Texas Rangers

Youth might be served with 2019 Rangers, but back of bullpen is full of 30-somethings

Jose Leclerc is the closer in a Rangers bullpen that is older and has more veterans than many might think.
Jose Leclerc is the closer in a Rangers bullpen that is older and has more veterans than many might think. rmallison@star-telegram.com

A misconception that potentially is bogging down the Texas Rangers’ win-loss predictions by various baseball sources and at various sportsbooks is that they are going to be young.

A look at the bullpen is proof enough to discount that.

Shawn Kelley, who played with manager Chris Woodward in 2009, considered retirement in the off-season. Jesse Chavez also played with Woodward.

Chris Martin and Zach McAllister also sport birthdays from the 1980s.

Add closer Jose Leclerc, who is only 25 but is coming off one of the best seasons by a reliever in the majors, and the Rangers have the potential for a veteran back end of the bullpen.

The Rangers might be in a rebuild mode, but the bullpen doesn’t look that way.

“This isn’t a Triple A rebuild, I don’t feel like,” Kelley said. “There are some tough teams in this division. There are some tough teams all around baseball. You’ve got players who have been on teams that went places. Texas has been places. This team could surprise a lot of people.”

The Rangers could have two or three bullpen spots, and potentially three young pitchers filling them.

Jordan Romano, like the five veterans, is a right-hander and has an inside track to a roster spot as a Rule 5 pick. Connor Sadzeck, who hits 100 mph with his fastball, might take a spot because he is out of minor-league options.

The Rangers need a left-hander or two, and will choose from Jeffrey Springs, C.D. Pelham, Kyle Bird, Brady Fiegl, Zac Curtis and Miguel Del Pozo. Springs, who has experience working as The Opener could have an edge, and he, Pehlam and Bird have the advantage of being on the 40-man roster.

General manager Jon Daniels likes that pool enough that he bypassed the chance to reunite with Jake Diekman.

“We want to give those guys a real opportunity,” Daniels said. “We think they are as talented, maybe more so, than even some of the guys still on the market. If we want to audible later, there may be some options for us to do that later in the spring, but all of those guys have the ability to get out lefties and righties.”

Kelley said that his time late last season with the Oakland A’s rekindled his desire to play an 11th big-league season. He also spoke with Woodward multiple times throughout the off-season and wanted to be a part of what the Rangers are doing.

Kelley has a 3.67 career ERA and 478 strikeouts in 417 1/3 innings with five previous teams.

“It’s a chance to come to a great organization,” Kelley said. “I love Texas. I am a Southern guy. I live in Tennessee, not too far from home. I like being back in the American League. I thought I’d like the NL at first, but my arm didn’t love it as much as I did. I’ll take the DH and the less warmups.”

Chavez could log 100 innings this season, and the Rangers are counting on McAllister to bounce back after a rough 2018 season. Martin was undone by injuries last season, but the Rangers still like the way he attacks hitters.

Woodward already has a feel for them. He is interested in seeing the left-handers.

“I feel like we have a lot of options,” Woodward said. “To see them compete is another thing, to watch their development and their growth and to see how quickly they can make that leap to the big leagues, I’m really interested. It’s something you have to see it first-hand. I know some of their stuff is off the charts. Spring training will help us all gauge and see where they’re at.”

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After 12 seasons covering the Rangers for the Star-Telegram, Jeff Wilson knows that baseball is a 24/7/365 business and there is far more to baseball than just the 162 games each season. There’s also more to Jeff -- like a family and impressive arsenals of Titleist hats and adidas shoes -- but sometimes it’s hard to tell.
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