The Texas Rangers promoted prospect Tanner Scheppers to the majors a few days ago, seeking reinforcement help for the bullpen. Scheppers has been up and down prospect lists for four years. Let's see if we can figure out what the Rangers have here.
Scheppers had a rough freshman season for Fresno State in 2006, walking 15 men in 15 innings. He improved his control substantially as a sophomore, posting a 94/32 K/BB in 93 innings, albeit with a 4.74 ERA. He took an even larger step forward in 2008, posting a 2.93 ERA with a 109/34 K/BB in 71 innings, emerging as one of the top prospects in the draft and a certain first round pick, until a late spring shoulder injury put him on the shelf. He fell to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the second round, didn't sign, trekked to the independent Northern League, then re-entered the draft for 2009, being picked in the supplemental first round and earning a $1,250,000 bonus from Texas.
Scheppers split his 2010 season between Double-A Frisco (0.82 ERA with a 19/0 K/BB in 11 innings) and Triple-A Oklahoma City (5.48 ERA, 71/30 K/BB in 69 innings, 82 hits allowed). He made seven starts but was used primarily as a reliever, although the Rangers claimed they saw him as a long-term starter. At times he was brilliant, but he also had his share of poor outings in the Pacific Coast League amidst rumors of a tired arm.
A back injury (herniated disc) limited him to 44 innings between Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock in 2011, with spotty results (combined 3.71 ERA with a 44/21 K/BB and 41 hits allowed). Again, he was brilliant at times and ineffective at others. Before his promotion to the majors this year, he had a 3.72 ERA with a 27/4 K/BB and 30 hits allowed in 29 innings for Round Rock, showing substantially improved control while saving nine games.
A 6-4, 220 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, Scheppers was born January 17, 1987. Velocity is his calling card: he hit 100 MPH in college and still hits 98-99 on his best days, although 94-97 is his usual range now. He combines the fastball with a curveball, slider, and changeup. Scouts generally give the strongest grades to the curveball, and when things are going well the curve makes a great one-two punch with his heater. The slider and changeup need work but both pitches are decent enough that the Rangers felt he could start.
Scheppers has some problems which have, so far, prevented him from reaching his full potential. His fastball is sometimes too straight, making him surprisingly hittable despite his velocity. His command is erratic, giving him significant trouble at times. He loses his release point occasionally, costing him both stuff and location and sometimes leading to telegraphing of his breaking ball. Those kinds of problems are generally fixable, but the biggest concern is simple health: in addition to last year's back trouble, scouts still remember the shoulder problems and many feel that his arm will simply implode someday.
Caveats and concerns aside, Scheppers has looked quite good in 2012. He's throwing hard, pounding the strike zone very effectively, and looking more like the pitcher scouts saw in college. While durability concerns likely limit him to the bullpen, he's got the stuff to be a very valuable relief asset if his command stays steady, and he could close games eventually.