Rangers pitching prospect Cody Buckel, age 20, having first struggles as pro

Posted Saturday, Apr. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
More information Elsewhere on the farm Triple A Round Rock: Mike Olt started off slowly at the plate, but went into Saturday’s game 5 for his last 14. He was batting .145 with no home runs and four RBIs. … Jurickson Profar was batting .237 going into Saturday’s game. High A Myrtle Beach: Right-hander Luke Jackson is 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA over his first three starts. He has 17 strikeouts over 14 1/3 innings. … Former UT Arlington outfielder Preston Beck was batting .133 through his first five games with the Pelicans. Low A Hickory: Right-hander C.J. Edwards is 1-1 with a 2.51 ERA over his first three starts. Catcher Jorge Alfaro is batting .308, while Joey Gallo had a .222 average going into Saturday’s game.

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It seemed as though things were bound to turn around for Cody Buckel.

The 20-year-old didn’t make it through the third inning in his season debut with Double A Frisco, and he didn’t get through the second inning in his second start.

Third time would be a charm, right? Wrong.

Buckel struggled once again Tuesday night for the RoughRiders. He didn’t make it through the second inning, giving up six (unearned) runs.

The night started off well for Buckel, who worked around a two-out walk in a scoreless first inning. But he issued a leadoff walk in the second, and the next batter reached on an error.

Buckel retired the next two batters on a sacrifice bunt and a strikeout, but then served up a three-run homer to Northwest Arkansas’ No. 9 batter, Whit Merrifield. Buckel responded by issuing three consecutive walks and was pulled by manager Steve Buechele.

Afterward, Buckel shrugged his shoulders when talking about his start to the season. He is healthy and his velocity is where it needs to be, but the results simply haven’t been there.

“It’s definitely mental over physical,” Buckel said. “My body is absolutely fine. I’m just not throwing my pitches in the zone, and it’s something that I’ve got to overcome.

“It’s something I haven’t experienced in my career and I’m probably not handling it the best that I can. It’s something I have to get through and have to experience, unfortunately. Maybe baseball said it’s your time.”

Failure is certainly new to Buckel on the professional level. The Rangers drafted him in the second round of the 2010 draft, and he went on to throw five scoreless innings over four appearances in the rookie league that year.

In 2011, he went 8-3 with a 2.61 ERA over 96 2/3 innings with Low A Hickory. And last season, Buckel combined to go 10-8 with a 2.49 ERA in stints at High A Myrtle Beach and Frisco.

Along the way, Buckel rose up the Rangers’ farm-system rankings, and was rated as the organization’s eighth-best prospect going into this season by Baseball America.

“I’m just putting so much pressure on myself,” Buckel said. “I’m the kind of guy growing up where I was hard on myself. Maybe right now I’m being too hard on myself. The hardest thing for me to do is back off, and it’s something that is new and I have to learn how to adjust.”

Buckel understands pitching and his delivery as well as anyone, which he admitted is a blessing and a curse.

“I’m always trying to fix this or fix that, make this little adjustment and having all these thoughts going through my head,” Buckel said. “I’m not thinking about just playing the game and getting the batter out. I’m battling myself and the hitter. You’re not going to win when you have two enemies out there. I need to get myself on my side first.”

Buckel isn’t the first — and won’t be the last — pitcher to go through this type of adversity during their development. And the Rangers are doing everything they can to help Buckel get back on track.

Minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark had a long conversation with Buckel before his last start, and had him throw his bullpen session on the game mound instead of the bullpen.

“We never want to see someone fail, but it’s a good thing in a lot of ways that he’s experiencing it before he gets on the big stage,” Clark said. “It’s not a red flag to me at all.”

Said director of minor-league operations Jake Krug: “There’s no concern. Cody is getting his first taste of adversity, and he’s dealing with it. We’re focused on the process more than the results right now.”

Buckel is scheduled to make his fourth start of the season Monday, and the hope is he begins to show signs of promise. If not, other options might be discussed by the organization.

In the end, everybody believes this will simply be a proverbial bump in the road. The future is still bright for Buckel. After all, he should be a junior at Pepperdine but opted for the pro route and has still reached the Double A level at 20.

“I’m going to get through this and battle my way through it,” Buckel said. “When it starts turning around, I’m going to remember what turned it around and try to prevent it as best I can the rest of my career.”

Drew Davison, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @drewdavison

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