SURPRISE, Ariz. -- A year ago, right-hander Tanner Scheppers was ranked No. 43 on MLB.com's Top 50 Minor League prospects. This year, he did not crack the Top 100. He is only 10th on the Rangers' list of top prospects."I just want to go out and pitch," Scheppers said. "Everything else will take care of itself. I'm 25. Those prospect lists are full of young guys. I'm just hoping to be healthy and everything else will work out." Much is different for Scheppers this spring. Last year, the Rangers gave him a legitimate shot to win a spot in the rotation, but he came down with a back injury. That not only knocked him out of the competition but sidelined him for the first half of the season. Now he is coming into camp as a reliever. The Rangers have gone back and forth on Scheppers ever since he was the 44th overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. But now they have decided to use him strictly as a reliever in the hopes that he can stay healthy and fulfill some former high expectations. "It's definitely nice to know my role going into it," Scheppers said. "Long term, I would still like the opportunity to start, but right now I have to go out and perform and be competitive." Scheppers was 4-1 with a 3.71 ERA in 28 games for Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock last season. In 43 2/3 innings, he allowed 41 hits, 21 walks and 44 strikeouts. He also pitched 14 games in the Venezuelan Winter League, allowing one earned run in 13 innings with five hits, 13 walks and 16 strikeouts.
Nathan happy with health, offseason decision
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Joe Nathan was one of the first free-agent closers to sign this winter. It proved to be a prudent move.Nathan agreed to a two-year, $14.75 million contract with the Rangers at the end of November. While he was securing his spot, other closers had to wait around for much of the offseason and settle for lesser deals. Ryan Madson got one-year and $8.25 million from the Reds, while Francisco Cordero settled for one year and $4.5 million from the Blue Jays. "It was a difficult situation for me," Nathan said Wednesday. "Some of those guys were coming off good seasons and were in a spot where you don't want to sign too early. But at the same time, in musical chairs, you don't want to be the last one standing and running out of chairs. For me, it was just a matter of seeing what teams were interested in me." Nathan, a four-time All-Star closer for the Twins, faced some uncertainty because he had missed all of 2010 after Tommy John surgery. He had 14 saves for the Twins in 2011 but also a 4.84 ERA.
Lewis to get first Cactus League start
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Colby Lewis is expected to be the Rangers' Opening Day starter. He will also be the club's starter in the first Cactus League game on March 4 against the Royals. Pitching coach Mike Maddux said Lewis and Scott Feldman will pitch in that game.Lewis and Feldman both threw five-minute bullpen sessions on Wednesday. All other pitchers will throw five-minute bullpen sessions and five minutes of live batting practice on Thursday. Mike Adams, who is still working his way back to full strength after offseason surgery to repair a hernia, is likely to be the only pitcher who is limited. "I don't think he's too far behind, but I don't think he'll be at full-tilt just yet," assistant general manager Thad Levine said of Adams. Rangers pitchers will also go through four stations of pitchers' fielding practice. Rangers pitchers committed 16 errors last season, fourth most in the American League.
Practice field entrance changed
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers have moved the entrance to their practice fields. Fans can now park across the street on Bullard Ave. and enter the practice fields area on the east side of the complex.The new east side entrance to the practice fields will make it much more convenient for fans once Cactus League games begin in March. The entrance to the main stadium is also on the east side off Bullard Ave., so this will allow fans to park in one spot for both. The Rangers usually take pregame batting practice on the practice fields before games in the main stadium. The practice fields will open to the public each day at 10 a.m. and there is no charge to watch the workouts. Workouts will continue on the back fields until the beginning of Cactus League play with intrasquad games scheduled for March 1 and 2 at 12 noon on Nolan Ryan Field.
Four-time Cy Young winner Greg Maddux, who was hired this offseason as a special assistant, was in uniform on Wednesday as pitchers went through one last informal workout before Thursday's first official practice. Nolan Ryan held a press conference on Wednesday in the Rangers media tent and saw 20 hand-held tape recorders sitting on a table in front of him. Said Ryan: "I feel like I'm in a pawn shop." Approximately 136,800 people registered to win Opening Day tickets. Registration for the lottery ended on Wednesday.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.