Three young arms on fast track to Majors
Rangers sport immensely talented pitchers in Triple-A
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Triple-A pitching coach Terry Clark thinks it's only a matter of time before three of his star pitchers will be with the Rangers in the Major Leagues.But if Omar Beltre, Alexi Ogando and Tanner Scheppers, all right-handed pitchers for the Oklahoma City RedHawks, don't make it to the Major Leagues this season, Clark has a warning for the incumbent Texas pitchers. "If they all walk into Spring Training next year with no big league time, guys in the big leagues better be ready to step up their game, or these guys will take their job," Clark said. Chances are growing that one or all could get time in Arlington this season. Despite limited professional baseball experience, all three are emerging as possible candidates should the Rangers need help in the bullpen this summer. "They are certainly on the radar," said Rangers general manager Jon Daniels. "We are starting Omar so he can continue to get innings and his work in. We're still building Tanner up. Alexi is probably the most clear-cut short reliever in the group, but any of the three could figure into the mix at some point." Beltre, 28, and Ogando, 26, are quickly making up for lost time. Both were banished from the United States for five years because of a visa fraud scandal, but they were cleared to return this spring and have being flourishing in the Rangers' farm system. But if not for the five-year exile, Clark said their current location would be vastly different. "They'd both be in the big leagues. Period. There's no doubt about it," Clark said. "They'd be with us or with somebody else. Somebody would have traded for them. Because you don't have two guys with that kind of stuff that aren't in the big leagues. I can go watch TV all day long and not see two arms like that on five or six different teams." Clark said the ban may have actually benefitted Ogando, who converted from an outfielder to a pitcher and had time to hone his skills on the mound. But for Beltre, it wore down his arm more than it would have had he been under proper supervision in the Rangers' farm system. "There is a lot of wear and tear on arms down in winter ball, where he could have been over here," Clark said. "Had he been here four years ago, he'd probably already have gotten some big league time." All three pitchers throw extremely hard and have excellent command on their pitches. Each has their different strengths, too. Beltre has the ability to eat up innings on a limited number of pitches, Scheppers has a variety of pitches at his disposal and Ogando is a hard-throwing reliever with an eye for the zone. Beltre moved into the starting rotation and hasn't disappointed. Despite his 0-4 record, he has a 3.03 ERA. In 29 2/3 innings, he has allowed 27 hits, 16 walks and struck out 34. "He throws very low pitch counts. That's what I've been amazed at since he moved into the rotation," Clark said. "He's pitching five innings on 58 pitches. He's pitched six innings on 71 pitches. Three innings on 28 pitches. "When he's down, his sinker is so good that he gets ground ball after ground ball early in the count, so he doesn't throw a lot of pitches." Clark said Beltre may be the most Major League ready of all the pitchers on his staff. While all three have shown they can relieve, Beltre is also turning himself into an option as a starter. "We put him into the starting rotation, and he's settled down and thrown the ball real well his last two outings," Clark said. "I think his biggest asset is he can start. The other two guys may get to that [point] next year." But Ogando, who can hit 99 mph on the radar gun, has proven quickly he can pitch out of the bullpen. His command has been outstanding. In 26 2/3 innings between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Oklahoma City, he has allowed 12 hits and eight walks while striking out 38. "He throws strikes with everything," Clark said. "He throws strikes with his slider, his changeup and his fastball. He can throw them at any time. "He has amazing control for a guy that throws that hard." His ability is even more impressive given the change from position player to pitcher, which was something Ogando struggled with at first. "It was really hard in the beginning trying to convert. At the time, it was really hard," Ogando said. "But I had the tools to do it and worked hard for five years. I feel good, and so far I'm doing great. I just want to keep doing what I'm doing. I'm working really hard on my command and so far it's going well." For Scheppers, it's all about development. He's only in his first season in the Rangers' organization after being taken with the 44th overall pick in last year's Draft, yet he has already moved up to Triple-A. Clark thinks that once he's able to command pitches other than his fastball, the Majors will be the next stop for the 23-year-old. "As soon as he gets his secondary pitches to where he can throw a strike with them when he wants to, he's going to be off the charts," Clark said. "He's going to be a very, very good right-handed pitcher in the big leagues for a long time." In addition to his fastball, Scheppers has a slider, curveball, changeup and a two-seam fastball -- and he is working on his cutter. "I've got quite a bit of pitches," Scheppers said. "It's just little stuff to have in my pocket. It's always good to have stuff to go to. But other than that, I've just got to keep pounding the strike zone with all my stuff. I know I can do it, and now it's just a matter of doing it." The natural talent may be what the Rangers are most excited about with Scheppers, who didn't discover his ability to pitch until he reached the college level. Since then, he's reached the highest point in the Minor Leagues on self-education. "I talked to him, and he said that was the only reason he went to Fresno State, because they told him he could be the starting shortstop," Clark said. "He didn't want to pitch. He started pitching when he was there -- the coach pretty much walked up and told him he was a better pitcher than a shortstop. "I asked him who taught him how to pitch. He said, 'Nobody. I just watch it on TV and watch instructions and other people pitch. I basically learned it on my own.' "His mechanics are so good, it's an effortless delivery. It doesn't even look like he's trying to throw the ball hard. It just looks like he's playing catch at 95, 99 mph. His makeup is off the charts. All he wants to do is learn and get better. He's going to be a very, very good big league pitcher." The question is if the Rangers will push him quickly to the big leagues now as a reliever, or allow him to completely develop as a starter. "I think I've had some good points and I think I've had some bad points," Scheppers said. "There's still a lot of stuff I need to work on. There's still a lot I need to learn and accomplish. It's really about going out there and getting experience and playing time. I just want to keep showing that I'm healthy and I'm good to go and that I'm getting better." As a whole, the expectations couldn't be higher for the three immensely talented pitchers who are only at the beginning of their professional careers. "They've all got three of the best arms I've seen in a while in Triple-A, and I had [Neftali] Feliz and [Derek] Holland here," Clark said. "These guys are all right-handed, and for having three right-handers that throw that hard and throw strikes -- it's pretty fun to watch."
Chris Cox is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.