Continuing our "What to Expect" series of rookie reviews, we turn our attention to Texas Rangers lefty Andrew Faulkner. This southpaw made his big league debut in 2015 and performed well, posting a 10/3 K/BB in 10 innings with a 2.79 ERA, and earned his way onto the roster for 2016. What's his upside? Let's take a look.
The basic background, from the 2016 Baseball Prospect Book:
Andrew Faulkner, LHP, Texas Rangers
Bats: R Throws: L HT: 6-3 WT: 180 DOB: September 12, 1992
2015: Grade C+
Andrew Faulkner made his major league debut in the Rangers bullpen last year and should be an asset for some time to come. Originally a 14th round pick in 2011 from high school in South Carolina, mechanical refinements have boosted his fastball into the 90-94 range. His command was erratic as a starter but he did a much better job throwing quality strikes after moving to relief. His average velocity is higher in the bullpen, too, around 93 rather than 91 when he has to pace himself. He’ll mix in a curveball and a change-up with splitty action. I think he will be a very valuable reliever at the least and he could return to starting if his command holds up. Grade C+.
Faulkner pitched 11.1 innings in spring training with a 4.76 ERA and a 9/4 K/BB, not spectacular but enough to earn a bullpen role for Opening Day.
In the early going he's not throwing quite as hard as he did last fall; his fastball has averaged 92.2 MPH in 2016 as opposed to 93.2 last year. On the other hand he is making more frequent use of his off-speed pitches, throwing his curveball or change-up slightly more than half the time so far, much more often than he did last fall when he was fastball-oriented.
Of course the sample size from 2016 is minuscule, with just 2.2 innings in three games pitched in the regular season. At this point I think the change in pitch mix is more interesting than the velocity decline but it remains to be seen if that is a permanent change or just a situational fluke.
The general idea around the game is that Faulkner fits better in the bullpen than as a potential starter. His stuff seems a bit better in that relief role and his command sharper, at least last fall. I think that's true in the short and medium runs, but in the long run it still seems plausible that he could switch roles eventually. He does have a three-pitch mix and if his command steadies perhaps he can be a number four man at some point.
Or not. From a fantasy perspective Faulkner won't offer much more than filler innings, with any change in role well into the future. From the real baseball point of view, he's a lefty with a good arm; he'll have a job of some kind as long as he stays healthy and throws a reasonable number of strikes.