Updated: Oct 14, 2021
With the recent injuries to Jose Leclerc (elbow), Jonathan Hernandez (UCL), Brett Martin (back), and Joely Rodriguez (ankle), there is much talk about who will close games for Texas to start the season. On a recent episode of Rates & Barrels, Eno Sarris predicted Matt Bush, which seems like a pretty good speculation early in the season. Here's a prediction though: Demarcus Evans is closing games for the Rangers by late August and he'll run with the job.
Who the heck is Demarcus Evans? Glad you asked. Here's how Eric Longenhagen and Kevin Goldstein described him in a recent Fangraphs post:
Demarcus Evans is a wide-bodied pure ‘pen arm, and while his mid-90s velo is merely good, in checks a lot of boxes in terms of spin and life. He’ll need to throw more strikes to avoid a career spent frustrating pitching coaches.
The title of that post? --> Picks to Click: Who We Expect to Make the 2022 Top 100
So the prospect guys see big potential in Evans. I took note of him when putting my 2021 projections together October 2020. One of the first things I do is drop every player on the 40-man of each team into a spreadsheet. I had never heard of Demarcus Evans when I got to the Rangers, but he debuted in the short 2020 season, appearing in four games, pitching four innings. He struck out 4, walked 0, and gave up 0 runs. Small sample, but hey, 24-year old kid with a 70-grade fastball and 60-grade curve gets the call and succeeds in what he's asked to do. I'm interested.
Taking a look at Evans's minor league career, he's not a starter. This guy has been destined for the bullpen from day 1. He started most of his games in 2016 and 2017, mostly at low A and in rookie ball, but Texas moved him to the bullpen exclusively in 2018. There he pitched the entire season at Level A and struck out 103 batters in 56 innings. That's a 16.55 K/9 and a 46.8% strikeout rate. That's fire. Evans continued eating batters alive out of the pen in 2019 across two levels (A+ and AA). He struck out 100 batters in 60 innings.
During that period of 2018 and 2019, Evans was closing games. He saved 9 games in 2018 and 12 in 2019. Texas was grooming him for high leverage situations.
Those four innings in the majors in 2020, small sample caveats and all, look like an extension of what Evans has done over the course of 100+ innings out of the bullpen over two seasons in the minors.
Here's the bad news. Demarcus Evans is also injured! A lat injury has prevented him from pitching in the spring, so he's on the shelf with every other reliever in Texas. But like I said, this prediction is not about the beginning of the year.
The closer job in Texas looks to be wide open all season. Even if a Matt Bush type takes the job and runs with it, he'll be a trade candidate the moment he shows that he can be a reliable piece. Jonathan Hernandez and Jose Leclerc may return at some point, but who knows how likely it is they can be fully healthy. In the longer-term this season, Joely Rodriguez looks like a pretty good bet too, but no sure thing. And neither is Evans, for that matter. But once he gets healthy, he should be up. Once he's up, he'll have a chance to show that he can be a dominant reliever. If things break the right way, he'll be closing games in Texas by late August. He's not a great stash in regular redraft leagues, but if you can snag him in a dynasty league or a draft-and-hold where the roster real estate isn't too expensive, he's a good gamble.
People are taking that gamble. For the entire winter, NFBC Draft Champions ADP has Demarcus Evans at pick 680, so he's a somewhat common dart throw in those final rounds. I put my money where my mouth is. Here are my most owned players in Draft and Hold leagues:
I've already written about Ka'ai Tom, and we can talk about Tyler Ivey another time, but I've been snagging Evans with late round picks since November. The uncertainty in the Texas bullpen has me feeling even better about it now than I did then.
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