Tanner Scheppers is on the fast track to Arlington, but that doesn’t mean the 22-year-old right-hander has been taking a shortcut, or even the most direct route. When he signed with the Rangers in September, it was the culmination of a journey that began when he was drafted in the 29th round out of a Mission Viejo high school by the Orioles in 2005. Opting for Fresno State over Baltimore, the young fireballer went on to establish himself as a first-round talent until concerns about his shoulder resulted in him falling to 48th overall in 2008, which is when he was offered a road map to Pittsburgh. Unable to come to an agreement with the Pirates, Scheppers detoured to St. Paul where he pitched for the independent-league Saints while awaiting the June 2009 draft. When Texas took him as a supplemental pick after the first round, and inked him to a contract two months later, it was finally possible for him to draw a circle around a final destination.
Scheppers talked about his circuitous trip to affiliated pro ball, one which almost included a stopover in Japan, from yet another locale-Surprise, Arizona-during the final week of the Arizona Fall League season.
David Laurila: How would you describe Tanner Scheppers?
Tanner Scheppers: Hard-working, hard-nosed, and pretty competitive. I guess that’s the best way to describe me. But I’m pretty laid-back as well. Off the field, I’m a little more on the quiet side.
DL: You’ve had a lot of media attention early in your career, with most of it focusing on contract issues and the health of your shoulder. What has it been like dealing with that?
TS: It is what it is. It’s just the situation I’ve been in, and I just kind of deal with it in the best way that I can. That’s basically it, really. But, it’s pretty easy now. I mean, I’ve basically heard all of the questions that can be thrown at me, so at this point it’s kind of repeating myself, over and over again.
DL: You reportedly considered signing in Japan if you couldn’t reach an agreement with the Rangers. Was there any truth to that?
TS: Yeah. I mean, I had gone through the draft before and things had kind of fallen out from under me without me even knowing what was going on, so to be able to have a backup plan… this is a business, so having a backup plan is a really good idea. For just that reason, it was something that we looked into. But, you know, everything kind of happened so quickly with Texas-the signing process and how it happened-that I didn’t really have a chance to put too much thought into it. It was just sort of starting up.
DL: Things obviously didn’t work out with the Pirates. What did you learn from that experience?
TS: What I learned from that experience is that this is a business, and that’s how it should be treated.
DL: What was the atmosphere like in St. Paul?
TS: It was really very similar to the atmosphere I’m in now, with pro ball. It’s ‘you’re on your own’-type stuff, and the guys are still competitive and get their work in. We worked out, and we practiced, and it’s a pretty competitive atmosphere. You’ve got a lot of people going to the games, so it was a pretty cool environment to be in. I liked it a lot.
DL: Did anything about independent ball surprise you?
TS: Just that the level of competition was higher than I expected it to be, or that I was told that it would be. They actually have some great players in that league, and that kind of surprised me a little bit.
DL: While you were there, you reportedly talked to Craig Brazell, an infielder who had been with the Mets and Royals, about how hitters think. Just how differently do hitters and pitchers think about at-bats?
TS: Well, there are definitely two different objectives involved, so they’re completely different from that respect. But there are certain situations, and every guy is different. For instance, power guys are different from contact hitters, but being able to learn from a guy like that was kind of nice. It was nice to just kind of take a step back and actually think about what [hitters] are maybe going about, instead of just thinking about what your own pitches are, and whatnot.
DL: Do you attack right-handed and left-handed hitters the same way?
TS: Yes. With me, it’s attack, attack, attack.
DL: You threw a curveball and a slider in college. Will you continue to use both in pro ball?
TS: Yes. Being a starting pitcher, it’s better to have more pitches. They are different pitches, so I think [the Rangers] want me to stick with them as long as I’m starting.
DL: How much difference is there in velocity between your curveball and your slider?
TS: It kind of all depends on the day, really. I haven’t looked at the numbers exactly, so I might be the wrong person to ask about that.
DL: Are you definitely a starting pitcher going forward?
TS: From what they’ve told me, yes.
DL: The Rangers organization is grooming pitchers to go deeper into games. Given the history of your shoulder, is that a concern at all?
TS: Absolutely not. I’m a part of this organization and I’ll do exactly what they tell me to do. I’ve been doing the program for the last 8-10 weeks now and I haven’t had any problems. My arm feels better than it has, so I think that I’m going to just keep trusting them and keep doing what they tell me to do.
DL: What is your approach when it comes to establishing the inside half of the plate?
TS: My learning experience here is basically that I have to get it in. I have to pound it in, and I’ll be most effective if I can do that. So far, the days that I’ve done well, I’ve been able to do that, and on the days I haven’t done so well, I haven’t. That’s been a pretty good learning curve right there.
DL: Are you willing to knock guys down to get them off the plate?
TS: Well, it’s definitely part of the game. I haven’t hit anyone here yet, but maybe later on there will be certain situations where an inside pitch kind of gets away. If you pitch inside, you’re going to hit more guys. That’s just the way it is.