Sizing up the relief prospects

In this feature article, Lone Star Dugout analyzes the Rangers' top relief pitching prospects. Which have the highest upside? Which ones are ready to make a Major League impact soon? Who needs to make their mark quickly?

Highest Ceiling

Brennan Garr: The former ninth round pick reached the Double-A level in his first full season of professional ball. While that is quite an accomplishment for any player, Garr did so after totaling just 34.2 innings in three seasons at the University of Northern Colorado. Garr was mostly a hitter in college, as he batted .345 in 490 career at-bats.

In 62.1 innings between Single-, High-, and Double-A in 2007, Garr posted a 2.02 ERA while striking out 75 batters. He also limited opposing hitters to a .184 batting average. The righty flashed a fastball that generally sat around 92-95 MPH with a plus slider – or slurve – that was used as a strikeout pitch. Garr found success with a changeup in the season's second half, giving the reliever three above-average offerings.

One of Garr's primary issues during his professional debut in '06 was control, as he issued 14 walks in 26 innings with Spokane. But a mechanical adjustment helped rectify the issue until late in the 2007 season when Garr began to tire down and revert back to old habits. If the 23-year-old is able to fix the problem again, he could reach the Majors as early as next summer.

Warner Madrigal: The Rangers' newest prospect, Madrigal was a position player for the first four years of his pro career in the Angels system. His best year came in his debut – 2003 – with Provo of the rookie level Pioneer League. The then-outfielder batted .369 with 28 doubles and nine home runs in 70 games.

But after three consecutive mediocre seasons, the Angels elected to send the righty with an electric arm to the mound. Madrigal – who spent the early part of 2006 in the outfield with Single-A Cedar Rapids – pitched in 11 games in '06 with the AZL Angels. It wasn't until his first full season pitching – 2007 – that he would break out. The native of the Dominican Republic made 54 appearances with Cedar Rapids and posted a 2.07 ERA. He notched 61 innings, surrendered just 44 hits, and struck out 75.

Even more impressive than the stats is Madrigal's arm. The 23-year-old has an outstanding fastball that typically sits in the 95-96 MPH range. He uses both two- and four-seam fastballs to go along with a slider and a changeup. Because he has only been pitching for one year, Madrigal is still relatively unknown, but that may not be the case for much longer.

Closest to Majors

Herrera pitched well in the Arizona Fall League.
Danny Herrera: Checking in at 5-foot-8, 145-pounds, left-hander Danny Herrera is one of the more intriguing prospects in all of baseball. Though he has a fastball that tops out in the mid-80s and sits in the 82-84 MPH range, Herrera has consistently shown the ability to miss bats in professional baseball. The Odessa native notched 52.1 innings with Double-A Frisco this past season and struck out 64 while allowing just 43 hits. He was able to do so with the help of a filthy screwball-style changeup that checks in at around 60-65 MPH and rates as arguably the organization's best pitch. The southpaw also uses a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a cutter, and a slider.

Jesse Ingram: Recently left unprotected for December's Rule 5 Draft, there is a chance the 25-year-old is no longer in the organization in a couple of weeks. Despite his 4.21 ERA with Frisco, Ingram surrendered only 43 hits in 62 innings while recording 70 punchouts. With a fastball that sits 89-92 MPH and occasionally tops out slightly higher, Ingram doesn't have overpowering stuff, but his aggressive style has helped him post high strikeout numbers throughout his minor league career. Ingram also uses a slider – which is more of a hard slurve – and a changeup. Though his changeup is clearly a third pitch, he was able to use it with some success this past season.

The "Sleepers"

Chris Dennis: The former Auburn Tiger signed with the Rangers as a fifth-year senior draft-and-follow candidate prior to the 2007 MLB Draft. Dennis missed the 2004 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and was picked in the 40th round after he struggled and saw his velocity drop to the mid-80s. The righty moved to the bullpen for his senior season and posted a 3.66 ERA in 23 appearances with the Tigers. Dennis' velocity has begun to return, as he sat in the low-90s while closing for short-season Spokane and Single-A Clinton in '07.

Andrew Laughter: Laughter shined after moving into the closing role with short-season Spokane in his professional debut. The Rangers' 10th round pick in the '07 Draft, Laughter features a fastball that sits in the low-90s and reaches 94 MPH. He uses both the two- and four-seam varieties, though he just recently begun working with the two-seamer. The former Louisiana-Lafayette reliever uses his 83-84 MPH slider as his put-away pitch. Like most young pitchers, Laughter has worked hard to bring along his changeup since being drafted.

Lueke's fastball reaches the mid-90s.
Josh Lueke: The Northern Kentucky product became the first 2007 draftee to reach a full-season level, as he appeared in 20 games for the Clinton LumberKings. A starting pitcher in college, Lueke moved into the bullpen and adjusted to the role well. He works with a low-to-mid-90s fastball [he was up to 95-96 MPH at instructs], a slider, and a changeup. The changeup is a new pitch for Lueke and it was a primary focus of his at instructs in October. Much like Brennan Garr broke out in '07, Lueke could quickly emerge as a late-inning relief prospect in '08.

Need to Make Their Move

Kea Kometani: Kometani began to make his move when he turned in an outstanding performance in the Arizona Fall League. Though he spent his first two pro seasons as a starter, the Rangers always viewed Kometani as a reliever and wanted him to accumulate as many innings as possible before moving him to the bullpen. The move appears to be working, as the 24-year-old has been successful out of the bullpen thus far. The native of Hawaii has a low-90s fastball and a splitter, which is a legitimate big league pitch. Kometani also has a slider, though he doesn't use it quite as much when he works out of the bullpen.

The Jury is Still Out

Ryan Falcon: A 29th round selection in the 2007 Draft, Falcon doesn't have big time stuff, but it's hard to argue with his numbers. Despite his mid-80s fastball, Falcon baffled Northwest League hitters in his debut, as he put up a 2.68 ERA in 47 innings out of the ‘pen. He surrendered 39 hits, walked six, and struck out 62 over that span. The southpaw's best pitch is a changeup and he also works with a slider and a curveball.

Bill White: A virtual unknown before getting an unexpected call to the Majors last September, White appears to have survived the offseason's 40-man roster cut-downs. The left-hander has big league stuff, but his command has consistently held him back throughout his career. White has walked 5.3 batters per nine innings over his eight-year minor league career, including seven in 9.1 innings with the Rangers last year. But the 29-year-old has a fastball that can reach the mid-90s and a devastating slider that can make him lethal.

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