Hopeful Texas Rangers: Nick Tepesch, Miles Mikolas

The Texas Rangers could have begun to plan for 2015 before the 2014 campaign was even two months old, given the widely documented rash of injuries that they incurred. Of course, openings always means opportunities, and the organization displayed a willingness to be surprised this year in an effort to discover pieces that might help them next year and beyond.

I’m usually more interested in checking out the starting pitchers who get those opportunities. Eno Sarris touched on the exciting Lisalverto Bonilla a few days ago. Nick Martinez received a down-and-dirty evaluation from Jeff Zimmerman last month. I’ve been wanting to take a look at a couple of other arms that Texas rolled out this year. I’m now off one and more on the other than when I started.

RHP Nick Tepesch

Tepesch initially intrigued me based of some of his 2013 results (4.84 ERA, 3.82 xFIP, 3.79 SIERA, 18.7 K%, 6.6 BB%). Dave Cameron’s piece earlier this year on the FanGraphs side highlighted the similarities between the theretofore MLB numbers of Tepesch and left-hander Martin Perez (Tommy John surgery), whom Tepesch would be replacing in the Rangers’ rotation. Tepesch came into this season having focused heavily on the improvement of his changeup, which added to my interest.

Based on what occurred this season, it does seem that Tepesch, soon to be 26, was able to post those marks from the previous year at least in part because he hadn’t been exposed to the bigs for even 100 innings yet. It’s funny: Whereas his components suggested that he might be a full run or so better than his 4.84 ERA in 2013, this year, it was the opposite, basically.

The changeup hasn’t proved to be a difference-maker, either. Tepesch has reportedly experimented with multiple grips for the pitch and finally found one to his liking, supposedly. He threw the change slightly less often this year, however, and it was far from anything special when he did, with poor ground-ball and swinging-strike rates. Perhaps it’ll become a weapon for him, but I’m not holding my breath.

Now that we have a greater sample of his work, my interest has waned. He’s a fastball-sinker-slider/curve guy with a borderline straight heater and a changeup that is a work-in-progress and has yet to feature much differentiation from his numero uno. The curve and sinker may help to keep him around 50% ground balls, but that’s about it. I picture continued projections somewhere between last season and this, or worse. If he were to discover a combination of 3 mph gain on his fastball and loss on his change and throw the latter more, then I might come back. But that’s pretty unlikely.

RHP Miles Mikolas

I knew virtually nothing of this pitcher prior to 2014, so interest was nil. Nothing from his 6.44 ERA or even 4.50 xFIP and 4.47 SIERA in 10 starts (57 1/3 innings) says that I should be, after the fact, either. But his minor league numbers and a fastball that has sat around 93 mph hinted at some upside. His greatly increased use of a two-seamer and changeup add to the possibilities. The broadening of pitch types came about no doubt at least in part because this is the first season since his pro debut, in 2009, in which he was a starter. It’s encouraging to see not much of a loss of velo in that transition. Texas had some hopes for the converted reliever when they called him up. It might have something to do with his mustache.

Mikolas’ results on his pitches suggest that he’s lived too dangerously, up in the zone and/or in the middle of it, so far, and his heatmaps seem to confirm that. But his control has been pretty good (7.1 BB%), and the righty showed some real improvement in the zone from July to August, despite a disaster of an outcome against the Tampa Bay Rays on Aug. 13. He needs to continue to shift in that direction in order to generate ground balls on a regular basis, at least to be effective in Texas, probably.

Mikolas was shut down because of shoulder soreness. I’m willing to chalk up that development to his lack of work as a starting pitcher prior to this season and call this a growth year. His velocity was all over the place in his couple of months in the majors, so the only thing that concerns me is the possibility that the shoulder discomfort is a product of his ratcheting up the heat, which hit an apex before cooling a bit in his final couple of outings.

Mikolas, 26, was never really on the prospect radar, it seems, but he may have tools. Whether he becomes anything more than what he was in 2014 depends on the continued refinement of them. There’s a long way to go, then, but the fact that some of this is quite new to him means that he hasn’t yet failed. The fastball may be ordinary, but it has some velocity, which helps – so far it has helped, in terms of whiffs. If the rest of his stuff, especially the two-seamer and changeup, begins to mature, then he could be quite interesting, I think.

Nicholas Minnix oversaw baseball content for six years at KFFL, where he held the loose title of Managing Editor for seven and a half before he joined FanGraphs. He played in both Tout Wars and LABR from 2010 through 2014. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasMinnix.

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