Embarrassment Of Riches

Rangers draft two more promising arms in Purke, Scheppers

Click here to see the complete Rangers draft class of 2009 and track signings

ARLINGTON—The luxury afforded the organization with the best minor league system in baseball became apparent during the 2009 draft.

While most of the other 29 teams absolutely, positively had to find affordable, useful parts from the haystack known as the draft, the Rangers were able to stand back, scan the horizon and go after the mother lode.
If the Rangers get both Matt Purke and Tanner Scheppers signed, two of the draft's most electric arms will join the farm system already housing the most electric arms in baseball. Texas also went for upside with a trio of athletic outfielders in Ruben Sierra Jr. (sixth round), Braxton Lane (seventh) and Jabari Blash (ninth). Don't sleep on Florida OF Riley Cooper, who's also a Gators wide receiver. He'll play in the Cape this summer and could give up football for the right offer.

This year's version of Rick Porcello? Sure, bring him on.

The 2009 model of Luke Hochevar? Hey, not an issue.

And so when the first day of the draft was done, the Rangers had acquired the rights to two of the top 10 rated prospects in the draft, according to Baseball America.

"We are extremely happy with our picks," general manager Jon Daniels said. "We got two pitchers we have really high hopes for."

With the 14th overall pick, the Rangers scooped up 18-year-old Klein (Texas) High lefthander Matt Purke (ranked 10th among all prospects by BA) after he slid over fears he'd want a bonus somewhere in the $6 million range.

At No. 44, using the compensation pick awarded them for the loss of Milton Bradley to the Cubs, the Rangers took a gamble on righthander Tanner Scheppers, who has been projected a top-15 pick in each of the top two years, but has fallen over injury concerns. He failed to sign as a Pirates' second-round pick in 2008 and then chose to play for Fort Worth of the independent American Association this spring, rather than go back to Fresno State.

Daniels said the riches of the Rangers' minor league system would not have any bearing on the club's draft philosophy. He maintained all along the Rangers would take the best player on the board.

Though the Rangers have been willing to pay above slot for high picks in recent years, they still had to make sure they signed the players. That's partly why they, like others, shied away from Porcello in 2007 before the Tigers grabbed him at the end of the first round. The Rangers had a bounty of high picks that year but couldn't afford to spend all their bonus money on one high-ceiling pitcher.

If Scheppers either doesn't sign or doesn't make it to the majors, it will indeed be a loss, but given the talent that is bubbling up through the system, it hardly means that all will be lost.

"We talked about the possibility that if something comes up and somebody slides down the board, we'd be in a position to take him," Daniels said. "We did our homework and our due diligence."

In Scheppers' case, that meant having him undergo a physical. Team physician Keith Meister cleared him, saying that last year's shoulder injury, which has been described as a stress fracture, extreme wear and tear and as a strained tendon, was no longer an issue. Daniels said the injury was muscular and not skeletal. Scheppers did not have surgery after injuring the shoulder last year and elected to rehab it instead.

In the case of Purke, it meant getting to know the player, his family and the bonus demands that would need to be met to keep him from going to Texas Christian. Purke worked out for the Rangers on the Sunday prior to the draft, giving his family the chance to meet team president Nolan Ryan and giving the Rangers a chance to gauge their seriousness about signing.

Perhaps it also helps that Ryan's minor league business partner Don Sanders has a 50 percent stake in Select Sports Group, the Houston-based agency that is advising the Purkes.

"I think we got a real feel for who they are and where they are," Ryan said. "I think we've got a reasonable idea of where we are going to have to be to sign him. But I think his goal is to play for the Texas Rangers and I'm real happy about that."

Said Purke: "It's pretty special to say Nolan Ryan is your boss. I'm a Texas boy and I'm proud of that. He's the best pitcher to ever play the game. I've wanted to meet him my whole life. I think he'll be able to help me and mold me as a pitcher."

But business is still business. Asked if he'd be extending the Rangers a "Nolan Ryan is my boss" discount, Purke said, "I don't think so."

Ryan lavished as much praise on the teen as the teen did on the Hall of Famer. While scouting reports indicate Purke could have above-average velocity on his fastball, he's at about 90-92 mph right now. What separates him, Ryan said, is the movement on the pitch.

"He's got exceptional late movement," Ryan said. "It's really unique. It's as much movement as I've seen from a lefthander in years."

And he's now free to negotiate with the Rangers—and only with the Rangers. Imagine that: The pitching-rich Rangers might be about to be getting a bit wealthier.