Name: Nick Tepesch
Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: October 12, 1988
Acquired: 2010 Amateur Draft, 14th round
This interview was conducted after a start at Asheville on August 6, 2011.
On August 6 of last season at Asheville, Single-A Hickory starting pitcher Nick Tepesch suffered the loss after working seven innings and yielding four runs. He scattered nine hits while fanning seven without issuing a walk.
Tepesch began the game strong, retiring the first six batters in order, breaking a pair of bats, and throwing 19 of his first 20 pitches for strikes. Although he pitched relatively well the remainder of the outing, he left the occasional fastball over the plate and allowed three doubles, a triple, and a solo home run.
"The first two innings––that's what I'm trying to do every time I go out there," Tepesch said. "Just ground balls and letting the defense do what they've got to do behind me.
"In the third inning, I got the first two guys. Every run except the home run came with two outs. That's not really acceptable to me. I'm not really happy with it. I mean, I had good stuff. I'm just trying to go out there and get as many ground balls as possible and get the offense back hitting again as soon as I can."
Tepesch has plus velocity with a little bit of life on his fastball, but he'll have to improve his within-the-zone command of the offering as he matures. He has little issue finding the strike zone, though. The right-hander walked only 33 batters in 138.1 innings last season, and he threw 68 of his 91 pitches for strikes in the start against Asheville.
Tepesch, who is listed at 6-foot-5, 228 pounds, has flashed plus velocity since the day he stepped on campus at the University of Missouri in 2008. But, in addition to the fastball command, it's his secondary stuff that has needed to develop.
Entering the 2011 campaign, Tepesch featured a cut-slider that he threw in the mid-80s to combat right-handed hitters. The pitched morphed into a true upper-80s cutter as the season progressed, showing a little less break but with more bite.
It was an offering Tepesch begin going to as a put-away pitch last season.
"I feel like I'm really trying to throw (the cutter) more like a fastball as much as I can," he said. "I use kind of a four-seam grip with it, and it has really come along. The home run (on August 6) was actually a bad cutter. I just left it up, and it was straight. But I have been working on it."
Tepesch says he altered his grip on the cutter slightly, but most of the difference comes from simply throwing it more like a fastball. When the 23-year-old began using the pitch in college, he didn't want it to have the bigger break of a slider––he wanted a true cutter.
At spring training in last year, the offering looked to be exactly between "cutter" and "slider." And that's what sparked the adjustment.
Armed with a fastball that reaches the mid-90s and a developing cutter, Tepesch is still looking for an offspeed pitch that can consistently miss bats. He realizes it's something he'll need in order to stick in the starting rotation as he climbs the organizational ladder.
Tepesch began to gain trust in his 82-85 mph changeup down the stretch last season. In the start against Asheville, he threw it for a strike only six of 12 times but induced four swings and misses.
It was also a pitch he used exclusively to left-handed batters in the start.
"I definitely like throwing (the changeup) in there to lefties," he said. "For me, it has come along and it is a lot better than it has been, so I try to utilize it as much as I can."
The Missouri native says he made a point of throwing the change more often as last season progressed.
"Earlier in the year, I wasn't throwing it that much and I didn't really have that much confidence in it," he said. "It was kind of hard, and it just wasn't working with me. I tried playing with it as much as I could in the bullpens. It has gotten better for me."
Both during college and when Tepesch worked at spring training last season, he featured mostly an 88-92 mph fastball that could reach higher in bursts.
Tepesch's fastball reached the mid-90s on a regular basis during his first two years at Missouri, but the higher the velocity, the more trouble he had locating it low in the zone. The hurler then added the cutter––in order to keep hitters off his fastball––and lowered his velocity, where he showed better command.
While his command at the higher velocity improved last season, he realizes there's still more work to be done.
"I feel like I've definitely improved over the course of the year," he said. "That's what I'm looking for––just to get better every time I go out there.
"I'm just trying to keep the ball down and let my grips do the work––let my two-seam run and maybe run a fastball up there and try to get a guy to swing and miss at a high fastball. It has worked for me."
Also See: Rangers Minor League Notes (March 19, 2011)
Rangers Minors Players of the Month: June (July 13, 2011)
Rangers Top Prospects, Top Tools (October 27, 2011)
Rangers All-Prospect Teams (November 8, 2011)
Repertoire: Fastball, Cutter, Curveball, Changeup.
Fastball: Pure velocity has never been an issue for Tepesch, who touched the mid-90s with consistency during his first two years at the University of Missouri. But the higher his velocity, the more it floated up in the zone. After two hittable seasons in college, the right-hander dialed his fastball down into the 88-92 mph range and found more success.
Tepesch's velocity ticked back up with Single-A Hickory last season. His fastball sat between 91-93 mph, where it had decent armside run and helped him break some bats. It touched the 94-95 range (getting as high as 96) in bursts during starts. With a big 6-foot-5 frame, Tepesch also held his velocity deep into games last year.
He has excellent control of all four pitches––particularly his fastball––and walks are few and far between. However, he'll need to refine his within-the-zone fastball command. His command took a step forward last year, and he repeats his delivery relatively well given his size. But Tepesch still leaves a few too many fastballs over the heart of the plate, leading to 147 hits allowed in 138.1 frames.
Other Pitches: Tepesch's mid-80s cut-slider morphed into more of a true upper-80s cutter as last season progressed. While the added velocity made the break shorter, it also became sharper and began to miss some bats. Overall, it's a solid-average second pitch that he uses mostly against right-handed hitters.
Tepesch can throw strikes with his 82-85 mph changeup and upper-70s, low-80s curveball, but both offerings are fringy. Though his changeup is inconsistent, it has some sink and fade with deception at times and shows average potential. His curveball also has its moments on occasion but overall lacks depth and won't induce many swinging strikes.
Projection: Currently being developed as a starting pitcher, Tepesch profiles as an innings-eating number four or five starter if he sticks in the rotation. Though he has a tall frame and throws strikes with a deep four-pitch arsenal, his lack of a swing-and-miss offspeed pitch limits his ceiling as a starter.
Some scouts like Tepesch best as a future reliever, where he can rely more heavily on his power fastball-cuter combination. Even if he ultimately moves to the bullpen, the Rangers will want to maximize his innings for the time being, allowing him an opportunity to continue improving his offspeed stuff and fastball command.
2012 Outlook: After spending all of last season at Single-A Hickory, Tepesch will almost certainly move forward to High-A Myrtle Beach out of spring training in 2012. If his fastball command continues to progress, the 23-year-old could see Double-A Frisco before season's end.
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