Part 16 in a season-long series projecting a hypothetical 25-man roster made up solely of prospects from the Texas Rangers' Minor League system.
Within a year of Danny Darwin signing with the Rangers as an undrafted free agent, he'd established himself as the organization's top pitching prospect. One year later, he was in the big leagues, working in long stretches as the long man out of the Texas bullpen, even though he'd been strictly a starter on the farm.
It wouldn't be the worst introduction to the big leagues for a guy like Myrtle Beach right-hander Barret Loux.
Darwin would pitch 21 seasons in the Major Leagues, in just about every role imaginable. But he got his start as somewhat of a wild-card member of the Rangers' pitching staff, just as likely to rescue the club with five or six innings of work out of the bullpen as to get a spot start on one end of a doubleheader, or to sit for a dozen days without getting the ball.
The long man isn't a glamor role, but it's an important one, particularly on a contending team. An effective long reliever not only has the opportunity to keep a game in check, but maybe more importantly to help save the rest of the staff so that one bad effort by the starter doesn't negatively impact the next game, or the one after that.
Jamey Newberg's hypothetical 25-man roster made up of Rangers prospects
Johan Santana broke into the big leagues as a Rule 5 pick entrusted with long relief duties. Dave Stewart and Storm Davis -- now the pitching coach for the Rangers' Low A affiliate in Hickory -- started their careers as long relievers. Right now in Texas, the assignment probably falls to either Scott Feldman or Tommy Hunter, one a recent Opening Day starter and the other a former first-round pick, both likely to be key pitchers on the Rangers' staff as the club chases a second straight postseason berth.
If you were going to draw up the ideal profile for a long reliever, you'd want a guy who pounds the strike zone, with a resilient arm and the mental toughness to handle an extremely unpredictable role.
It might be that Loux is destined for more of an immediate impact than as the last man in a big league bullpen. But there could be worse outcomes for the 22-year-old.
Loux was the sixth overall pick in the first round of the 2010 Draft, chosen by Arizona after a terrific junior season at Texas A&M. But the D-backs, who had agreed to pay the right-hander $2 million ($340,000 below slot) to sign, withdrew the offer after his shoulder reportedly didn't pass a club physical, and in August he was declared a free agent by Major League Baseball.
The Rangers signed Loux in November, reportedly agreeing to pay him $312,000 -- or what was basically late-third-round money -- to sign a Minor League contract. It was not only pennies on the dollar compared to what his handshake deal with the D-backs had been worth, but also less than half of what Detroit had offered him to sign out of Houston Stratford High School as the Tigers' 24th-round pick in 2007. The events that preceded Loux's first time on a Minor League mound could be viewed as the type of personal setback that one-time first-rounder R.A. Dickey -- a big league long reliever once upon a time -- was faced with as he got his own professional career started.
"I always like kids who have something to prove," said Rangers director of amateur scouting Kip Fagg. "And Barret felt he didn't get the chance to show he was that kind of pick. He knew what the other clubs felt about him medically and he is out to prove all of them wrong. I like that competitiveness."
Texas assigned Loux to Myrtle Beach out of Spring Training, an aggressive assignment for a pro debut, and he's rewarded the Rangers for their confidence. In 19 starts, he's allowed more than three earned runs only once, has punched out a Carolina League-leading 122 hitters in 102 2/3 innings, issuing only 29 walks, and he's generated more groundouts than flyouts while giving up only three home runs.
Loux (8-5, 3.33 ERA), who will make his 20th start tonight, helped the Pelicans to a first-half title as one of the leaders of the club's staff. The league is hitting .244 off him and, in spite of the physical questions that caused the D-backs to walk away a year ago from a below-slot deal, he hasn't missed a start. Loux has been the epitome of a rotation horse, particularly for a first-year pro challenged with an assignment to High Class A, and there have been widespread reports that his name has come up this week in various trade discussions.
Though he can run his fastball up in the mid-90s and has delivered immediate success, some have suggested that Loux's ceiling is as a mid-rotation starter capable of eating up innings. That's a valuable commodity.
As is the long reliever, as unglamorous as the role may seem. Darwin, Santana, Stewart and Davis got their big league careers started in long relief, and each went on to win more than 100 Major League games.
It's a job that takes not only an ability to chew up innings but also the level of toughness needed to fight through challenges like those presented by an erratic pitching schedule. Loux has shown, both on the field and in the time leading up to his first opportunity to get there, that he might be well equipped to handle the job.
Jamey Newberg is a contributor to MLB.com. A Dallas lawyer, he has been an insane Texas Rangers fan since the days of scheduled doubleheaders, Bat Nights when they actually handed out a piece of lumber instead of a grocery store voucher, and Jim Umbarger. He has covered the Texas Rangers, from the big club down through the entire farm system, since 1998 on his website, NewbergReport.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.