Relief pitcher Tanner Scheppers took an unusual route to the RedHawks.
Before being drafted by the Texas Rangers last year, he pitched professionally, for the independent St. Paul Saints from May 16-June 7.
Scheppers was 1-1 with a 3.32 ERA in four starts for the American Association team. He struck out 20 of the 82 batters he faced, over 19 innings.
"The experience definitely helped me get a good routine, and just being around experienced players helped a lot," Scheppers, 23, said. "Definitely taking the information that some of the guys had has helped me."
A few days after his final St. Paul game, Scheppers was drafted in the supplemental first round by Texas. The Rangers made him the 44th pick in last year's draft. Pittsburgh took him with 48th pick in the 2008 draft, but he chose not to sign with the Pirates.
The 6-foot-4 righthander would have been drafted much higher if not for the shoulder problems that sidelined him in 2008, when his Fresno State teammates went on to win the College World Series championship.
"I haven't had a problem in about two years now," Scheppers said. "Everything's been good and healthy and I'm feeling good right now."
The Rangers sent Scheppers to double-A Frisco for his Organized Baseball pro debut this year. He tore through the Texas League, allowing only one earned run and three hits in 11 innings. He struck out 19 Texas League batters.
"In independent ball there are a lot of older guys, more patient hitters. Double-A hitters are just a little bit younger," Scheppers said. "Still very talented players, but under developed. You can just see as every step goes on that the players get better and better."
Scheppers was promoted to Oklahoma City on April 30. He he allowed only one earned run in three games, and struck out nine in six innings.
"The players here are more experienced and more patient," Scheppers said. "They look for their pitches. They don't chase as much. They're just more experienced and better players."
Scheppers has a 1.06 overall ERA this year, and he's struck out 28 in 17 innings.
"Every step you go up you've got to do better and better," he said. "Otherwise there wouldn't be any levels."
Those steps have come rapidly for the Laguna Niguel, Calif., native. It will be a surprise if he doesn't make his major league debut this year.
"I've just got to do my work, work out every day, keep up with my work ethic and everything else should follow that," he said.
Baseball America ranks Scheppers as the Rangers' No. 4 prospect. He has a major league caliber fastball, at 95 to 98 mph, and his big breaking curveball has been clocked at 80 mph.
He chooses not to speculate on when he'll reach the major leagues.
"That's not my job to say," Scheppers said. "My job's just to go out there and pitch. It's not my job to expect anything. My job is to just go out there and throw."
Rangers brass have said they expect Scheppers to eventually return to starting pitcher roots, though all of his innings for the Texas organization have been in relief.
"My job, again, is to just go out there and pitch," Scheppers said. "I just do what they tell me to do. Right now my job is to go out there and throw two innings and keep getting experience, get better with every outing, and that's what I'm going to keep on doing. But when I pitch is totally up to them."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.