Texas Rangers' 2014 Bullpen: Projections and Thoughts

Will KornCorrespondent IIJanuary 8, 2014

Texas Rangers' 2014 Bullpen: Projections and Thoughts

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    Neftali Feliz' return to form will be key for a Texas bullpen that should be very good this season.
    Neftali Feliz' return to form will be key for a Texas bullpen that should be very good this season.Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Today, I'm projecting the Texas Rangers' 2014 bullpen. This is the third installment in my series which projects each of the Rangers' main team units in order. 

    No baseball team is successful without a quality pen. In this day and age of late inning matchups and specialization, the very best bullpens contain at least a few ice-cold, lockdown relievers who know how to close out a game.

    The Rangers certainly have a few of those pitchers in their pen, and it's why the relief corps is a strength for Texas. At it's best, the Rangers' bullpen is one of the deadliest units in baseball. The team will need it more than ever this year, as skipper Ron Washington attempts to manage the rotation workloads of Matt Harrison as well as young Martin Perez. 

    In no particular order, here is how I see each projected Ranger reliever performing in 2014. Of course, these projections are assuming that the front office makes no major addition to the pen before the start of the season. I'll follow each prediction with some thoughts.

    Be on the lookout for my projections of the Rangers' bench for 2014. They'll be up in the next day or so.

    Enjoy!

     

    *All stats courtesy of ESPN.com

Tanner Scheppers

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    RP Tanner Scheppers.
    RP Tanner Scheppers.Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

    2014 Projection:

    74 GP, 75.1 IP, 7-2, 1.95 ERA, 51 H, 63 K, 26 BB, .210 opp. avg, 1.03 WHIP, 30 HLD, 4 SV, 2 BLSV

    2014 American League All-Star

     

    Although Neal Cotts made things very interesting, in my mind Scheppers was the Rangers' best reliever in 2013. He didn't have the best numbers, but had the nastiest stuff as the setup man, generally working in the eighth inning. 

    Scheppers was also used a ton last season. His 76.2 innings led the Rangers' pen by far. One could argue that he was overused. But this was due in large part to Washington trying to save 39-year-old Joe Nathan as much as possible for the full season. Nathan is gone now, and although the bullpen is much younger as a whole, it is critical that Scheppers not be burned out before the All-Star break.

    On that note, I expect Scheppers to be selected as an AL All-Star, as he will be one of the league's premier setup men. Overall, expect to see more of the same from last season. Batters just don't hit the guy well because they can't square up on his movement.

    Scheppers was equally effective to both sides of the plate in 2013. Righties only hit .210 against him, while lefties hit just .218. That trend should continue in 2014.

    Scheppers' sinker is arguably one of the league's best pitches, as he loves to climb the ladder and jam hitters with its sharp, late break.  As Scheppers continues to develop his slider and curve, he will only become more lethal.

    Early in the season, Washington just needs to be careful with his favorite toy. 

Neal Cotts

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    RP Neal Cotts.
    RP Neal Cotts.Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

    2014 Projection:

    60 GP, 59.1 IP, 5-1, 1.16 ERA, 38 H, 63 K, 20 BB, .186 opp. avg, 0.98 WHIP, 13 HLD, 2 SV, 3 BLSV

     

    Cotts was a truly incredible find for the Rangers right before spring training last season. 2013 was possibly his best season in the majors, or at least since his 2005 World Series run with the Chicago White Sox.

    At times last year, like Scheppers, Cotts was used heavily. As the pen's top lefty specialist, Cotts quickly became a favorite of Washington. He features a pinpoint fastball along with a plus cutter and slider. He tends to target the corners against righties, and tail away from lefties.

    Cotts has big, sweeping movement on his mid-to-high 80s slider. When it's on and well-located, only a handful of hitters in the world can even make contact.

    Texas' bullpen may only feature two southpaws to start the year, and so Cotts will be called upon often again in 2014. He was one of Washington's most trusted relievers, and thusly started to show signs of fatigue later in the year due to being overworked.

    He'll continue to roll through hitters, especially lefties. But again, Washington needs to use Cotts wisely in the first two months of the season. An elite lefty specialist like him is nearly impossible to replace mid-season.

Neftali Feliz

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    RP Neftali Feliz.
    RP Neftali Feliz.Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    2014 Projection:

    61 GP, 61.2 IP, 5-4, 2.92 ERA, 48 H, 64 K, 25 BB, .230 opp. avg, 1.19 WHIP, 1 HLD, 34 SV, 6 BLSV

     

    According to ESPNDallas.com's Richard Durrett's piece, Feliz is expected to enter spring training as the favorite to be Texas' closer. It's a role that he's comfortable in, and I believe he is better suited for it than either Scheppers or Joakim Soria.

    As he is fully healthy now, I expect Feliz to make a return to form. He'll pitch closer to his 2011 level rather than that of his stellar 2010 season. Ranger fans would love a 40-save year from Feliz, but he's only pitched in 47.1 innings over the last two seasons due to Tommy John surgery. Reaching 30 or more saves this season is a realistic benchmark for him.

    The key to Feliz' success has always been the quality of his secondary pitches. His 95 to 98 mph fastball will be there, and will occasionally touch 100 mph. But his change up, slider and curve have always been just average. If he can turn just one of those other three into a plus pitch, he will soon gain back the 40-save status. 

    I've got Feliz blowing six saves in 2014. There will be some growing pains as he tries to re-adjust back to being the closer. Two or three of these blown saves will come early in the year, but Feliz should hit a groove by late June, early July. 

    If Feliz reaches anywhere close to these projected numbers, the Rangers couldn't really ask much more of him.

    Welcome back Nefi!

Robbie Ross

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    RP Robbie Ross.
    RP Robbie Ross.USA TODAY Sports

    2014 Projection:

    63 GP, 62.2 IP, 5-2, 2.87 ERA, 54 H, 59 K, 21 BB, .241 opp. avg, 1.20 WHIP, 19 HLD, 0 SV, 1 BLSV

     

    If there even was one, Ross was the weak link in Texas' bullpen last season. For whatever reason, he just wasn't on his game very often. You could say he had a true "sophomore slump" in 2013. But I expect Ross to get back with the program this season.

    Whereas lefty batters couldn't figure Ross out in 2012, hitting just .225 against him, Ross was an open book in 2013. Batters collectively hit 112 points higher against him last season. That really is a mystery that is inexplicable.  Ross should be much better this time around.

    The Lexington, KY native earned his spot in the Rangers pen in the spring of 2012 by masterfully mixing speeds and showing a willingness to throw any pitch in any count. It might appear that he only throws three pitches: a four-seam fastball, a cutter and a slider. But he has a Yu Darvish-like ability to take velocity off of those pitches and add break to them during a sequence.

    As the pen's second lefty, he'll log heavy innings over the year, and will do so in bunches. 

    If Ross can continue to be effective against righties, as he has been his entire short career, his mojo against lefties will come back around. His stuff is just too sneaky to be hit over 33 percent of the time on his side of the plate.

    Together, he and Cotts form one of baseball's deadliest southpaw tag teams.

Joakim Soria

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    RP Joakim Soria.
    RP Joakim Soria.Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

    2014 Projection:

    49 GP, 46.2 IP, 3-2, 3.03 ERA, 38 H, 44 K, 24 BB, .235 opp. avg, 1.34 WHIP, 9 HLD, 0 SV, 0 BLSV

     

    The Rangers' bullpen was hurt by Soria being out till late July last season. While he was recovering from his second Tommy John surgery, the Rangers were down a quality late-inning reliever and had to rely more heavily on Scheppers, Cotts, Ross and Nathan. 

    Soria will be ready to go this season though, and he should be able to help limit the mileage on the lefties as well as Scheppers and Feliz. To me, Soria's main role is to eat innings late in the game and get outs while those other four get a day off here and there. Although he is considerably lower on the pecking order in the bullpen, he has the stuff to be effective in an inning-eating role.

    If he performs well this season, he may just earn himself a contract extension with the Rangers. He's just 29 and likely has a few more good years in him. 

Alexi Ogando

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    RP/SP Alexi Ogando.
    RP/SP Alexi Ogando.Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Ogando's bullpen numbers are tough to predict, since he likely will make a few starts throughout the year. I view him as the team's No. 1 option for spot starts—almost like a 5A in the rotation. He has done very well as a starter over the last three years, but just doesn't have the durability to start all season.

    But Ogando seems much better suited to have a full, or at least majority-time role in the pen anyway. His velocity would benefit the pen more than the rotation, which already has a surplus of heat between Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Martin Perez.

     

    2014 Projection:

    42 GP, 12 GS, 101.2 IP, 9-4, 3.16 ERA, 82 H, 86 K, 38 BB, .236 opp. avg, 1.18 WHIP, 1 HLD, 0 SV, 0 BLSV

     

    Assuming that the Rangers fill the No. 5 spot in the rotation internally with a pairing of Colby Lewis and Nick Tepesh, Ogando would probably be the emergency option in case one or both of those two guys began to slip up a bit. Between injuries and spot starts, I see him making around 12 total starts in 2014.

    Besides his velocity, Ogando's greatest asset is his versatility—his success in every role he's been put into. He'll have to continue to live up that billing this season. Ideally, Texas will find a pitcher who can man the fifth spot in the rotation by himself, and Ogando will stay in the pen permanently to avoid further injury.  

    Whichever role he's in, Ogando can be counted on to get outs—something he's done very effectively since he was called up to the Rangers in June of 2010. His fastball is pure fire, his slider is a plus pitch and he's developed a nice little change up that tends to tail away to lefties. 

    He just needs to deliver when called upon, whether as a member of the pen or the rotation. I think he's up to it and will deliver a great year for the Rangers.

Jason Frasor

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    RP Jason Frasor.
    RP Jason Frasor.Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

    2014 Projection:

    60 GP, 51.1 IP, 3-3, 2.71 ERA, 43 H, 46 K, 17 BB, .221 opp. avg, 1.17 WHIP, 12 HLD, 0 SV, 1 BLSV

     

    In addition to now being the old man in Texas' pen, Frasor is the only "situational" righty. Washington likes to use him to play matchup more than any other right-hander in the Rangers' bullpen. Sometimes you'll see him come in to get just one out. More often than not, he pitches just a third or two-thirds of an inning.

    But last year he was sensational doing this. He earned himself another year with Texas in 2014. Frasor is just another example of a spectacular signing by Jon Daniels. He's a stable veteran presence to a relatively young Texas relief corps.

    Frasor excels at keeping the ball in the yard, as he keeps the ball down in the zone on all thirds. His above average fastball, change up and slider trio is a plus repertoire. His mid 80s changeup is his out pitch, and he locates it very well. 

    Frasor can miss quite a few bats with his stuff but is still more on the side of a contact pitcher. He was much tougher on lefties in 2013, as they only hit .152 against him. Righties hit just .234. His control allows him to keep both sides of the plate at bay.

    Like Soria, Frasor just needs to get the outs when he's called upon. His stuff isn't mind blowing and he definitely isn't a big time name. But his role is nonetheless critical to the success of the Rangers' bullpen this season. 

    In the end, Scheppers, Cotts and Ross just cannot be burned out like they were last season. Solid play from Soria and Frasor will help Washington limit their workloads.