Name: Cody Buckel
Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: June 18, 1992
Acquired: 2010 Amateur Draft, 2nd round
Southern California high school product Cody Buckel was selected by the Rangers in the second round––the 72nd overall pick––in last summer's MLB Draft.
Originally committed to play collegiately at Pepperdine University, Buckel signed with the Rangers on July 27 for a slightly above-slot $590,000 bonus.
Buckel immediately reported to the Rangers' minor league complex in Arizona, and he began working out with the rookie-level Surprise Rangers club. The right-hander was impressive in four late-season relief appearances, hurling five scoreless innings. He yielded two hits while walking one and striking out nine.
With his excellent performance and overall mature approach to the game, Buckel appeared to make an impression on 2010 Surprise Rangers Manager Jayce Tingler.
"He seems like a very sharp kid," Tingler said last summer. "He came in and learned the bunt plays right away––the first-third, the rundowns, and everything. He learned all the intangibles that we do in our team defense and stuff like that.
"Pitchability-wise, he is very good for a high school kid. The fastball has got some explosiveness to it. He can really spin the ball. Now we just have to finish the year and watch him progress throughout instructs and hopefully into next year."
Lone Star Dugout recently caught up with Buckel for a little pre-spring training Q&A session.
Jason Cole: What were your thoughts on the three late-season outings you got in the Arizona League
Cody Buckel: It was definitely different than high school. The players are a lot better. Obviously you're playing with the best of the best and the field is getting whittled down. Honestly, I love pitching to wood bats. It's definitely a different taste than pitching to metal bats. I just went out there and pitched like I always pitched, and I had success. And I had a lot of fun doing it. That's what I hope to do this year.
Cole: Since they were short outings, were you able to mix in your cutter and changeup at all?
Buckel: In high school, I lived fastball-curveball. I went to instructs, and that's when I was really trying to develop the changeup. The cutter is just kind of a pitch that, when I need a ground ball or something, I use that. But during rookie ball, I was trying to throw a lot more changeups. I threw some changeups in there and actually got them over pretty well.
My changeup is probably my weakest pitch, so it's the pitch I'm trying to work on. I got to throw it a few times and I felt pretty comfortable with it. So yeah, I got some changeups and cutters in. But predominantly, those few outings were fastball-curveball, but I did throw the changeup a few times.
Cole: How often did you throw the change in high school?
Buckel: In high school, maybe two times per game.
Cole: So it was just a pitch that you threw to show scouts you had it in your repertoire?
Buckel: Yeah, exactly. Throwing in the low-90s in high school, if I suddenly throw an 85 mph changeup in there––they're behind my fastball and even if they're fooled, they're putting that metal bat on it. And with the metal bat, you can't really win with that. With the wood bat and throwing a changeup, they can get out in front and it doesn't sound like a solid hit. It's just a little ground ball now. That's definitely the plus of throwing a changeup to wooden bats.
Cole: Aside from your changeup, what were you focusing on during your time at instructs?
Buckel: Not too much mechanically. Maybe separating my hands a little bit earlier. I have a tendency to drive forward without separating my hands, so my arm has to play sort of catch-up. That actually helped me as I was younger, because it got me to have better arm speed.
But it's just getting more in-sync with my mechanics. I'm not changing really anything with them. It's just getting more in-sync and more balance with my upper and lower body. I'm trying to reach out in front a little more and get the ball lower in the zone––make my misses not as high. I want to make my misses good, so to speak.
Cole: What has been the biggest challenge during your adjustment into the professional game?
Buckel: Definitely the strike zone. The strike zone has gotten a lot smaller. In high school, it's all over the place. The strike zone actually is from the knees to the––I think it's the belt. It's supposed to be to the arm pits, but I think anything above the belt is being called a ball. It's definitely making that adjustment and getting ahead in the count. In high school, if you fall behind 2-0, you can just throw a fastball down the middle and you can get back to 2-2. I can't do that now. I can't give in when I'm behind in the count. So the toughest thing is definitely getting ahead and staying ahead. And consistently throwing more strikes.
Cole: Your offseason is just about over. What have you been doing to prepare for your first full season?
Buckel: I'm trying to gain weight, obviously. There are a lot of skeptical people out there that say I'm way too small and that 6-foot-1, 175 lbs isn't going to cut it. I'm not a believer that the biggest player out there is necessarily the best. I've been really trying to work on flexibility and gaining a few pounds. The reason for flexibility is so my arm can generate more speed effortlessly.
My muscles could handle the 140-game season if they are more flexible and have more range. But I'm trying to get more flexible with my hips, my arm, my back––everything like that. I'm doing a lot of stretching. With workouts, I'm going to the gym about four times per week. I'm just trying to gain some weight and drink the protein shakes. I'm up to about 183 right now, so that's about 13 pounds since last year. That's a good start.
Cole: Have you spoken with the Rangers about their plan workload-wise for you this season?
Buckel: Yeah, at instructs I sat down with the coaches and we had a talk. Last year in high school, I think I threw about 83 innings or so. That's a pretty good workload in itself, so they know I can go a distance. But they told me wherever I may be––whether it be Arizona, Washington, or North Carolina––they said they would like to see me in a starting role and get at least 100 innings in.
Cole: Have you begun thinking about any expectations or goals for yourself?
Buckel: Being a young kid, I want to run up that ladder as quickly as I can. I want to get to the major leagues as quickly as I can. This year, the long-term goal––it doesn't matter how or when––I just want to end up in North Carolina by the end of the year. Whether it's being called up for playoffs, being stuck there out of spring training, or getting put there halfway through the season––I want to get a taste of that higher level. I want to play against the 23- and 24-year-olds and see what I've got against them.
Also See: Buckel excited to begin pro career (August 10, 2010)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Jayce Tingler (August 28, 2010)
Rangers Instructional League Notes (September 22, 2010)
Top Prospects, Top Tools (January 14, 2011)
Repertoire: Fastball, Cutter, Curveball, Changeup.
Fastball: Buckel flashed plus velocity in four relief appearances with the rookie club last summer, working between 91-94 mph and touching up to 95. His fastball has some late action, and he does a good job of commanding it down in the zone. While he's likely to work more in the 89-92 mph range as a starting pitcher, the movement and projected plus command and control make it an all-around strong offering.
Other Pitches: The prospect features a very mature 74-77 mph curveball with tight rotation, late break, and plenty of depth. An argument could be made that it's already one of the system's better curves, and it projects as a definite plus pitch. Buckel also mixes in a cut-slider and a changeup, though he didn't show much of either in the short rookie ball outings. His change was little-used in high school, and it's a pitch he will need to develop if he's to remain a starting pitcher.
Projection: The biggest question regarding Buckel is his size and whether he'll be durable enough to stick in a starting role. While there is some effort and funk to his delivery, he is a good athlete and should be able to repeat his mechanics. There is little doubt about his stuff, as he possesses two potential plus offerings and an advanced feel for pitching. His overall polished game should lead to success at the lower levels. Buckel appears to have a middle-of-the-rotation ceiling. And if he ultimately ends up in the bullpen, he could be a high-leverage reliever with a swing-and-miss breaking ball and a fastball that bumps the mid-90s.
2011 Outlook: A strong showing in spring training could land Buckel an opening day spot on the Single-A Hickory roster. Or perhaps he'll spend a little time at extended spring training before shipping off to Hickory. If Buckel plays full-season ball in 2011, he may flip between the rotation and bullpen in order to manage his innings count, a la Robbie Erlin last season. The Hickory pitching staff figures to be crowded, though, and there's a chance that he just progresses to short-season Spokane.
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