2021 Texas Rangers: 3 Bullpen Candidates Ready to Breakout

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The 2021 Texas Rangers need a few relievers to step in and step up after last year’s unit produced a 22nd-ranked 4.63 ERA. Jonathan Hernandez and Joely Rodriguez were the unit’s breakout arms in 2020, combining for a 2.51 ERA over 43.2 innings pitched.

Here are three relievers that could emerge this season.

2021 Texas Rangers: Demarcus Evans and His Heater

The Rangers plan to deploy a three-headed, flame-hurling dragon at the backend of their bullpen this year in Jose Leclerc, Jonathan Hernandez, and Demarcus Evans. Leclerc and Hernandez throw consistently in the high-90s, while Evans’ fastball averaged 94 mph in 2020. He can reach the upper-90s when needed, though.

At 6’5”, 265 LBs, the burly right-hander poses an intimidating mound presence. Combine Evans’ size with his notably high spin rates, and hitters struggle to time him up. He uses his curveball to throw opposing batters off the fastball scent; when he’s able to command both pitches, he’s nearly untouchable. The problem throughout his developmental stages, however, has been command.

In 2019, he walked 22 batters in 37.2 innings pitched at Double-A and 17 batters in 22.1 innings at Advanced-A. To compensate for walks, he’ll sometimes leave the ball over the heart of the plate, which prompts hard contact from adversaries.

Evans has gotten away with shaky command in the minor leagues, but he won’t be so lucky in the majors, where hitters prey on pitchers with control issues. He showed promise in limited work with the Texas Rangers a year ago, allowing zero walks and striking out four across four innings pitched.

If he can stay on par and accomplish the fundamentals – getting ahead in counts and hitting spots – he’ll find a home in the Texas bullpen this season.

2021 Texas Rangers: Taylor Hearn is Trending Up

Some Rangers fans believed Taylor Hearn‘s career to be over before it started when he walked four and gave up four runs in 0.1 innings in his MLB debut against the Seattle Mariners in 2019. (he left that game with a rather uncomfortable 108.00 ERA.) That would be the southpaw’s lone outing for Texas that season.

Much to every Ranger follower’s relief, he overcame a traumatic debut and bounced back strongly in 2020. Hearn tossed 17.1 innings for the Rangers, achieving a 3.63 ERA and 11.2 K/9. Also encouraging, was his spike in fastball velocity. There was grave concern when the reputed “hard-thrower” could hardly touch 91 mph during his first big league outing. Hearn, however, proved reinvigorated the following season when averaging 95 mph with his four-seamer.

The 2021 Texas Rangers have high hopes for Hearn, who was their primary acquisition when they dealt closer Keone Kela to the Pittsburgh Pirates three years ago. He slotted in as Texas’ seventh-ranked prospect following the trade. At 6’6”, 230 LBs, the long lefty manufactures plenty of power from the mound, but he wisely balances his approach by regularly mixing in his slider and changeup.

Hearn excelled against right-handed hitters in 2020, holding them to a .175 batting average and .506 OPS. In contrast, lefties touched him up with a .270 batting average against and a .892 OPS. If the 26-year-old is going to reach new heights this season, he’ll need to find a way to tame left-handed hitters.

Look for the Texas Rangers to use him in different ways in 2021. Hearn may start games, but he may also work in long relief or high-leverage late-inning situations. If his velocity is up and he can pitch to contact, he has the makeup to succeed in any role.

2021 Texas Rangers: Brett de Geus Will Finally Have His Opportunity

The Rangers selected RHP Brett de Geus as the second overall pick in this year’s Rule 5 Draft. de Geus, age 23, was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017. Despite posting impressive numbers in the minors, he couldn’t break into the major leagues.

In 2019, de Geus split time between Single-A and Single-A-Advanced. Over 39 appearances and 61.2 IP, he had a 1.75 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and averaged 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings.

He’ll get his shot with the Rangers this spring. As a Rule 5 pick, Texas has to keep de Geus on the 26-man roster for the duration of the season, or else they’ll have to return him to the Dodgers.

While Rule 5 picks may come off as “discarded players,” they can have significant and immediate impacts on their new team. Notable players that the Rangers acquired in past Rule 5 Drafts include Alexi Ogando, Carlos Tocci, and Delino DeShields.

Currently rebuilding, the Texas Rangers have flexibility throughout their roster. They’ll tinker with their pitching staff plenty this season, but de Geus will be a constant. Hopefully, the 2021 season unveils a proud robbery from the World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers. The Rangers won’t rob LA of its trophy, but they could rob them of an elite reliever.

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Travis Koch is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and a lifelong baseball fan. He's covered MLB for Overtime Heroics since January of 2021.