Chris Woodward finally released the Rangers roster on Opening Day, and while it is out of the ordinary, we all expected to see the eight-pitcher bullpen.
We all know what Jose Leclerc is made of. When he took over the closer role from Keone Kela last season, Leclerc did not allow a run. In those final two months, the Rangers new solidified closer pitched 18 innings, going 12-for-12 in save opportunities while striking out 29 total batters.
After the stellar finish to the season, the 25 year-old earned a four-year, $14.75 million deal, with club options in the third and fourth years. He’s certainly established himself as one of the league’s most exciting young relievers.
With the exception of Leclerc, who are the seven other candidates that made the roster? Well, there are some veteran right-handers and a couple of young left-handers, so let’s dive right in and break them down one by one.
Jesse Chavez – RHP
After being traded to the Cubs last season, the Rangers decided to bring back the veteran, multi-role pitcher. Chavez not only produced for the Rangers in the pen last season, but he also stepped in as a starter when needed. This may be reoccurring this year with the likes of lingering injuries being a potential situation for the current starters.
In his last 32 games with the Cubs last season, Chavez looked solid in late-innings posting a 1.15 ERA. His first two appearances of the season have not gone according to plan as he has an epic 54.00 ERA in just two-thirds of an inning pitched.
Chris Martin – RHP
After having an opportunity in the majors in 2014 and 2015 with the Colorado Rockies and New York Yankees, respectively, the Rangers gave him another chance the 2017 season. The club signed him to a 2-year, $4 million deal after his two-year stint in Japan. The Rangers hope he can be someone who steps up to be their right-handed eighth-inning setup reliever.
As long as the 32 year-old can stay off of the Injured List, then he can develop that comfortable consistency to contribute in the second half of games on the mound. Last year he saw the IL (then DL) three times for multiple different lingering injuries, but still managed to put up a 1.22 WHIP with 37 SO in 46 total game appearances.
Jeffrey Springs – LHP
Springs is who I’m most excited for this season, whether you care or not. This guy is much like Jesse Chavez who can serve in multiple roles for the pen, but also a reliever who can pitch in an “opener” role. Springs’ most used pitch is a consistent 92-mph fastball, but also carries a crafty plus changeup.
In his major league call-ups last season, Springs pitched in 32 innings within 18 games. Over those 32 innings, he accumulated a 3.38 ERA and struck-out 8.7 batters per nine innings. Over his last four years in the minors, however, the 26 year-old averaged an impressive 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
Shawn Kelley – RHP
Last season, Kelley was traded from the Washington Nationals to the Oakland Athletics mid-season. He finished the season with a 2.16 ERA and a 0.78 WHIP in 19 games with the A’s, so hopefully, he can bring that play and his experience to the young guys.
We all expect this guy to be the Rangers eighth inning left-handed setup man. The 34 year-old could play a vital role moving forward much like Jake Diekman’s over the last few years. Kelley has already appeared in two games and in fact, earned the win for Saturday’s game after Joey Gallo’s clutch three-run home run.
Kyle Dowdy – RHP
Another surprise, and rookie arm, was added to the bullpen: 26 year-old, Kyle Dowdy. The Rangers claimed him off waivers from the New York Mets and has now earned his first opportunity in the majors. After bouncing around a few different farm systems over his three years in the minors, Dowdy appeared in 78 games, starting 58 of them.
He will not have a starting role here with the Rangers, even though he produces a handful of quality pitches. Much like Chavez, Dowdy will be an early inning relief pitcher because of the numerous pitches he can throw. He possesses tremendous upside with the ability to be used in multiple different situations. Unlike his MLB debut on Opening Day, where he allowed 3 ER over 2 IP, Dowdy can have a solid outing anytime he goes out. It’s just a matter of finding that consistency within his pitches while feeling comfortable on the big league level.
Jeanmar Gomez – RHP
Out of all of the wild card pitchers to make the bullpen, Gomez is probably the most exciting. Technically he is still in his prime at 31 years-old and still produces quality stuff. With the Philadelphia Phillies in 2016, he was their closer and completed 37 saves on the best year of his career.
The potential breakout candidate in the pen could see himself in a significant role moving forward as the Rangers can utilize him in multiple different situations. He has a solid career average of 1.44 WHIP and could fill in as the closer if (knock on wood) Leclerc sees time on the IL.
Adrian Sampson – RHP
The most recent addition to the pen, Sampson was brought up on Monday afternoon after the club optioned Kyle Bird to triple-A Nashville. Sampson was a serious contender to make the major league roster out of Spring Training but the team opted to go with Bird. They used their right to change their mind quickly.
Sampson, a 27-year-old from Washington state, has just six major league appearances with five of those as starts. In five games with Texas in 2018, Sampson struck out just 15 batters in 23 innings and had a 4.30 ERA. After the Rangers starting pitchers have struggled to go deep into games to start the season, Sampson figures to be the logical option to serve as a long-man who could mop up some middle innings.
Hear me out, I may sound excited and full of optimism for this group of guys, which I am. However, it isn’t exactly who we want to see fill our bullpen as a Rangers fan, but the team continues to give opportunities where they probably wouldn’t have elsewhere.
This bullpen has veteran and rookie arms ready, so there will be a lack of consistency. Expect the 162-game season to have a few high highs and contain many low lows. A perfect example was Thursday to Saturday night – Thursday was a rough go for the pen, while Saturday went great giving head manager, Chris Woodward, his first win ever. All in all, I’m looking forward to seeing the progress these guys make and how they will carry this Rangers team with the back-half of each game.
Tweet at me about which reliever you’re most excited for-or-if you just want to chat Rangers baseball. I’m always down. @Darienclark5
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