Texas Rangers Closer: Soria on the Block?
From 91 wins in 2013 to 12 games under .500, it has been a terrible first half for the Texas Rangers. Riddled by injuries, the former AL West powerhouse will be sellers at the trade deadline. A new Texas Rangers closer will emerge as teams inquire about position players and current fireman Joakim Soria. With the All Star break approaching, ROTOscouting will continue to forecast future MLB closers around the league before deals go down.
Trading Joakim Soria
The current Rangers’ closer is arguably turning in his best season as a pro. Soria’s concurrently posting career best strikeout and walk per nine rates, and his K/BB ratio sits at 9.75 (career 3.89). It’s not all smoke and mirrors, as his 0.72 FIP and 1.83 xFIP attest to his effectiveness. The former All-Star is tied for second in overall WAR (1.5), and is one of only 16 relievers yet to give up a home run (min. 20 IP). He’s only owed $5.5 million for 2014 and a team-friendly seven million option for next season, so contenders are already asking about the 30-year old right-hander.
Who is the Next Texas Rangers Closer?
Neftali Feliz, RHP, age 26
Remember him? After Tommy John surgery ended his 2012 campaign, Feliz spent last season rehabbing his elbow. After rounding into form in Triple-A, he was called up on Friday to join the big club. The former All-Star and rookie of the year (2010) saved 72 games in 2010-11, and his fastball is touching the mid-90s again. If health permits, Feliz can reclaim the role of Texas Rangers closer.
Luke Jackson, RHP, age 22
Grant Schiller took a look at the young right-hander last month and sees a high-risk, high-reward prospect:
At the Major League level, Luke Jackson has the ceiling of a number two starter if things break right with a floor of high leverage relief pitcher. Tamping down the effort in his delivery, while continuing to develop secondary offerings is key to overall development. Just 22, and with the Rangers out of contention, the Rangers have no reason to rush the right-hander and risk stunting his development.
Noting the effort in his delivery along with a fastball that touches 98 mph, Jackson has an elite closer profile. The front office will give him every opportunity to start, but if the command doesn’t improve, the prospect’s arsenal will play up in the pen.
Wilmer Font, RHP, age 24
Once considered a rising star in the Rangers’ organization, Tommy John surgery in 2010 derailed his development. Mike Newman was impressed with his fastball velocity in 2009, but noted little downward movement on the pitch along with significant command issues. After checking in again in 2010, Newman opined, “I have to wonder if [Tommy John] surgery will force him to smooth out the mechanical kinks and develop his secondary offerings at a faster pace than if he had never been injured in the first place.” Fast forward to 2013. Font’s velocity was back in the mid-90s, and he posted a 12+ K/9 between Double-A and Triple-A. He still has time to become the Texas Rangers closer if he can harness his stuff.
Miles Mikolas, RHP, age 25
Mikolas is a towering right-handed pitcher with an upper-90′s fastball. At the MILB level, his lack of secondaries proved to be an issue at the upper levels. Without a swing-and-miss offering, he was dealt to the Pirates and then the Rangers in deals this past off-season. In Triple-A, Mikolas earned two spot starts with the Rangers by producing a 38/3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 44 2/3 innings. He’s too hittable, but has the size and fastball to headline a bullpen.
Tanner Scheppers, RHP, age 27
Lingering elbow issues are never a good thing, but Scheppers posted a 1.88 ERA out of the Rangers bullpen in 2013 before being transitioned to the starting rotation. At one point, he was considered a potential closer candidate, but everything is put on hold for now until Scheppers returns healthy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear as if it will happen in 2014.
The Rangers’ pen has produced a 3.3 WAR this season (T-3rd in the league), but future closers are in short supply. Jason Frasor and Neal Cotts have pitched well, and will draw trade interest from contenders needing to shore up the late innings. There are few impact arms in the system that have a legitimate shot to close.
Spencer Schneier recently scouted Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez, and asserts the 22-year old “is going to offer solid-average command and clean mechanics with three plus pitches. This will make him a strong three, or even a passable two starter at the Major League level.” His present development precludes him from the closer conversation, but he’s someone to watch.
It’s time to make a strong play for Neftali Feliz, who has the inside track on the Texas Rangers closer gig. Fantasy owners should point to Jackson’s 6.00 BB/9 to stash a late-innings reliever in case of a Feliz meltdown. Chances are Font has already been dropped in many leagues, so scoop him up as a flier if a roster spot is available. The Rangers bullpen will get a makeover this month, so act now before the competition gets wise.
8 Jul 2014 / Joseph Pytleski / 2