Faulkner happy with move to bullpen

Prospect competing at camp for relief role with Rangers

March 11th, 2016
Andrew Faulkner, 23, earned a callup last season after making the switch from starting to relief. (Getty Images)

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers made a significant player-development decision midway through last season. Andrew Faulkner, who was their best left-handed starting-pitcher prospect, was switched to the bullpen at Double-A Frisco.

The move, made at the beginning of July, appeared to be born out of expediency. But almost all decisions have long-term implications, and that's the case with Faulkner, who is trying to win a job this spring in the Rangers bullpen.

At the time of the move, the Rangers seemed to be loaded with starting-pitching prospects and had a need for left-handed relief at the big league level. The Rangers were anticipating the possibility of Faulkner joining their bullpen for the stretch run.

Spring Training:Schedule | Tickets | Gear

The sudden career change did not bother the 14th-round pick from the 2011 Draft out of South Aiken (S.C.) High School.

"I was fine with it," said Faulkner, who is ranked as the Rangers' No. 18 prospect by MLBPipeline.com. "We had a lot of guys ahead of me. It was a situation that was very beneficial. It gave me the opportunity to relieve. It was a good opportunity. I was doing all right as a starter, but it wasn't anything special. It was asked of me and I was happy with it."

Faulkner did join the Rangers on Aug. 28 and appeared in 11 games through the end of the season. He performed well, allowing runs in just two appearances with a 2.79 ERA and a .216 opponents batting average.

But he was not on the postseason roster. Another significant development had already taken place that lessened the Rangers' need for Faulkner to make a quick transition. It also raised the question if keeping Faulkner in the bullpen is the right move for the Rangers.

On July 31, the Rangers acquired starter Cole Hamels and left-handed reliever Jake Diekman from the Phillies. In exchange, the Rangers gave up veteran pitcher Matt Harrison plus five top Minor Leaguers: outfielder Nick Williams, catcher Jorge Alfaro and pitchers Jerad Eickhoff, Alec Asher and Jake Thompson.

The Rangers made the trade because of Hamels, but Diekman also gave them a power lefty reliever and he made a substantial contribution down the stretch. The departure of Eickhoff, Asher and Thompson also cut deeply into the Rangers' starting-pitching depth.

But it hasn't changed their thinking. Faulkner will remain in the bullpen, even if he doesn't make the team.

"It all depends on the individual, circumstances, makeup, delivery, pitch mix, team needs," general manager Jon Daniels said. "It all factors into it. Mix in all of the above and there was the feeling he could really excel in the role. He took to it. He had more success there. The deception in his delivery plays into it. His fastball plays up and his cross-fire delivery helps it play up."

Left-handed power relievers are a valuable commodity. Andrew Miller was a mediocre starter for five years, going 20-27 with a 5.70 ERA in 66 starts before the Red Sox moved him to the bullpen in 2012. He was 9-9 with a 2.57 ERA and opponents hitting .181 off him over the next three years. His reward was a four-year, $36 million contract from the Yankees.

The question: Is a left-handed reliever more valuable than a starter?

"Regardless of your role, if you are above average at it, there is huge value," Daniels said.

"Obviously ... looking to the future ... we want to continue to develop starters," manager Jeff Banister said. "This is a young man, where he is at in this stage of his career, is focused on that role and appears to be dynamic at it."

If Faulkner had remained a starter, he likely would not be a candidate for the Rangers' rotation this spring. He was 6-4 with a 4.80 ERA in 15 starts at Frisco, he is still working on his secondary pitches, and he needs to cut down on his Minor League ratio of 3.44 walks per nine innings. Most likely, he would be in the Triple-A Round Rock rotation this season working on his craft.

But the chance to break with the team as a reliever has far more allure for Faulkner.

"Of course," Faulkner said. "If anybody was in that situation, they would feel the same way. I can go either way. I'm just here to do what is asked. If they have me being a reliever, I'll be in the bullpen. If they want me to start, I'll be a starter."