited about with Brock Burke. Acquired from the Rays in last winter’s Jurickson Profar deal, there is automatically a lot of motivation to make sure this guy succeeds whenever you’re getting him in exchange for one of your biggest prospects/turned disappointments in franchise history.
Burke battled injuries early this season, but worked his way all the way through four different levels of the Texas farm system to get to Arlington this week. He spent most of his season at Double-A Frisco where he had a 3.18 ERA in 45 innings over 9 starts. His debut gave a lot of reason for optimism as he bested Mike Trout three times and was able to side-step a major scoring threat in his final inning to keep his scoreless appearance alive.
Welcome to #MLB, Brock Burke.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) August 21, 2019
Kolby Allard, 22-years-old, 4 starts, 1.31 WHIP, 23 K’s in 21.1 innings pitched
Acquired on July 30th in the deal that sent reliever Chris Martin to the Atlanta Braves, Allard is a left-handed starter who had a cup of coffee in the majors in 2018. After the trade, Allard made just one start at Triple-A Nashville (5 innings, 0 runs allowed, 8 strikeouts) before he was brought up to the bigs. His major league debut in Milwaukee earlier this month was very promising with seven strikeouts, but he ran into trouble in the fifth inning and had to leave with runners on base and two outs. Allard was outstanding in Chicago on Saturday night, taking a shutout into the seventh inning along with eight strikeouts against no walks.
Similar to Burke, if Texas can turn a piece they got in a trade into a low-cost, controllable, high-quality rotation piece for the next several years, it will be a major jackpot for Jon Daniels and his front office staff.
Other candidates include Taylor Hearn whose 2019 season unfortunately came to an end after an injury sustained in his major league debut back in April, Pedro Payano who was up-and-down at best in several spot starts the last several weeks, and Adrian Sampson who, at age 27, is older and at a different stage in his “development” than the others mentioned. Sampson has certainly had some moments for Texas in 2019, like a complete game back on June 8th, but it seems the rest of baseball has figured him out as his ERA has ballooned towards 6 as the summer has gone on.
Perhaps all of these candidates will have a significant impact on the Rangers starting rotation over the next several seasons. Maybe, hopefully not, none of them will? In the game of baseball, you just never know how things will shake out as there truly are so very few can’t miss prospects like you see in other sports. An injury here or being stuck in a logjam there can greatly alter a prospect’s career in the blink of an eye.
If Texas allocates their potential spending money elsewhere this winter, it will be because some of these guys give them hope for what could be an improved rotation in 2020 behind Mike Minor and Lance Lynn. If they can hit on a few of these prospects, they could even be set with their rotation well beyond the stays of their two work horses at the top of their rotation now.
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