Scheppers' odyssey brings him to Anaheim
Pitching in Futures Game, righty could join Rangers in '10
ANAHEIM -- First there was Alexi Ogando and then Omar Beltre.Both pitchers made their Major League debut with the Rangers this season with relatively little Minor League experience. Tanner Scheppers knows there is a possibility he could be next. "It's hard not to think about it," Scheppers said. "I'd love to be up there. But the goal right now is to get better and be ready down the line." Scheppers did get to pitch in a Major League ballpark on Sunday afternoon. He was a member of the United States team that took on the World in the 2010 XM All-Star Futures Game at Angel Stadium. Scheppers, playing the role of closer, gave up a single and a walk, but got the final two outs in the United States' 9-1 victory over the World. The trip to Anaheim was the latest in Scheppers' 15-month odyssey. He was pitching for the St. Paul Saints in the independent Northern League when the Rangers took him with the 44th overall pick of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. He waited all summer and didn't sign until Sept. 17, pitched in the Arizona Fall League and was invited to Major League camp last spring. After impressing just about everybody in Surprise, Scheppers began the season with Double A Frisco. He didn't stay there long. He pitched just six games and allowed just one run in 11 innings, giving up three hits and no walks while striking out 18. Showing mercy on the Texas League, The Rangers promoted Scheppers to Triple-A Oklahoma City. He hasn't been quite as dominating in the Pacific Coast League, but he's still 1-0 with 3.46 ERA in five starts and eight relief appearances. "It's going well," Scheppers said. "I'm learning a lot. We have a great team and it's good to be able to pick the brains of anybody down there." Most significant has been the development of a changeup. Scheppers, like many Rangers pitching prospects, has a big arm with a fastball that goes 93-99 mph. He also has a plus curveball. But like many Rangers pitching prospects, he has been working hard on that third pitch to complete his repertoire. "My changeup is really improved," Scheppers said. "The fact that I have the ability to throw it at any point in the count is big for me. But everything is getting a little better. My ball is not up as much. I'm getting the ball down and I'm gaining the experience of being out there every game." Scheppers started the season in the bullpen because the Rangers wanted to limit his innings in his first full season in professional baseball. Now they have him in the Oklahoma City rotation because they want to build up his pitch counts. They are still taking it slow. He has made five starts and has yet to throw five complete innings. There were two starts where he came out after four scoreless innings. He has 33 innings. The Rangers would like for him to land right around 100 innings when the season is over. Some of those could come at the big league level although Scheppers is not yet on the 40-man roster. The Rangers will begin the second half of the season with a bullpen that includes Neftali Feliz as the closer, Frank Francisco, Darren O'Day and Alexi Ogando as the right-handed setup relievers, Darren Oliver and Matt Harrison as the left-handers and Dustin Nippert as the long man. The Rangers had Chris Ray, but included him in the trade for Bengie Molina because club officials liked what they were seeing from Ogando. Club officials also made it clear that Scheppers could be next if the Rangers gave a need in the bullpen. Scheppers' long-term future is still as a starter, but the Rangers are not opposed to using him in the bullpen this season if they need another big arm out there. Ogando seems to have made the jump without problem despite this being his first professional season as a pitcher in the United States. "Whatever they want to do with me is fine," Scheppers said. The only thing the Rangers don't want to do is trade him. The Rangers culminated their search for a No. 1 starter when they acquired Cliff Lee on Friday from the Mariners, but in all their discussions with other clubs, they made it clear they were not willing to talk about Scheppers or Martin Perez. "I'm really happy about that," Scheppers said. "This is the team that drafted me and gave me the opportunity. It's been great through the whole process."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.