Big things are coming to the Rangers’ bullpen soon; DeMarcus Evans, 6’5″ 265 lbs, and a 94 mph four-seam fastball capable of 2600+ rpm. Hopefully, Evans is nearing the end of his recovery from a lat injury stalling opportunity. The Rangers’ bullpen was hit hard by injury as a whole, specifically their candidates for high leverage situations. Ian Kennedy is closing for now, but was that really the plan? Evans has the upside of a future closer, and a path may be clear to start that journey.
Joely Rodriguez recently returned, but Matt Bush and Jose LeClerc are on the 60 day IL with long, questionable recoveries ahead. Jonathan Hernandez won’t be back this season after Tommy John surgery. The mostly young, unestablished roster of Kyle Cody, Taylor Hearn, Brett de Geus, John King, Wes Benjamin, Josh Sborz, Kolby Allard, and Brett Martin has filled the rest of Texas’ relief innings. They are giving up too many hits though. As of 4/20, this crew has put up the seventh-best team marks amongst MLB pens in K/9 and BB/9, but they are 27th in WHIP, 28th in ERA, and 28th in AVGagainst, partly due to a hard hit rate north of 40%. There is solace for Ranger fans, as the 29.7% CSW is 13th best and factors outside the pure performance haven’t favored them; sixth-best SIERA (3.32).
Yet, only the 24-year old’s performance can get in his way now, his chance of building off his strong four-inning 2020 debut and contributing at the MLB level is here…well, as soon as the lat lets him anyways. He’s been throwing at the alt site, so it might not be long.
Evans was the quintessential “project arm” taken in the 25th round of the 2015 draft. A high school arm selected so late doesn’t typically forego college and sign, let alone ascend to the heights Evans already has. Evans was ticketed for JUCO and the Rangers gave him 100K to go pro, banking on the fastball (not much else). Timing is everything in baseball, and Evans’ timing has been peculiar. If Evans had come out a year or two later, he would likely be coveted by MLB teams more because they would’ve understood his fastball better.
Six pro seasons, two of which he tried his hand at starting, the development/experimentation of three secondary offerings, command/control refinements, and absolutely gaudy numbers brought minor league recognition both within and outside the organization. Evans was named the Rangers minor league relief pitcher of the year and Baseball America’s minor league relief pitcher of the year in 2019.
The big man has sat a whole lot of hitters down; 13.7 SO/9 during his 242.1 minor league innings, which included a 14.34 SO/9 during his last stop in Double-A Frisco over 37.2 innings in 2019. The formula for his success has been one giant ingredient.
That’s a 94 mph 4-seam fastball with a 2613 spin rate generating about 33% more movement than the MLB average and sending Alex Bregman to trash can duty. This look is quintessential Evans. This pitch allowed him to bully his way through the minors and when comped to current major leaguers, there’s no reason it can’t play as a major weapon in the bigs. During his brief four innings in 2020, the 4-seamer averaged 2545 rpm which would make it a top 20 most highly spun 4-seamer in the majors this year. Of course, having only 36 occurrences of the pitch in the majors isn’t concluding much, but it did garner a 33% CSW. Currently, only Richard Rodriguez, Brad Wieck, and Josh Hader‘s 4-seamers have a CSW better than 33%. Again, all small samples, but this is the dream and he’s been doing this for years.
The 4-seamer accounted for three of his four strikeouts last year and although there were growing pains, he spots it fairly well today. Evans isn’t a finished project yet and 5.26 BB/9 during his Double-A stop in 2019 isn’t a flukey number. Having watched Evans since late 2017, it’s not the fastball getting him in the most trouble. It was nice to see him not walk a batter last year but the secondaries are still a concern. Major league hitting will be far less kind to mistakes and one big pitch alone won’t get it done.
There’s a look at a slider, albeit a poor angle, and Evans probably doesn’t want to put too many of those there. There’s no question Evans has worked and gotten his secondaries better, but they’ve never had a real controlled feel to them. That being said, Evans’ slider has gone from a fourth option to his fastball’s running mate in 2020, offering it every third pitch or so. I’m not going to pretend I know much about his intent, but here’s where his slider landed:
Evans is an up in the zone guy and high breaking balls could very well be a part of the success but there is a walking a tight rope component there and the command may not be there for that. The slider’s metrics won’t blow anyone away, but a seemingly major league average offering (if the control stays there) is a testament to the man’s work and all it really needs to be. Part of Evans’ developmental success has been getting the back foot slider to lefties down. Here’s my favorite one of 2020:
There is a curveball too, which was once ahead of the slider. Here is the only one he threw in 2020:
There is a changeup in the repertoire as well but it didn’t come out in 2020. Towards the end of 2019 in Frisco, it seemed he started throwing it more with success. The command may not be major league-ready though, or maybe it’s just not part of the plan. Regardless, secondary command is going to be his gateway to unleashing the top-end effectiveness of the fastball and high leverage situations.
It’s probably too late to nab a share of Evans in deeper dynasty leagues, but we are on the doorstep of Evans becoming a real possibility in any format. Saves are tough to come by, especially later in the season. I incorrectly predicted Evans would get his first major league save in 2020…I’ll eat my hat if it doesn’t come in 2021. If I’m desperate for saves, I’m stashing Evans first news of a call-up hoping for a continuation of the 2020 success and the big man filling a team need quickly. I once wagered Evans would have more career saves than James Karinchak. I’m still feeling good about that.