The Texas Rangers have built their farm system through investments in the International market and high upside draft picks. Texas prefers athletic players with loud tools as an organizational philosophy. Through the years, the Rangers have had a reputation for finding and developing sluggers, especially from Latin America, while struggling to develop starting pitching.
Though the system has been plundered recently through trades to help the big league club, the Rangers still have several enticing prospects we will be featuring through the coming days.
One of the struggles Texas has experienced when developing pitchers is the tweener effect. A good example of this phenomenon is Luke Jackson. LuJax, keeper of the flow, was a starting pitcher for most of his minor league career. Then, starting began to suit Jackson ill prompting Texas to shift him into the bullpen. His results there weren’t enough, and he’s an Atlanta Brave now after an offseason deal.
Jose Leclerc has a similar, albeit it not completely parallel story. Leclerc, a free agent signed out of the Dominican Republic In 2010, became a reliever in stateside ball. 2015 rolled around, and for some reason Texas decided he needed to start.
22 starts and a 5.77 ERA at Double A later, and Leclerc found himself back in the bullpen. 2016 was much better for Leclerc, posting stellar ERAs across three levels including the majors. He got his beak wet in three level stadiums with 15 innings and a sparkling 1.88 ERA for the big league club.
2017 likely sees Leclerc back in Triple A to start the year, but he’s the first option out of the minors if a right handed reliever goes down. If Leclerc proves himself at Round Rock, and takes advantage of any opportunity under the big lights, he can firmly wedge himself into the bullpen scene at a top level that is crowded.
Notes to Know:
Vital Stats: 6 ft, 190 lbs, entering age 23 season
Best pitch: It’s the fastball, which can run all the way up to 97 on a good day. On average, it’ll be a 93-96 MPH pitch. Nothing wrong with that.
Secondary pitches: Leclerc leans hard on his changeup, which averaged 83 MPH last season. He’ll mix in a curveball here and there, but for the most part Leclerc will be a two pitch guy.
What he’s good at: Striking people out. Since reaching letter ball in 2013, Leclerc has averaged over 10 strikeouts per nine in every season but one. The exception? 2015, the year he started where he settled for 8 and a half strikeouts per nine.
What needs work: Not walking people. As with most young relievers, Leclerc struggles with command at times. His high strikeout numbers are offset by high walk numbers, ballooning during his big league stint when he walked 13 while striking out 15 for a 7.80 walks per nine. Whether it be Round Rock or Arlington, the order of business for pitching coaches will be helping Leclerc on cutting down the walks.
2017 outlook: Despite showing well in 2016, there’s no room in the Globe Life Park bullpen boarding house for Leclerc unless he suddenly learns to throw left handed or a spring training injury happens. Barring that, he’ll head south to Round Rock to begin the season.
In a perfect world, he gets another full year in the minors to refine his command while continuing to add polish.
Trades could alter his trajectory, be it Texas moving him to get a piece they need for the big league club or the season goes belly up forcing big pieces like Sam Dyson and Keone Kela to be sent out. Either way, the ascension of Leclerc back to the big leagues won’t happen without a domino above him falling.
Overall outlook: Ten years ago, Leclerc gets consideration as a future closer. In modern day times, however, if you don’t throw 97+ on a nightly basis getting a chance in the final frame is unlikely. That said, there’s plenty of room in bullpens for dudes who average a mid 90s fastball.
Leclerc with time and development can settle into a 7th/8th inning role at the big leagues at best. A more safe projection has him in assorted bullpen roles across his entire career. Not a bad place to be when a guy like Boone Logan is getting $5 million.
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