It would be more than understandable if Rangers right-handed pitcher Nick Tepesch shows some anxiety when he goes to the mound during the final week of Spring Training.
Back in February, which seems light years away, Tepesch arrived in Arizona for Spring Training as a non-roster invitee. Fast forward to late March, and he is on the brink of landing a starting role in the Rangers' early-season rotation.
When I saw Tepesch start against the Colorado Rockies on Friday, he exuded the confidence and mound presence of a seasoned veteran. It was his calm demeanor under fire that endeared me to him as a credible starting pitcher and a viable option for the Texas rotation.
An Honor Roll student, Tepesch attended Blue Springs High School in Blue Springs, Mo. As a senior, he was 9-0 with a 1.50 ERA, not to mention the fact that he hit .410 with seven home runs and 30 RBIs. Tepesch's prowess earned him a selection by the Boston Red Sox in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft.
Tepesch chose to attend the University of Missouri. He became the team's closer in his first year before starting games later that season. Tepesch became an All Academic Big 12 Conference award winner in his second year at Missouri, and he caught the eye of scouts intrigued by his high strikeout rate, strong arm and excellent command. The Rangers selected Tepesch in the 14th round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.
Now 24, Tepesch is a 6-foot-4, 225-pound starter with very sound pitching mechanics. Pitching "downhill" directly at the hitter, Tepesch is an imposing, no-nonsense figure on the mound. He works quickly. There is little time for a hitter to adjust before Tepesch has the ball back from the catcher and is in his windup.
In his Minor League career with the Rangers' organization, Tepesch has thrown a total of 300 1/3 innings in parts of two seasons. He began at Class A Hickory in the South Atlantic League, where he threw 138 1/3 innings, winning seven games and losing five. Tepesch had an ERA of 4.03.
Tepesch split last season between Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach and Double-A Frisco in the Texas League. He had a combined 11-6 record last year with a 3.67 ERA. Tepesch walked only 44 while striking out 127 in 162 innings.
While at Myrtle Beach, Tepesch threw 115 pitches in the first 7 1/3 innings of a combined no-hitter, with teammate Jimmy Reyes closing out the game.
At some point during the coming season, the Rangers will welcome back several pitchers that are recovering from injuries. Colby Lewis will likely take his spot in the rotation when his rehabilitation is complete. The club hopes that Neftali Feliz, himself a potential rotation candidate, will also return. Joakim Soria could provide a major component to the bullpen.
A young prospect like Tepesch or a relative newcomer like lefty Michael Kirkman could provide a bridge in the rotation as a fifth starter until the more seasoned players are healthy and ready to go. After the arrival of Lewis, Feliz and Soria, the rotation and the bullpen will likely resemble the club's initial pitching plan.
In the game I saw against the Rockies, Tepesch pitched five innings, giving up eight earned runs on 12 hits. He walked three and struck out three. Supposedly, it was his least effective inning of spring.
Numbers can be deceiving, though. To begin with, the conditions in Arizona were very hitter friendly. Hitters making decent contact were aided by perfect air quality with no humidity. To put it mildly, hit balls reacted as if they were full of jumping beans. Virtually every pitcher struggled on that particular day.
Tepesch mixed and matched a very complete arsenal of a 90-mph four-seamer and a sinking fastball, a slider/cutter, a curveball and an occasional changeup. While he only threw a few that I could discern, his changeup was very effective. It might have been Tepesch's least developed but most effective pitch given the environmental conditions. There were times when pitches "took off" on him, and he had trouble commanding his four-seam fastball.
Tepesch is in the starter mix because he can repeat his very simple, uncomplicated delivery. Like all pitchers, if he gets too much of the plate, he gets hit. During the game I saw, there was little room for mistake.
Tepesch is a pitcher, not a thrower. He has enough savvy to back off a particular pitch that isn't working and try something else in his repertoire. Usually Tepesch reverts to his curveball or to a cutter/slider-type pitch. That's a sign of pitching maturity.
Tepesch gets late sinking life on the fastball, inducing ground balls. The changeup movement also helps him create outs; bats often miss that pitch, and he should probably trust it more often. He needs a definitive "put away" pitch that he can use with unyielding confidence. That will come.
There are times Tepesch's slider just didn't have enough zip, like a bowl of soup without enough salt. Add the salt and the soup totally changes. More zip on the slider will bring better results.
Tepesch probably didn't arrive at Spring Training thinking that he had a chance to be in the Rangers' rotation. But having a pitcher with a complete and skillful repertoire that knows how to pitch is a comforting possibility for any club. That type of pitcher doesn't get ruffled easily, and he can get out of a mess he creates. That's how I see Tepesch.
Should the Rangers decide to give the ball to Tepesch as their fifth starter, I believe he will respond with very solid outings, keeping his team in the game.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less