Name: Josh Rupe
Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: August 18, 1982
When the Rangers acquired Josh Rupe in the summer of 2003, he was just a 20-year-old pitcher in his first full professional season. A third round pick of the Chicago White Sox in 2002, Rupe came to the Rangers along with fellow prospects Frank Francisco and Anthony Webster in exchange for eccentric outfielder Carl Everett.
It wasn't until 2004 that Rupe would begin to experience injury issues, as he missed the season's first two months due to a forearm strain. Rupe, who was just 21 at the time, finished the season at Double-A Frisco despite making just 15 appearances – 12 starts – in the season. It had become apparent that Rupe was one of the Rangers' top pitching prospects.
Rupe's 2005 campaign was practically a tale of two halves. The hurler pitched well in Frisco, even improving on his strong numbers from the previous year. Rupe not only posted a 3.74 ERA with the ‘Riders, but he improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio from 1:1 to over 2:1.
The right-hander was then promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma, where he was bombed off the bat. Rupe eventually settled down and pitched well in the season's final month, but his ERA was still an inflated 6.25.
The strong finish to the minor league season was enough to earn Rupe a September call-up. Rupe was impressive in all four appearances, but especially in his one start. In his start against division-rival Seattle, Rupe surrendered just two runs in five innings, showing the ability to throw all four of his pitches for strikes.
Rupe entered 2006 spring training with a legitimate shot at cracking the Rangers' opening day rotation, but it didn't take long for the injury bug to bite him for the second time in three seasons. Rupe went down with inflammation in his right elbow, an injury that would keep him from throwing in minor league games until mid-June.
Following 18 "rehab" appearances between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Oklahoma, the Rangers decided to let Rupe pitch the remainder of the '06 season out of the big league bullpen. Rupe proved to be just as impressive as he was the previous year, posting a 3.41 ERA in 29 innings of relief.
Believing he was finally fully healthy, the Rangers re-inserted Rupe into the starting rotation in 2007. Rupe began the season with Triple-A Oklahoma because he had not started a game since beating the Mariners in his big league debut two seasons before. He not only experienced inconsistent results, but his fastball was only working in the mid-80s. After making just seven starts, Rupe underwent surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow. The procedure kept Rupe from appearing in a minor league game for the rest of the season.
Rupe appeared on an Arizona Fall League roster early in the offseason, but the organization eventually decided against sending him to the Fall League. Both Rupe and the organization agreed that it would be best to rest the elbow for the entire offseason.
The 25-year-old says he is currently throwing without pain for the first time in two seasons. That season -- 2005 -- is when Rupe registered 168.1 innings between three levels. That was the only time Rupe has worked over 100 innings in a year.
Despite being healthy, the Rangers are once again having Rupe work out of the bullpen. He is currently being given a chance to make the big league pitching staff as a reliever. But if Rupe is able to prove he can stay healthy this time, it will be difficult to keep a pitcher with a strong four-pitch repertoire away from the rotation.
Also See: Rupe riding sinker to success (April 27, 2007)
Rupe expects to return before season's end (August 2, 2007)
Plans change for Rupe (September 25, 2007)
Sizing up the right-handed pitching prospects (October 16, 2007)
Repertoire: Fastball, Slider, Curveball, Changeup.
Rupe's repertoire is very similar to that of the pitcher ranked just above him – fellow righty Doug Mathis. The difference in the two is that, while Rupe has better stuff, he has had a more difficult time staying healthy throughout his career. Rupe's power low-90s sinker has helped him post eye-popping groundout-to-flyout numbers during his professional career, including a 3.88-to-one ratio in 29 innings with the Rangers two summers ago. The pitcher's slider would probably be considered his second-best offering. His slider complements his fastball well, especially when coming out of the bullpen. Rupe also features a big 12-to-6 curveball and a changeup. Both rate as average major league pitches, though Rupe's curveball can be a plus pitch when he commands it.
Projection: Rupe's role in the majors will continue to depend on his ability to stay healthy. The North Carolina native definitely has the repertoire of a starting pitcher, and the Rangers like him as a starter, but he has been unable to stay off the D.L. Last season's elbow surgery should help him stay on the mound, but only time will tell. Should he finally rid himself of the health issues, Rupe could develop into a mid-rotation starting pitcher. A healthy Rupe is, at the very least, a back-of-the-rotation major league starter. But if Rupe is unable to stay healthy for long periods of time, the Rangers may put him back into the bullpen, where he was successful in 2006. Rupe's hard sinker-slider combination could make him an effective reliever, but the Rangers would rather not keep him in the bullpen unless they feel it is necessary.
2008 Outlook: Despite missing the remainder of the 2007 season following his surgery and then being forced to skip out on the Arizona Fall League, Rupe hasn't suffered any setbacks in his rehab. The Rangers just felt it would be best that he got the extra rest and didn't re-fire up his elbow during the offseason. The Rangers are looking at Rupe as a reliever this spring in hopes that he can crack the team's bullpen out of spring training. Rupe will likely spend the entire 2008 season working out of the bullpen, but if he proves he is able to remain healthy, the 25-year-old should get another look as a starting pitcher.
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