The Texas Rangers’ bullpen reached crisis level last week, when an injury to Drew Smyly and a series of short starts left the club scrambling for relief pitchers.
That explains why Wei-Chieh Huang is receiving major-league pay after opening the season at Double A Frisco.
Huang, acquired last year in the Jake Diekman trade, is on the 40-man roster after the Rangers added him to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. That could be an avenue three relievers in the minors take to the Rangers’ roster this season.
All three of them are right handed and throw their fastballs anywhere from hard to really, really hard. Two of them have never pitched above High A, and the one who is at Double A Frisco has only 4 1/3 innings there.
DeMarcus Evans, Joe Barlow and Emmanuel Clase probably aren’t ready for the major leagues, though their stuff might say otherwise. But because they are Rule 5-eligible after the season and because the Rangers’ bullpen has been, to put it kindly, wildly inconsistent, their MLB debuts might come this season.
“It’s still a little early now. I’m not going to rule it out,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “We’ve got a few more steps to get to before we consider that.”
The Rangers might have to protect six players, possibly a seventh, from the Rule 5 draft. Outfielder Leody Taveras, shortstop Anderson Tejeda and righty starter Tyler Phillips are locks, along with Evans, Barlow and Clase.
Kyle Cody, recovering from Tommy John surgery, is also eligible but isn’t expected to pitch until late this season.
One way that would make it more likely for the relievers to appear in the majors this season if the Rangers were to contend for the playoffs. They could take the route they took in 2009, when they were on the fringe of contending for the postseason but didn’t make a deal at the trade deadline.
Instead, they called up a young right-hander from Triple A Oklahoma City, Neftali Feliz. He went 1-0 with 1.74 ERA, three saves and 39 strikeouts in 31 innings while topping out at 102 mph.
Feliz was an All-Star and the American League Rookie of the Year the next season as the Rangers went to the World Series for the first time as he struck out Alex Rodriguez for the final out of the AL Championship Series.
Clase would be the closest comparison, though he has only 11 1/3 innings above the short-season ball. Acquired nearly a year ago from San Diego for catcher Brett Nicholas, Clase has seen his velocity spike.
His fastball has been sitting at 100 mph this season.
“He’s different than Neftali Feliz, but similarity is that they both generate power without a lot of effort,” Daniels said. “He can get to his velo pretty easily, and he can command his slider, too. He’s doing well, but he’s got less than 15 innings outside of short-season ball. We wanted put him at a level where he might experience some adversity and challenge on the field, which he really hasn’t had yet.”
Evans and Barlow formed a dominant relief duo last season at Low A Hickory and have picked up at High A Down East where they left off. Barlow has a 0.84 ERA after 10 2/3 innings with 20 strikeouts and a .143 opponents average while Evans has a 1.64 ERA in 11 innings with 19 strikeouts and a .162 opponents average.
Neither throws as hard as Clase, though they have nothing to be ashamed of with fastballs that register in the mid- to upper 90s. Their status as Rule 5-eligibles at the very least will help them advance in the system.
Possibly to the big leagues.
“I think things line up pretty well for them to be getting some additional challenges this summer,” Daniels said. “They’re starting to creep their way onto the radar.”