4 bullpen prospects to watch at camp

February 18th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Kennedi Landry’s Rangers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- As position players arrive in Arizona in the coming days, the Rangers' pitchers and catchers continue to ramp up their workouts in preparation for the start of Cactus League games.

And while all eyes are on Texas' trio of new starting pitchers -- Jacob deGromNathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney -- it’s hard to ignore the plethora of pitching prospects gracing the back fields in Surprise as well, soaking up the knowledge from the team's veterans.

“The experience, it's invaluable for these guys,” manager Bruce Bochy said of the young players in camp. “It just gives them an easier time to have that sense of belonging when they do come up, because they've been around these guys. That's part of the development, along with what happens in the Minor Leagues, but also your time in Major League camp. ... These veterans, they do, I think, a better job now than they've ever done with spending time with these young guys. Just talking about pitching or talking baseball or how to carry yourself and all.”

It’s no secret that the Rangers are loaded with pitching depth in their farm system, with names like Jack Leiter, Owen White, Kumar Rocker, Cole Winn and more all flashing the potential to be future big league starters. But Texas also has a number of nearly big league-ready relievers waiting in the wings as well.

Here are four Minor League relievers to keep an eye on this spring.

RHP Marc Church (Rangers’ No. 28 prospect per MLB Pipeline)

Church may have impressed more than anybody during the first week of camp, even getting a shoutout from the newly signed Eovaldi. The right-hander has an upper-90s fastball, with pinpoint command that caught the eye of the veteran among a sea of highly rated prospects.

Texas may consider slotting Church into a starting role, but after a 2022 season in which he compiled 78 strikeouts over 49 innings, he very well may be more suited to stay in the bullpen.

“We really just love the kid,” said general manager Chris Young. “He has great determination to be successful, great work ethic, and really understands himself as a pitcher and who he is. He's made his way into big league camp and we're excited for him.”

RHP Yerry Rodriguez

Rodriguez is the most likely prospect to make the roster on Opening Day after making his big league debut with a scoreless inning on the final day of the 2022 season. The right-hander struggled at times with Triple-A Round Rock last year, posting a 4.27 ERA with 73 strikeouts in 59 innings. But with a triple-digit fastball and an elite slider, he can compete for a spot in the bullpen in '23.

LHP Antoine Kelly (Rangers' No. 13 prospect per MLB Pipeline)

Kelly was seen as the “main” return in the Matt Bush deal with the Brewers at the 2022 Trade Deadline, a transaction that also included utility man Mark Mathias. The 23-year-old Kelly only pitched 18 2/3 innings after joining Double-A Frisco, arriving just in time for a Texas League championship run. He struggled in that short time span.

RHP Chase Lee

The sidearm-throwing "Viper" is a prime candidate for a callup in 2023 after winning the Rangers’ Minor League Reliever of the Year Award last season.

Lee tore through Double-A hitters, posting a 2.25 ERA with a 30/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He even held opponents scoreless over his first 15 appearances and was rewarded with a June promotion to Round Rock. That's where he hit some speed bumps. Over his first four outings with the Express, Lee allowed nine runs while striking out just four batters. He eventually hit a groove, though, posting a 1.64 ERA in August and finishing strong. If he opens 2023 the same way he ended '22, a callup for bullpen reinforcements is very much in play for Lee.