The Rangers currently sit atop the AL West with a 61-48 record while the Padres––at 47-62––are in the NL West cellar, 14.5 games out of first place. But the Rangers had one glaring issue––a 4.35 bullpen earned-run average, which ranks 26th out of 30 Major League clubs. The Padres, meanwhile, have baseball's best bullpen ERA at 2.81.
Rangers' General Manager Jon Daniels and his staff spent most of the last few weeks searching for bullpen help. The club acquired Orioles right-hander Koji Uehara for corner infielder Chris Davis and righty Tommy Hunter on Saturday.
One day later, they made another surprising move. While most rumors leading up to the deadline had the Rangers linked with San Diego closer Heath Bell, the club ultimately traded for right-handed setup man Mike Adams.
As Daniels has explained in post-trade interviews, the Rangers liked the fact that both Adams and Uehara are under team control past the 2011 season. Bell is slated to become a free agent after this year.
Of course, the Rangers had to pay a more premium price for Adams. They sent prized pitching prospects Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland to San Diego.
The Padres' interest in both young hurlers was certainly no secret. The Rangers have now strengthened their bullpen with the 33-year-old Adams, who has a 1.13 ERA while yielding just 26 hits in 48 innings this season. San Diego, looking to stock up on young pitching, got two of the Rangers' top pitching prospects.
Because of the rumors in the weeks before the deadline, neither Wieland or Erlin were surprised by the news. In fact, both hurlers were almost expecting something to happen.
"I got a call from (Rangers farm director) Scott Servais at about 12:30 or 1:00," said Erlin. "At first, when I looked at my phone and I saw who was calling, I knew exactly what happened."
Wieland gave almost the exact answer to the same question.
"Scott Servais called me at about 1:00," Wieland said. "When I saw his name come up on my phone, I knew exactly what it was."
Both pitchers are disappointed to depart the Rangers' organization. The 21-year-old Wieland was the club's fourth-round pick in the 2008 MLB Draft. Erlin, 20, was a third rounder in '09. They were teammates for much of the season at Single-A Hickory last season, both began this year at High-A Myrtle Beach, and they were promoted to Double-A Frisco just weeks apart.
"I was a little disappointed," said Erlin of learning about the trade. "But when I started talking to (Servais), it just kind of settled in. I asked him a few questions, and he kind of explained it to me a little bit. I felt a lot more comfortable with it just in the time talking to Scott on the phone.
"I was excited for the new opportunity but I was definitely disappointed to be leaving all the friends and coaches that I played for in Texas."
|Wieland no-hit the Missions on Friday. b>|
"For one, it stinks to leave that organization," he said. "But at the same time, I'm excited to start a new journey and a new experience. It's probably what's best for my career. Whatever happens from here happens."
Erlin broke out as one of baseball's top left-handed pitching prospects last year, when his advanced all-around game landed him in the full-season South Atlantic League out of spring training despite being less than a year removed from high school.
The Santa Cruz native posted dominant numbers with Single-A Hickory. This season, at High-A Myrtle Beach, his results were even a little better. Erlin had a 2.14 ERA in 54.2 innings, yielding only 25 hits while walking five and striking out 62. In 11 games (10 starts) with Frisco, he has a 4.32 ERA. But in 66.2 innings, he has continued to throw strikes (seven walks) and miss bats (61 strikeouts).
Erlin is currently learning the difference between command and control in the relatively hitter-friendly Texas League. Regardless, the 20-year-old southpaw shows the ability to locate his entire arsenal, which includes an upper-80s, low-90s fastball, a curveball, and a changeup. All three pitches project as solid-average to plus. He has recently begun developing a two-seam fastball and a cut-slider.
The only current drawback to Erlin's game are the home run totals––he has allowed 16 round-trippers in 20 games (19 starts) this year. Because Erlin lacks ideal height, when he leaves a fastball up in the zone it often stays on a flat plane to the plate and makes him susceptible to home runs. It's a primary reason he has begun throwing a two-seamer and cut-slider. It's also an advantage that his potential future home games will be in Petco Park rather than Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Erlin is somewhat difficult to project because while his overall stuff isn't overpowering, he is mature beyond his years both on and off the mound. He shows an ability to sequence pitches effectively while commanding multiple offerings.
Wieland's statistical breakout came this season with Myrtle Beach, but he began showing drastic improvement late last season with Bakersfield––the Rangers' previous High-A affiliate.
While Erlin is currently learning the difference between simply throwing strikes and throwing quality strikes, Wieland had that lesson last year. After pitching well for Hickory, Wieland played in the hitter-friendly California League and was routinely punished early in the stint when he left fastballs up in the zone.
As a result, the Reno native began locating his fastball low and used his curveball with more frequency. Wieland's curveball took off as a plus pitch, and he now shows the ability to both throw it for strikes early in counts while also burying it in the dirt to chase strikeouts.
The right-hander features an 88-92 mph fastball, though he has settled into the 90-93 mph range––touching 94––with more frequency in his last few starts at Frisco. He also has the curveball, a low-80s slider, and a changeup. Wieland began throwing the slider earlier this season to give him another weapon against left-handed batters, and it was key in Friday's no-hitter against San Antonio.
Wieland opened the 2011 season at Myrtle Beach. He had a 2.10 ERA for the Pelicans and walked only four while striking out 96 in 85.2 innings. During one stretch, he faced 227 consecutive hitters without issuing a walk.
Because Myrtle Beach plays in an extremely pitcher-friendly environment, Wieland was able to lay fastballs over the plate even when behind in the count. He isn't able to do the same in Double-A, but he's still having plenty of success while making the adjustment. In his first seven starts with Frisco, the 6-foot-3 prospect has allowed only six earned runs in 44 innings.
When the RoughRiders left Frisco on Thursday evening for their four-game weekend series in San Antonio, both pitchers knew there was a chance they wouldn't return.
Erlin says he began to prepare himself for a change mentally––just in case. He also did so physically.
"I actually did pack a little bit more for the road trip," he said with a laugh. "No joke. Yeah, that was pretty funny. Me, Jake Brigham, and his wife were all kind of joking that it may be the last time that I'm living in the apartment and all that stuff."
The irony that the ‘Riders would be playing in San Antonio––Double-A affiliate of the Padres––during the deadline certainly wasn't lost on either hurler.
Wieland made history during the first game of the series by tossing a nine-inning no-hitter against the Missions. Two days later, he and Erlin were packing up their things in the Nelson Wolff Stadium visiting clubhouse before walking a few feet across the tunnel and into the home clubhouse.
"They were kind of joking with me by saying, ‘You better go throw a no-hitter against them now," Wieland said.
It was surely a strange moment for both prospects, who were carrying oversized blue and red Texas Rangers equipment bags.
"It was tough walking through the clubhouse and shaking hands and saying bye to everybody with Frisco," Erlin said. "But it was funny walking into the Missions clubhouse. Once everybody saw us walk in, they just started laughing and clapping and stuff. It was pretty funny. It was a nice welcoming."
The Padres' two newest prospects were in the San Antonio clubhouse just long enough to get a new shirt and cap. A few minutes later, Erlin was throwing a bullpen session in front of Missions pitching coach Jimmy Jones.
"It was the same as any other day, really," the lefty said. "I didn't talk to the pitching coach much. He explained some of the stuff that they do. Besides that, he's going to watch two or three side sessions and the game before he starts really getting into some stuff. He has to get a feel for how I pitch just like I have to get a feel for the way he coaches.
"It was really just like any other day. It's pretty funny that you do one thing one day and the exact same thing the next day with a new team."
Erlin was initially scheduled to pitch for Frisco––against San Antonio––on Sunday. But the Missions are holding him back until the ‘Riders leave town. He'll start on Tuesday, and Wieland is currently slated to pitch Thursday's game. Wieland throws his first bullpen session for San Antonio on Monday.
But next weekend, San Antonio travels to Frisco for a four-game series. The Missions and RoughRiders have eight regular-season meetings remaining, and they will more than likely face each other during the first round of the Texas League playoffs.
Both pitchers realize some awkward moments lay ahead this season. For now, Wieland says he just wants to focus on getting to know his new teammates.
"The hardest thing is going to be learning all these guys' names," he said. "I've had to ask guys multiple times already. I'm like, ‘Hey, sorry, what's your name?' And I'm probably not done with that either."