Keith Law likes what he saw in the Arizona Fall League: "[Scheppers] was even more impressive than [Andrew] Cashner, sitting at 95-98 [mph] with a vicious curveball with hard, late two-plane break. He appeared to be amped up for the short outing; I doubt he'd sit at that velocity as a starter, but even 92-95 [mph] with that breaking ball would get hitters out multiple times per game. His arm works well, and his potential to be a front-line starter is really just a question of the state of his shoulder."
So did Kevin Goldstein: "The thing is, there's some real magic in [Scheppers' right arm]. In his AFL debut on Friday (10/16), his fastball sat at 95-98 mph over a pair of scoreless innings. He's still a risk, but seemingly a risk worth taking, and he just might be the Rangers' shut-down closer of the future."
Jason Grey? Yeah, him too: "Tanner Scheppers = Nasty McFilthy."
Pitch f/x, as you'll see below, is surprisingly ambivalent.
Tanner Scheppers was selected by the Rangers with the 44th pick in the 2009 amateur draft after convincing themselves that his shoulder had healed sufficiently to risk a supplemental first-round pick. Signed after the end of the minor league season, Scheppers is making his professional debut in the Arizona Fall League (AFL). As noted in the quotes above, he's made an impression on the talent evaluators who have seen him.
In three AFL appearances, Scheppers is unscored upon in 5.0 innings. He has given up one hit, struck out six and walked one. His fastball has ranged from 95-98 mph and his curveball has been praised by seemingly everyone who has seen him pitch.
Last Thursday night, Scheppers tossed two innings in a game that was tracked by Pitch f/x. Using data procured from Brooks Baseball and FanGraphs, I've compared Scheppers' stuff to the Pitch f/x profiles of all of the major league pitchers who tossed at least 50 innings in the major leagues in 2009. Provided below are the fastballs and curveballs with the most similar velocities and movement to Scheppers' pitches. The value column is FanGraphs' estimate of what the major league pitches were worth in wins in 2009 for every 100 times they were thrown. Negative win values are below-average pitches and positive win values are above-average pitches. Win values greater than +1 are considered to be well above-average pitches.
If Scheppers averaged 96.3 MPH with his fastball for a full season, then he would be among baseball's hardest throwers. Jonathan Broxton ranked No. 1 in fastball velocity in 2009 at 97.5 mph and the movement of his four-seamer is remarkably similar to Scheppers'. The 1.45 wins/100 pitches that Broxton registered in 2009 was among the best fastball values in the major leagues. The next most similar fastballs have lower velocities than Scheppers' and generally negative values. Having a plus secondary pitch appears to be an important factor in dictating whether a pitcher's fastball rates as above or below average, so developing a go-to second pitch should be a priority for Scheppers. As noted in the next section, the right-hander appears to be well on his way toward acheiving that developmental milestone.
The Pitch f/x data for Scheppers' curveball is remarkable. Major league pitchers who throw curveballs with as much break as Scheppers don't throw them nearly as hard. The most comparable curveball is Gavin Floyd's, which was one of the most valuable benders in baseball in 2009 at 2.69 wins/100. Justin Verlander and Yovani Gallardo had curveballs with the next most similar break and velocity. Both pitches rated as above average. Assuming that Scheppers can command his curveball, the pitch should be an above-average-to-plus pitch for him in the major leagues.
THE MYSTERY PITCH
Pitch f/x labeled two of the pitches that Scheppers threw as two-seam fastballs. The pitches were thrown at 89.4 and 89.8 mph. Scouting reports indicate that Scheppers throws a four-seam fastball, curveball, slider, and change-up. Scheppers' mystery pitch doesn't break like a slider, so it appears to either be his change-up or an experimental two-seamer. If the pitch is his c hange-up, then it would be among the hardest thrown changes in the major leagues. While the pitch has good horizontal movement, it does not have the horizontal drop that is associated with most quality change-ups.
A careful review of the 2009 pitcher database revealed no change-ups with velocity and movement that were similar to Scheppers' mystery pitch, but there were several 2-seamers with similar Pitch f/x profiles. Glen Perkins' fastball is most similar to Scheppers' third pitch, except that its horizontal break is in the opposite direction due to his being left-handed. The three pitches that were most similar to Scheppers' mystery pitch rated as below average in 2009, though their use as primary pitches likely made them less valuable than they would be if used alongside a plus curveball and high-velocity fastball.
Pitching out of the bullpen, Scheppers is competing effectively against some of the best AA and AAA players in baseball. Assuming he doesn't have any setbacks between now and the end of spring training, it appears likely that he will begin 2010 pitching at Double-A Frisco. The big question is whether he will be pitching in the starting rotation or the bullpen.
If the Rangers choose to limit Scheppers' workload to 100-120 innings, then the team will need to decide whether it makes more sense to pitch fewer innings per start, start fewer games, or begin the season pitching out of the bullpen and then step into the starting rotation after the first month of the season. Whatever the case may be, Trip had better have his radar gun locked and loaded when the RoughRiders hit Frisco next season.