The last of the Texas Rangers’ planned September call-ups arrived Tuesday afternoon as outfielder Willie Calhoun, left-hander C.D. Pelham and right-handers Austin Bibens-Dirkx and Adrian Sampson crammed their way into the clubhouse.
The Rangers had 33 players on the active roster against the Los Angeles Angels, though Sampson wasn’t available after throwing six innings Saturday for Triple A Round Rock.
They joined righty Connor Sadzeck, who was actually recalled Aug. 31, and lefties Zac Curtis and Yohander Mendez as the players added from the minors for the final month, when MLB rosters can expand from 25 to as many as 40.
Mendez is the most important of the call-ups, and his start Sunday was eye-opening. Sadzeck and now Pelham, the only player promoted from Double A Frisco, rate as the most intriguing.
They have power arms, something the Rangers have had in the past but not in high quantities in the same bullpen and not always homegrown. They are also the first of a potential long line of big relief arms to be drafted/signed and developed by the Rangers.
“To watch Sadzeck go out, you see the power arm stuff. It’s a big, tall angle. It’s obviously what you’d like,” manager Jeff Banister said. “We’ve faced a lot of it lately, so it’s nice to have a guy like that coming out of our bullpen. It will be nice to get a look at Pelham coming out. We saw him a little bit in spring training.”
Sadzeck hit 100 mph Saturday in his MLB debut before breaking off a 79 mph curveball for a strikeout. His first three pitches Monday were clocked at 97, 97 and 98 mph.
Pelham touched 99 this season and has significantly improved his control. He walked 56 in his first 56 1/3 innings in the minors before trimming that number to 26 walks in 62 1/3 innings last season with Low A Hickory.
He walked 26 again this season in 46 2/3 innings, though against better hitters at High A Down East and Frisco.
“Just go out there and let it eat,” Pelham said. “I’ve gotten a lot better with fastball command. That’s there now.”
Down East had another big arm, converted outfielder Jairo Beras, and Short-Season A Spokane had two in Emmanuel Clase and Cole Uvila, the Rangers’ 40th-round pick this year. Clase was the return from San Diego in the Brett Nicholas trade.
Hickory’s bullpen had three more big arms in DeMarcus Evans, Joe Barlow and Alex Speas, though he was lost in June to Tommy John surgery. Evans and Barlow are arguably the best of the bunch.
Evans’ fastball tops out at 98 but looks faster because of the extension he gets at 6-foot-4. Assistant general manager Jayce Tingler compared him to former Rangers closer Keone Kela, calling Evans’ two-pitch mix “a high spin-rate power fastball with an overhand curveball.”
Evans struck out an eye-popping 102 batters in 56 innings. Barlow fanned a mere 91 in 59 innings, but opponents hit only .118 against him compared to .149 against Evans.
The 6-foot-3 Barlow, who will be one of the six Rangers in the Arizona Fall League, is the shortest of the Sadzeck (6-foot-7), Pelham (6-foot-6), Evans group and battled some control problems early before taking off and combining with Evans to help Hickory contend for the postseason.
“He’s been pretty dominant in the second half,” Tingler said.
But, as the adage goes, every hitter in the majors can hit a fastball. As such, Sadzeck said that he spent much of the season trying to nail down his curveball, and Pelham said that his focus has been his slider.
“The thing for me is being able to throw for strikes whenever in the count,” said Pelham, who pitched in the Futures Game in July. “Honestly, in Double A I was able to throw it ahead in the count and behind in the count. That’s really been the biggest factor for me.”
The Rangers traded away the power arms of Kela on July 30 and Jake Diekman on July 31, but the bullpen still had Jose Leclerc and Chris Martin. The fortunes of the 2015 team turned with the acquisition of Cole Hamels but also Diekman and Sam Dyson.
Diekman and Dyson overhauled the Rangers’ bullpen en route to the American League West title.
“For sure,” Banister said.
But as far as a collection of homegrown power arms, the Rangers have come up short. Kela is one and Leclerc is another, but Neftali Feliz, Alexi Ogando and Matt Bush were acquired from other organizations.
Sadzeck and Pelham are original Rangers draft picks, and now they are Rangers. They might be around a while.
“It’s always nice to have those big, power arms inside a bullpen,” Banister said. “When you’ve got that type of bullpen, it changes the whole complexion of your pitching staff.”