Ever since Tanner Scheppers threw his first pitch at 2009 Fall Instructional League, he has been regarded as one of the top arms in a pitching-rich Texas Rangers system.
Scheppers has the stuff of a top-five overall pick, but concerns regarding the health of his shoulder–which caused him to miss Fresno State's national title run in 2008–scared many teams away.
As of right now, it appears the Rangers got Scheppers as a bargain, signing him to a $1.25 million bonus as the 44th overall selection in last summer's MLB Draft.
Obviously, whether or not Scheppers can stay healthy remains to be seen, but his stuff has been nothing short of dominant thus far.
The right-hander got his first affiliated professional action at Fall Instructional League this past offseason, logging a few innings before the Arizona Fall League began. At the AFL, Scheppers yielded seven runs on nine hits in 11 innings, walking four and fanning nine.
In five of Scheppers' seven outings, he was dominant, giving up just one hit over eight scoreless innings, walking two and striking out seven. In the other two appearances, however, he gave up seven earned runs in three total frames.
Since the start of Spring Training, the 6-foot-4, 170-pound hurler has pitched in two games–one ‘A' game and one ‘B' game. In the two games combined, he has pitched three scoreless innings, allowing one hit, walking zero, and striking out three. He has gotten six ground ball outs versus just one in the air.
Although there is speculation Scheppers could join the Rangers' big league bullpen by mid-season [and he certainly has the stuff to do so], he is expected to begin the 2010 season in the starting rotation at Double-A Frisco.
Where the hard-throwing Scheppers will sit velocity-wise as a starter in pro ball still remains to be seen, but he has already displayed the ability to touch 99 mph out of the bullpen since signing with Texas.
During the Fall League and so far in Spring Training, the 23-year-old has sat between 94-98 mph with a bit of late movement. He also mixes in a hard, tight low-80s curveball with excellent bite and two-plane break. Scheppers will also mix in the occasional slider and changeup, even while working out of the bullpen.
Scheppers' powerful fastball-curveball combination are absolutely elite, but his other two offspeed pitches can also be impressive at times. If he is able to remain healthy, the California native should be a major factor in the Rangers' pitching staff not only this season, but also for years to come.
Jason Cole: You got a couple innings at Fall Instructional League this past offseason, then you went to the Arizona Fall League. How did you feel about your performance there?
Tanner Scheppers: I was basically just getting work in–getting experience and getting back out there. Before instructs, there were a couple months where I was just throwing sides. I was throwing on the side, trying to keep my arm in shape. Getting some game experience against hitters was nice. The Fall League was obviously a great experience. I learned a lot of things and the next step is this camp.
Cole: Since you came in after just throwing bullpens for awhile, did you feel like you were a bit behind when you first got to Surprise?
Scheppers: No, I kept my workout routine. I kept throwing and working on stuff with the pitching coach at UC Irvine, Ted Silva. I didn't feel like I was behind. If anything, I felt like I was more rested, ready to go, and strong. I didn't feel like I was behind at all.
Cole: I know Ted Silva is regarded as one of the top pitching minds in collegiate baseball. Was he your pitching coach at Fresno?
Scheppers: My sophomore year, he was.
Cole: How has he helped you? Does he work with you quite a bit over the offseason?
Scheppers: Over the past two years, ever since I left Fresno, I've been at UCI back home and working with him basically every other day. He has helped me a lot to get me to where I am now. I've got to give him a lot of credit.
Cole: You got your first ‘A' game action about a week ago now against the Royals. What was it like, getting your first mound experience of Major League action?
Scheppers: It's great to get that experience. I'm more than happy to be here. It's a pleasure to be here, and I'm privileged. I just hope I'm out there even more.
Cole: How do you feel you have thrown the games and side sessions you have pitched in thus far?
Scheppers: I've been feeling pretty good. I'm just working on stuff and trying to get as many reps as I possibly can. I'm trying to take the next step in order to become a better pitcher.
Cole: When you throw on the side with the pitching coaches looking on, what has been your focus?
Scheppers: Today, I was working on my changeup. And basically strictly fastball command. I'm working on that fourth pitch–my changeup.
Cole: You had a short outing in the ‘A' game, and then you got two innings in the ‘B' game the other day. Have you gotten an opportunity to work on your changeup much in games out here?
Scheppers: The first game out, I threw two. I only threw seven pitches, and two of them were changeups. Not strikes, but decent pitches. I felt like they were placed pretty well. Then the second game, I didn't get to throw anything else but fastball-slider-curve.
Cole: You didn't get to throw any curves in that seven-pitch outing, did you?
Scheppers: No, just fastball-change.
Cole: I know you've always had your slider, but you haven't used it as much as your curveball. Do you view that as kind of a third or fourth pitch that you can show occasionally?
Scheppers: My slider–I feel like that is my best offspeed. I haven't really broken out the hard slider yet. I'm just kind of getting a feel for it and trying to throw it in the strike zone. I want to keep the ball down.
Cole: I'm sure you're looking forward to starting your first full season. Have the Rangers talked to you about where you'll open the season?
Scheppers: I've just been told Frisco. But I'm not too worried about that. As long as I get my work in, try my best, and do my best, everything else should follow and I'll be happy to go wherever they tell me to go.
Cole: There has been a lot of talk about you potentially getting a mid-season big league call-up and going to the bullpen. Do you know whether or not you will at least begin the season as a starting pitcher?
Scheppers: Yeah, unless I'm told otherwise. It's really up to how they want to treat it. Whatever they want, I'm on board for it.
Cole: Have you ever worked out of the bullpen before?
Scheppers: All of Fall League, I did. And then in college, I did for my freshman year and my sophomore year. I know how to do both. It's really just getting the outs and throwing first-pitch strikes. That's what you've got to worry about.
Scheppers continues to impress
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