Tanner Scheppers: Rotation Piece?

Yesterday was a day off for the Rangers, and accordingly, I took somewhat of a break myself. As we inch closer to the regular season, we run the risk of over-analyzing everything, when in the end, hey, it's just Spring Training.

On Tuesday evening, Alexi Ogando's outing did little to convince anyone that he's able to be an effective member of a five-man rotation, as once again, his command was erratic and he struggled to deal with adversity.

There are concerns by some that the closer role is not yet defined, to which I would like to clarify that I don't care who the closer is. The Rangers have shown an exceptional ability to build a bullpen in recent years, even when it seemed to be one of the biggest question marks heading into the season.

Then you have the concern over moving Tanner Scheppers into the starting rotation. The currently popular narrative -- that using him as a starter will create some massive void in the bullpen -- is one that I'm not exactly inclined to buy into, and in reality, if he can handle the load, he should certainly be used in that capacity.

Prior to a shoulder injury in 2008, Scheppers was ranked as the #10 prospect in the nation by Baseball America, and in 2009, the Rangers were able to grab him with the 44th pick -- a supplemental pick from Seattle received as compensation for losing Milton Bradley -- which was viewed as a potential steal at the time.

While the organization has long held that Scheppers was viewed as a starter, his Major League role to this point has been as a reliever, and his role as an 8th inning setup man last year was a major reason for the bullpen's success. Injuries have hampered his progress some years, while last season, he had to fight his way onto the roster and earn a shot.

This year, there is a massive need in the rotation, and if we assume that he's able to stay at least moderately healthy and effective, he should certainly be used in that capacity. When an organization has a pitcher that can throw in the rotation, he's easily more valuable that even some of the most effective closers.

It's why the Rangers eventually attempted to move Neftali Feliz to the rotation, which was a move I feel was done a year or two later than it should have been. Feliz seemed to fall in love with the attention that goes along with the modern closer role and never really appeared -- or sounded -- like a guy that wanted to start.

When C.J. Wilson made the transition from reliever to starter in 2010, his 1.9 WAR from 2009 more than doubled to 4.3 in 2010. Throwing over 200 innings as opposed to 70-75 will tend to do that for you. For comparison, even Joe Nathan, one of the game's most reliable closers in 2013, posted a 2.5 WAR last season. Scheppers himself posted a WAR of 0.8.

That isn't to discount Nathan's contributions to the Rangers, but more to point out that, should the Rangers believe that Tanner Scheppers can contribute to the starting rotation, he'll offer more value than as a reliever. Furthermore, if he's able to go deeper into games than, say, Alexi Ogando, then you're suddenly looking at a situation in which the bullpen doesn't have to pitch until their arms explode.

In 2013, one of the last-season issues seemed to be a certain level of fatigue in the bullpen. While the Rangers were forced to often plug starters into the rotation, the bullpen was called on more often, and with Ron Washington trusting "his guys", he tended to overuse some arms more than others.

Saving the bullpen and preventing fatigue will be almost as important as finding pitchers to fill the starting rotation with if the Rangers want to make it to October and still have some gas left in the tank.

Thus far in Spring Training, Scheppers has posted a 3.12 ERA in 8.2 innings of work. He got a bit of a late start after dealing with some back stiffness early on, but has been gradually ramping up the workload, with his most recent outing on March 14 seeing him go 4 innings in which he posted 5 strikeouts.

None of this, of course, considers the implications that starting games would have on the health of Scheppers. It's a valid concern given that he's not pitched more than 80 innings in any season during his professional career, which came in 2010. For all we know, he could fall apart and struggle with injuries. However, it's important to note that C.J. Wilson also struggled with injuries early in his career, as hamstring issues and even Tommy John surgery set him back between 2003-2005.

The bar that Wilson set by converting to a starter in 2010 is certainly a high one, and making that comparison with Scheppers doesn't necessarily indicate that I feel the same type of projection is accurate. However, if the Rangers can get #3 or #4 production out him, he'll have served his role, as that's exactly what this team needs right now. Nick Tepesch has seemingly regressed from where he was at this time last year, and accordingly, was probably the biggest name that was already sent down to AAA.

Tanner Scheppers has an upper-90s fastball, and at various points in his minor league career, offered up what was deemed as one of the nastiest curveballs in the game. After some changes to his arm slot, that curve has been a bit less relied upon, but in its place, he's thrown the slider more often. Beyond that, he also has the ability to throw an effective changeup, which would be a pitch that could throw hitters even more off-balance over the course of a game.

At this point, it's really tough to speculate on anything given the way this Spring has gone, but assuming Scheppers has another good outing, I think it's safe to say that he'll be in the rotation to start the season. Whether Ogando will stay there or not remains to be seen, but it appears that the Rangers will at least see what they have in Scheppers, and really, the more I think about that prospect, the more the idea excites me.