Each MLB team wants to and needs to develop its own quality starting pitchers, and most of the 30 big-league clubs struggle to do so.
And it doesn’t just happen overnight. It can take years, and even then, rotations are typically filled out by trades or free-agent acquisitions.
Just look at the Houston Astros. Think back to the 2011 Texas Rangers.
The rotation that took the Rangers to the World Series included C.J. Wilson, drafted by the Rangers in 2001; Colby Lewis, a free-agent signing after two seasons in Japan; Derek Holland, drafted by the Rangers in 2006; Alexi Ogando, taken in the minor-league phase of the 2005 Rule 5 draft; and Matt Harrison, acquired in 2007 in the Mark Teixeira trade.
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The 2018 Rangers weren’t there, not even close, and the 2019 Rangers won’t be, either, as they continue a rebuild that hinges on their ability to develop starting pitchers. It helps to produce relievers, too.
The process started over the final few months this season, when three starters were given 2019 tryouts. So were a couple relievers. One reliever shined all season.
Here’s a look at six pitchers who could be pieces in 2019 and thereafter.
The biggest success story of the Rangers’ pitching staff was the right-hander who wasn’t a lock for the Opening Day roster. Leclerc had perhaps the best season by a Rangers reliever in club history, and finished it as the closer. The Rangers, though, haven’t committed to him as the 2019 closer because it might be best to use him when trouble presents self earlier than the ninth inning.
Where to start? Mendez was given a rotation spot in mid-June only to blow it on a night out on the town in Kansas City. He was sent to High A Down East for a reboot, made his way back to the majors in September, and wasn’t terrible. Outside of one outing, he showed that he has the stuff to be competitive. He needs to continue to hone his fastball command. Mendez, who turns 24 in January, is out of options. That will work to his advantage.
Jurado was thrust into the rotation after Cole Hamels was traded, and the Rangers admit that Jurado wasn’t ready for the majors and probably still isn’t. But he finished the year on a high note, but needs to continue to develop his off-speed pitches if he has any chance to survive. If he starts at Triple A Nashville, he will be part of a rotation that could include Chi Chi Gonzalez, who is on his way back from Tommy John surgery and figures to be in the Rangers’ pitching mix at some point next season.
No pitcher auditioning in September performed better than Sampson, who doesn’t overpower hitters but understands how to pitch. He mixes speeds just enough and works both sides of the plate as well as the vertical game. One thing Daniels said he wants from his starting rotation is more strikeouts, and Sampson, 27 on Sunday, might not provide that. But the Rangers are in no position to be too picky, and Sampson could win a rotation spot.
Sadzeck isn’t young, having turned 27 on Monday, but he didn’t make his MLB debut until Aug. 31. The right-hander brings 100-mph velocity and throws two breaking pitches. It’s power stuff. However, he walked 11 batters and struck out seven in his first taste of the majors. Though he allowed only one earned run in 9 1/3 innings, walks will eventually catch up to him. Sadzeck is out of options, so expect him in the bullpen on Opening Day. Another hard-throwing reliever, lefty C.D. Pelham, is also a candidate for Opening Day.
This left-hander didn’t throw a single pitch for the Rangers, but he was the biggest of the player acquisitions during their six summertime trades. He came July 30 in the Keone Kela trade and went to Double A Frisco with mostly positive results. When the Rangers talk about the next pitching prospects to reach the majors, perhaps as soon as next summer, Hearn leads a trio that includes fellow lefty Joe Palumbo and right-hander Jonathan Hernandez. Hearn, 24, is the closest to the majors.