According to reports, the Texas Rangers are considering Nick Tepesch as possibly breaking camp as the 5th starter. This is because Martin Perez broke his forearm on a line drive and will miss part of the season, and there are questions as to whether Robbie Ross has the third pitch to start in the big leagues. The team also has Justin Grimm who has some big league starts, but his name hasn’t been one that has gotten a lot of attention this spring as a real possible candidate. Tepesch was a 14th round pick by the Rangers out of the University of Missouri Columbia (he was a 28th round pick by the Red Sox out of high school but did not sign) in 2010. He has been good not great statistically since beginning his professional career in 2011, with a 3.72 SIERA, an okay strikeout rate, a solid groundball rate, with not many walks. After a good showing in A+ in 2012, he was brought up to AA Frisco, where was a slightly below league average pitcher in a park that played slightly pitcher friendly compared to league averages. I watched Tepesch’s most recent spring outing, and thought there was no Pitch F/X data for the game I saw, we do have data from another one of his outings this spring.
The 24 year old has good looking size, listed at 6-4 225. He looked like a sinker/slider pitcher to me. Brooks Baseball calls it a cutter, while Baseball America calls it a slider (the traditional MLB AM tags are a little more tricky, calling them mostly sliders, but really struggling with the difference between his 4-seamer and 2-seamer/sinker). The pitch averaged 85.3 MPH, which is a well above average velocity (Joba Chamberlain being the closest comparison) for a slider, or a well below league average cutter velocity, closest to Michael Fiers. In movement, it is an above average slider both vertically and horizontally, while his movement would be elite horizontally for a cutter, and very poor vertically. This all points to being a slider in my opinion, and it definitely looked like one with just the eye test.
As far as fastball velocity goes, his sinker was actually thrown .2 MPH harder on average than his 4-seamer. This is a little unusual, but not unprecedented. He averaged 90.93 MPH on the sinker, which, if converted to 4-seamer velocity, is closest to Kyle Kendrick in right-handed velocity, below average (bottom 44 %) for big league starters since 2007. The horizontal movement on his 4-seamer is well below average, but he does get good vertical dip on the pitch (slightly more than Kendrick in vertical movement, but Kendrick has much more horizontal movement, and better overall movement).
His sinker gets less horizontal movement than average, but very good vertical movement. I noticed while watching him, that he was getting a lot of whiffs with late movement, and the pitch seems to get in there a little quicker than his actual velocity, even though he didn’t provide much deception in a pretty standard delivery. This vertical movement, but lack of horizontal movement is a theme we are already seeing a lot of, which made his release point data a little surprising. While his size obviously allows him to get on top of the ball, he doesn’t release the ball especially high, and is more “out” with his release point than I expected:
Obviously his simple delivery allows him to be able to repeat it pretty well, which isn’t surprising considering his low walk totals in the minors. This release point seems more consistent than Grimm‘s or Perez‘ and he releases it clearly higher than Perez, though Grimm seems to release the ball a little higher on average.
The changeup wasn’t impressive to me just via the eye test. However, it has well above average velocity, and gets good horizontal movement, most similar to Josh Beckett’s (overall since 2007), and it has very good vertical movement as well. You could make the argument, just on the Pitch F/X measurements, that his changeup is his best pitch. It is a much better changeup than Robbie Ross’ according to movement data (though the velocity is pretty similar).
In the outing I saw Tepesch, he left too many pitches in the main part of the plate, especially with his sinker and curveball (he threw just 3 in his Pitch F/X outing, but it looked like he threw a lot more in the outing I saw him). He seemed to do the same in his Pitch F/X outing as well. The fastball is not one that seems very effective in the middle to high part of the plate just because of the velocity. This is a problem with control pitchers in the minors. They may throw a ton of strikes in the minors with below average stuff, but this approach doesn’t work in the Majors, as we have seen. There is a such thing as too many strikes, challenging hitters too much, and not missing enough bats. His curveball is above average in velocity for starters, which is important, but it is below average in horizontal movement. Like the rest of his pitches, it does have above average vertical movement.
John Sickels gave Tepesch a C+, not ranking him in the Rangers top 20, unlike guys like Grimm, Perez, and Neil Ramirez. The Ramirez inclusion is a little puzzling considering I thought he looked absolutely lost at times last season. He certainly isn’t a high ceiling pitcher that is going to strikeout a lot of hitters, and statistically he wasn’t amazing last year, so we should be careful when we talk about how “advanced” he is, or how good his control is.
The speculation has been high that the Rangers will try to acquire another pitcher, whether by trading for one, or by signing Kyle Lohse and forfeiting their first round draft pick. While there is good reason to distrust sinker/slider starters, we don’t know how much Tepesch will actually go to those pitches since our data sample is much too small to talk about tendencies. His fastball velocity is below average, but he does throw hard breaking pitches that move, with at least 2 and maybe 3 that look like good pitches. He should be a MLB pitcher, and has the tools and movement to get hitters out and the body and delivery to eat up innings. Because of the lack of fastball, he isn’t a high ceiling guy, but that isn’t what the Rangers need right now. I think it all comes down to how they view his command. If they like his strike heavy approach, and believe he won’t be hurt too badly, then he is a great candidate for the 5th spot. My concern is that too many below average fastballs thrown in the middle of the plate, in the Ballpark in Arlington, will lead to too many homers and extra base hits.