ARLINGTON -- The Rangers potentially added to their already-impressive stock of Minor League pitching when they took two premium pitchers with their first two picks in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft on Tuesday.
Signability is a question with one of those pitchers. Health is an issue with the other.
The Rangers, once again deciding that the "best player available" is a pitcher who resides in Texas, took left-hander Matthew Purke with the 14th overall pick out of Klein High School in the Houston suburb of Spring.
Then they used the 44th overall selection -- a supplemental compensation pick for Milton Bradley -- to take right-handed pitcher Tanner Scheppers, who has been pitching for the St. Paul Saints in the independent American Association. Scheppers fell to the Rangers because of concerns about a shoulder injury at Fresno State last year that kept him from being a top 10 pick in the 2008 Draft.
Both are high-ceiling power pitchers. If everything falls right for the Rangers and all the risks prove worthwhile, this could be a terrific 1-2 pitching addition to their farm system.
"This is a left-hander who has a really good arm, commands the ball well and has life on his fastball, and a right-hander who has plus power stuff," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "If we can get these two guys under contract and out pitching, they would be two nice players to add to what we already have."
Purke is considered one of the top high school pitchers available anywhere, but he might have fallen to the Rangers simply because of pre-Draft reports that his financial demands would be excessively high. But that didn't deter the Rangers and Purke, thrilled with who took him, said he didn't think there will be a problem.
"I don't think it will be difficult," Purke said. "It might take some time, but I want to play baseball and I want to play for the Texas Rangers. I think the negotiations will end up being pretty easy."
Two years ago the Detroit Tigers took Rick Porcello, a high school right-hander from New Jersey, with the 27th overall pick and signed him to a $7.285 million contract that included a $3.85 million signing bonus. That's the most lucrative contract ever given to a high school pitcher in the Draft. The Rangers signed first-round pick Blake Beavan out of Irving (Tex.) High to a $1.5 million signing bonus from the same Draft.
Purke, who has a 93-95 mph fastball and an above-average slider, has signed a letter of intent to Texas Christian University and the Rangers have until Aug. 17 to sign him. He worked out for the Rangers on Sunday at the Ballpark in Arlington and club president Nolan Ryan spoke with his father Tuesday afternoon before the pick was made.
"It's pretty special to say that Nolan Ryan is your boss," Purke said. "I'm a Texas boy and I'm glad to be able to stay in Texas."
Daniels said owner Tom Hicks was consulted before the pick was made and the club appears determined to get Purke signed.
"We briefed Tom on our opinions," Daniels said. "He's always on board with spending money to get talent, even before I got here with Mark Teixeira. He has always okayed it if there was a special talent."
Purke could be just that. He is a 6-foot-3 left-hander who, was 4-2 with a 1.18 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 47 1/3 innings for Klein this season. He allowed 18 hits and walked seven. He went 12-1 with a 0.37 ERA with 147 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings as junior.
He also has extended experience pitching for Team USA in international competition, going 1-1 with a 3.68 ERA in six games, including four starts, over the past three years. He beat Mexico, 2-0, with a shutout to help the United States win a silver medal in the 2008 World Junior Championships in Edmonton.
"We've scouted Matthew for several years," Rangers scouting director Ron Hopkins said. "We like his loose arm, we like the life on his fastball and he has a good breaking ball. He throws strikes and has always been a good competitor. He's a winner and a competitor. That's what we've seen from him the last few years."
Scheppers, 6-foot-4 and 22 years old, was expected to be a top 10 pick in 2008 out of Fresno State, but then suffered a strained shoulder. The Pirates took him in the second round but he did not sign.
Instead he signed with St. Paul and was 1-1 with a 3.32 ERA in four starts. There are still some concerns about the health of his shoulder and he pitched just 19 innings in his four starts. That's probably why he was still available at No. 44.
But the Rangers brought him to Texas to undergo a physical with Dr. Keith Meister and are satisfied that he's ready to pitch. If he's healthy, he's considered a premium power pitcher who could move through the system quickly.
"He's been cleared physically," Daniels said. "He's an active pitcher and he's healthy. He's a guy we really did our homework on in the last year or so. We had him take a physical and we're comfortable with him. We like what he brings and we want to get him in a Rangers uniform."
The Rangers used three of their first four picks to take pitchers. They used their third round pick to take left-handed pitcher Robbie Erlin out of Scotts Valley (Ca.) High. The second round pick was used to take third baseman Tom Mendonca, a left-handed power-hitter out of Fresno State who was the Outstanding Player of the 2008 College World Series.
1st round supplemental (44th overall) Tanner Scheppers, RHP St. Paul Saints
Scheppers has been pitching for the St. Paul Saints in the independent American Association, going 1-1 with a 3.32 ERA (7 ER/19.0 IP) in 4 appearances this season. He allowed one home run with 11 walks against 20 strikeouts, as opponents hit .243 (17-70). ... He pitched at Fresno State from 2006-08, and was drafted by the Pirates in the second round but did not sign. He was injured prior to Fresno State's run to the College World Series title in 2008. ... This is the third time Scheppers has been drafted, as he was also drafted out of Dana Hills (Calif.) High School in 2005 in the 29th round by Baltimore. He was a shortstop and pitcher in high school, and was not converted to a full-time pitcher until he went to Fresno State.
2nd round Tom Mendonca, 3B Fresno State
He was the Most Valuable Player in the 2008 College World Series -- hitting four home runs -- but also set a Division 1 record by striking out 99 times. He was the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year this season. He is a left-handed hitter with power who can go the other way. He was ranked the No. 3 college power hitter in the Draft according to Baseball America. In 62 games for the Bulldogs he hit .339 with 27 home runs and 78 RBIs. He is considered a plus defender at a position that is weak in the system.
3rd round Robbie Erlin, LHP Scotts Valley (Ca.) High School
Erlin is a 5-foot-11 pitcher who has a decent fastball to go with a plus curve ball. He finished with a 9-1 record and 0.63 ERA at his high school in Santa Cruz just south of San Francisco, recording 125 strikeouts in 62 innings. He allowed just 27 hits and 10 walks. He pitched four complete-game shutouts, including a 15-strikeout no-hitter, and at one point went 45 consecutive innings without allowing a run. He has great command and the Rangers have a high regard for his makeup.