Scouting Rangers Prospect #40: John Bannister

John Bannister had an excellent performance in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, as he reached Double-A and was added to the 40-man roster in 2008. Lone Star Dugout takes a look at the 25-year-old hurler with a Q&A feature and an in-depth scouting report.

Vital Statistics:
Name: John Bannister
Position: Relief Pitcher
DOB: January 20, 1984
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 215
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

Jason Cole: What were your thoughts on last year's regular season with both Bakersfield and Frisco?

John Bannister: Well, I think I started off the season pretty well coming off surgery. They always say it's a big transition to come back and believe in yourself again. You've gotten surgery and you're healed.

The beginning part of it – I made the three starts in Bakersfield – I did well and got moved up to Frisco and then had some command issues. I think more or less, that was just me thinking that I tried to do too much when moving up to a higher level of baseball. I don't think that was really what I needed to do. I just needed to believe in what I have so I can go out there and prove that I can get hitters out.

I went back down to Bakersfield after that. I went back to start, and maybe it was just something mental, but the walks went back down there. Then I went to the bullpen and I really think that transition to the bullpen – not necessarily resurrected my career – but it kind of helped me out because being in the bullpen, they give you the ball and you can control what's going on. I felt a lot better coming out of the bullpen. I think it was a nice little change, kind of something different that I was doing.

It seemed to work out pretty good. Then I came back and battled pretty well in Bakersfield and got another promotion back up to Frisco. I felt real good out of the bullpen. Everything went well. I was still walking guys here and there, but not nearly as much. I think I started believing in myself again – that I didn't have to do too much. I could get hitters out with the stuff that I have.

Cole: Coming into last season, coming off surgery, what were your personal expectations? Did you have any idea what your stuff was going to be like?

Bannister: No, I really didn't. They always say – talking to other guys who have had surgery or talking to trainers – they say the command is going to be one of the last things to come back. Your strength and everything will come back through all the hard work you do through the actual rehabilitation process.

I really didn't know. It kind of gets you a little bit, and kind of frustrates you, that you know what you used to have and then it's not there. Sometimes I'd feel great for one hitter and then you walk a couple of guys.

I just had an expectation that I didn't want to go back on the DL. I just wanted to finish out a season. They always say that first season after surgery is kind of tough just to get through. I felt good most of the season, got through it, and just built up to more of the style of pitching I like to do – going after hitters rather than trying to pitch to the hitter's weakness.

Cole: You mentioned the move to the bullpen being part of your success during your second stint in Frisco. What else do you think contributed to that improvement?

Bannister: When I first went up there, you know how they say that Double-A baseball is pretty close to the big leagues, I think I kind of let too much of that get into my head. I went back for that second trip around and I just said, ‘I know I can get hitters out. I've played with a lot of these guys before and I've gotten them out in the past at other levels.'

The whole thing was that I knew I deserved to be there. They moved me up because they believe that I can compete at that level. It was just a thought that I was back there for a reason, they thought I could be there, and I believed in myself that I could get those guys out.

Cole: Are you expecting to be in the bullpen for the rest of your career?

Bannister: Yeah, that's what I'm expecting. It's whatever I can really do to help the organization. Hopefully one day soon I can be in the big leagues and help the big league ballclub to win ballgames.

I love being in the bullpen now. I mean, I love starting, but I think my knack is coming out of the bullpen. I feel like my velocity and everything that I gained throughout the latter part of the season and into the Fall League really made a big difference. I think coming out of the bullpen and only throwing two innings, that's where I feel that I'm the most competitive.

Cole: You mentioned the Fall League. What are your thoughts on your performance there?

Bannister: I felt real good. I was real excited about going to the thing. It's an honor that the Rangers gave me an opportunity to send me there. I felt great about it going in there. I felt once again – like the promotion back to Double-A – that the Rangers put me here for a reason. I believed in myself that I can go out there and compete. It's one of those things where, if I wanted to compete at the highest level in the big leagues, this is the place where I can prove it right now. I can get potential big league players out.

Cole: Coming off a long season after surgery, were you at all tired during the Fall League campaign?

Bannister: I felt great. Surprisingly, it wasn't that my arm fatigued or anything like that. I felt amazing. I had really gotten into a lot more working out this season, coming off the surgery where you are working out and getting your body stronger.

I thought that really made a big effect on me with the new style of working out and the more running that we're doing. I really think that paid off. It made me a lot stronger throughout the season, and I think I proved that with the whole velocity gain throughout the season and into the Fall League. My velocity jumped that much higher, and I feel that it was dedicated back to the hard workouts, the lifting, and the running that we've done.

Cole: Was your velocity gain a gradual climb all season or did it just suddenly happen?

Bannister: It kind of gained all season. Before I had the surgery, as a starter I was 90-94, touching 95. I think out of the bullpen, you're not going as long in games so you can kind of let it go a little bit more.

But it gradually gained. When I first came back, I wasn't throwing as hard and then throughout the season it kind of gained a little bit. I think it was just getting back in the swing of things and actually playing ball, throwing, having days to recover, and getting back on the mound. I hadn't done that in almost a year and a half.

Cole: When a lot of guys get that spike in velocity that they haven't had in the past, they oftentimes have trouble commanding it at first. But your command seemed to improve as the season progressed. What do you feel was behind that?

Bannister: I think it's just, like I said, I hadn't pitched since basically the middle of 2006. I think it's just getting back into that and getting through rehab with the Tommy John. They always say it takes about two years to get back to who you were as a pitcher.

I really worked on mechanics when I was in Bakersfield with [Dave] Chavarria. He helped me out and I kind of honed down some things. Then when I got up to Frisco, Terry Clark really helped me keep fine-tuning the stuff that I did. I was able to let my body and my legs do the work, and my arm came right behind that.

Cole: You were added to the 40-man roster this offseason. How did that feel?

Bannister: It's a dream come true to be honored like that – for the Rangers to give me the honor of being on the 40-man roster. I got the call from Jon Daniels – he called to congratulate me on being added to it – and it was almost breathtaking. I kind of sat there like, ‘This really did happen.'

All I can say is that I'm honored that they'd choose me and put me on something like that. They gave me an opportunity and I want to prove to them that it was a good move and I can contribute.

Cole: You were originally an undrafted free agent out of high school. At the time that you signed with the Rangers, did you think there was a chance that this could happen or that you would be so close to playing in the Majors?

Bannister: It's like the childhood dream. I always knew that deep down inside, if I could push myself hard enough, that I could compete. That just took it to where it was. I always believed that I could pitch in the Major Leagues, as anybody else that starts playing baseball. That's their dream.

I thought when they signed me, they saw something and thought that maybe I could one day give them help in the Major Leagues. I kind of ran with that. If they're going to give me a shot, now is my chance, and I'm going to run with it.

Cole: Being on the 40-man roster, does that mean that you'll also be participating in big league Spring Training at the beginning of camp?

Bannister: Yes, sir. I was invited to big league Spring Training. When Jon Daniels had called me to tell me about the addition to the 40-man roster, he also said that I was going to get a big league camp invite. So I've been out here and camp starts on Sunday.

Cole: Are you looking forward to getting a few innings in big league games this spring?

Bannister: Yeah, it's like I said, it's just a dream come true. Little pieces of the puzzle are starting to fit together. I'm going to get a couple of innings in a couple of games, and I can showcase and show what I can do. I love that challenge of facing the most elite players around.

I got to experience a little of that in the Fall League – they say those are the top minor league players. I know that it's just one more step and I can go out there and prove what I can do against the top echelon talent.

Cole: Where are you expecting to open the 2009 season?

Bannister: There are really no expectations. It's wherever I feel that I can help out this organization. I played in Frisco last year, but I didn't spend a lot of time there. I'd love to be in the Major Leagues, but that's something that I can't control. I can just go out there and do as much as I can do.

Cole: Have you set any goals for yourself going into this season?

Bannister: Yeah, I set goals. After I had surgery, I set a goal to do everything in my power to stay healthy and stay on the field. I feel that the more time you're on the field, the better opportunities you're going to get to advance your career. I feel that if I can do well wherever I'm at this season – whether it's Frisco or Oklahoma City – maybe I can get an opportunity in Arlington before the season's over.

Also See: Instant Analysis: Bakersfield/San Jose (July 23, 2008)

Repertoire: Fastball, Curveball, Changeup.

Fastball: Prior to his Tommy John surgery, Bannister consistently worked in the low-90s, sometimes bumping 94 or 95 mph. He missed the entire 2007 season, and he opened the '08 campaign with surprisingly solid velocity. While Bannister's fastball command wasn't always there – and that's generally the last thing to return following surgery – his velocity was cause for optimism.

After beginning the season as a starter, Bannister moved to the bullpen around mid-season. The right-hander's fastball was sitting between 90-94 mph just a few months after returning from surgery. Bannister was effective enough out of the bullpen to earn a second promotion to Double-A Frisco, and his stuff began to take off. The hurler's velocity kicked up a notch in his late-season Texas League stint before it went all-out in the Arizona Fall League.

In the Fall League, Bannister struck out 19 batters in 18 innings while using a 93-96 mph heater. He topped out at 98 mph a handful of times and even flashed improved command. If Bannister is able to hold that velocity into 2009, and if his command continues to progress [as it should following surgery], he could have a dominant '09 campaign.

Other Pitches: Bannister showed better command of his curveball than his heater for much of last season, as the righty was able to consistently drop it in for strikes. Coming in around 78-82 mph, the pitch is a big, hard breaker, and he isn't afraid to use it in any count. The curve is currently an above-average offering and it could be a true strikeout pitch for him. Though Bannister used a changeup as a starting pitcher, it's only thrown sparingly out of the bullpen. With such a great power fastball, curve combination, it doesn't make much sense of him to use the change when working in short relief.

Projection: With such an explosive fastball and a hard curveball, Bannister could land at the back end of a big league bullpen. But he still has plenty of developing to do before that happens, particularly in sharpening his command. While the Arizona native had dominant stuff and solid results in his second stint with Frisco, he had just five strikeouts versus five walks in 13 innings. If Bannister's command improves, his swing-and-miss stuff would not only lead to better numbers, but it could also make him a dominant reliever with the Rangers. If it doesn't, he likely won't have much of a big league career. Bannister was a starting pitcher for his entire professional career until last July, but he has seemingly found a permanent home in the bullpen.

2009 Outlook: Being added to the 40-man roster was a big step in Bannister's career. He didn't play in 2007 and began the '08 campaign in High-A Bakersfield. Now, it looks like Bannister has a legitimate shot to pitch in the Majors this season. Barring a setback, it's fair to expect Bannister's big league debut in 2009, but it probably won't be until later in the season.

The 25-year-old notched just 25.2 innings at Double-A Frisco last season, and he'll – in all likelihood – return there when camp breaks in early April. If Bannister picks up where he left off in the Fall League – and his stuff remains dominant – he could see Triple-A Oklahoma City within the first two months. Even if he succeeds at both levels, Bannister isn't likely to see Arlington before the All-Star break, but crazier things have happened. With his stuff, he should be a full-time contributor to the Rangers' bullpen by 2010.

ETA: 2009.

Year Team W-L IP H BB SO ERA
2003 AZL Rangers (RK) 2-4 42.2 47 16 28 4.22
2004 Spokane (SSA) 2-2 59.0 49 28 67 3.51
Clinton (A) 0-0 5.0 5 1 5 1.80
2005 Clinton (A) 8-10 157.1 171 58 127 4.58
2006 AZL Rangers (RK) 0-0 2.0 1 0 6 4.50
Bakersfield (A+) 5-8 96.2 109 53 109 5.87
2007 DNP – Injury --- --- --- --- --- ---
2008 Bakersfield (A+) 4-6 63.0 63 29 51 4.14
Frisco (AA) 1-0 25.2 26 22 15 4.56

Future Rangers Top Stories