Right-Handed Starting Pitcher
Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Texas Rangers)
Weight: 170 LBS
Drafted: Texas Rangers, Second Round (72nd Overall) in 2010
Fastball (Present/Future): 88-94 MPH (55/60)
Cutter: 85-90 MPH (55/60)
12-6 Curveball: 72-78 MPH (45/55)
Slider: 80-84 MPH (45/55)
Changeup: 81-85 MPH (45/50)
The Texas Rangers selected Cody Buckel in the second round of the 2010 Draft. They signed him to an over-slot $590,000 bonus to play professional baseball and to forgo his commitment to Pepperdine University. Since signing, Buckel has evolved in to a first-tier pitching prospect, consistently out-performing the franchises’ expectations. During his young professional career, he’s ranked atop the Class-A leagues in just about every pitching category.
A star pitcher at Royal High School in Simi Valley California, Buckel put together a tremendous amateur career. He burst on to the scene as a freshman when Gatorade recognized him as their 2007 Rookie of the Year. Throughout the next three seasons he proceeded to stock his trophy case with numerous accolades and achievements. In 2008, he led the 16U USA National Team to a gold medal in the Pan American games by pitching a complete game shutout against Panama. The next summer, he struck out twelve batters in six innings while pitching for the 18U team. Then, as a junior, he posted a 7-2 record with a 2.07 ERA and racked up a school-record 84 strikeouts in 50 innings pitched. He took home honors as All-Ventura County Pitcher of the Year and All-Marmonte League Co-Pitcher of the Year. He was named a Second-Team Rawlings High School Pre-Season All-American heading in to his senior campaign.
In his final season as a Highlander, Buckel proved to be one of the most dominant high school arms on the West Coast. Through 65 innings pitched, he allowed just five earned runs and struck out a ridiculous 104 batters. His 104 K’s broke the program’s single-season strikeout record of 84, a mark he set a year earlier. Though he led the Highlanders to a Marmonte League Championship, his finest personal achievement came earlier that Spring. Facing off against Westlake High School, Buckel fell just short of perfection. He tossed a sparkling complete game no-hitter, and shut down a lineup that included summer-ball teammate–and future twenty-third overall draft pick–Christian Yelich. At the time, Yelich was hitting a monster .625 when Buckel proceeded to completely neutralize him for seven innings.
A four-year letter-winner, Buckel finished his high school career with a 26-6 record, 1.53 ERA and 278 strikeouts through 196 2/3 innings pitched. He was also talented two-way player, playing a strong shortstop and using his wheels on the basepaths. He posted a tremendous .387/.462/.575 triple-slash line in 401 plate appearances and stole 54 bases in 59 attempts.
Buckel is developing a reputation not only for his lights-out pitching but also for his grueling work-out routine and his life off the field. A close friend of D’Back’s top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer, Buckel is an interesting character. The two young stars met when they were pitching for the junior national team. He and Bauer take part in a long-toss and conditioning routine that has drawn some attention for its rigor and unconventional methods. Also similar to Bauer, he employs a body-whipping drop-and-drive delivery.
At Royal High, Buckel put together a long list of extra-curricular activities. He took part in a rendition of High School Musical and received extensive media coverage for his lead-role as Troy. Despite the demanding acting and baseball career, he also always found time to work on raising money for veterans of the American military.
After getting his feet wet with a five-inning stint in the Arizona League the summer before, Buckel made his debut in full-season ball in 2011. Pitching for the Hickory Crawdads of the South Atlantic League, Buckel began the season in the bullpen, and finished the summer as the team’s best starter. The organization’s original plan was to send him to shortseason ball to begin the Spring, but they were impressed with what they saw in him and decided to push him more aggressively. He flourished once he was moved in to the rotation after the first month of the season, and was kept on a fairly liberal pitch count limit of 85. Though he missed out on any awards or All-Star Game selections, Buckel’s sparkling performance suggests he was more than worthy of recognition. Though seventeen starts (23 appearances) and 96 2/3 IP, Buckel dominated Sally league hitters to the tune of a 2.61 ERA, an 8-3 record and a whopping 120 strikeouts. He led all starters in strikeouts per nine innings (11.2 K/9) and ranked fifth in K/BB ratio (4.44).
The Rangers drafted Buckel more for his athleticism and pitching acumen than his pure stuff and ceiling. He’s not the long’n'lean power-arm with a three-sport varsity career that scouts pine for. Instead, he’s on the shorter side, eliciting scouting descriptors like “pitchability” and “polish” rather than “power” and “nasty.” That’s not to say he isn’t a phenomenal talent though. He’s thin and athletic, blessed with dexterity and acrobatic body control. On the mental side, he’s lauded for his make-up, gutsy demeanor and game instincts beyond his years. Straight-up, he knows how to get batters out. Like so many short pitchers before him, he’s been undervalued by the majority of MLB franchises. Luckily, teams with neo-player development systems, like the Rangers, are always ready to challenge convention. With Texas, Buckel joins a club known for developing pitchers built like NFL slot-receivers– C.J. Wilson, Robbie Ross, Robert Erlin etc… He’s accustomed to hearing Roy Oswalt comps, but outside of his underwhelming height and weight, he’s a very different pitcher.
Mechanically, Buckel is a more understated version of Tim Lincecum or Yovani Gallardo. Though he puts his entire body behind his pitches, his delivery is clean and efficient. He begins his wind-up with relaxed, quiet hands, focusing his eyes firmly on his target. He transfers his weight and loads by turning his back to the batter, building energy from his core and hip muscles. He coils his body by bringing his leading foot all the way across his back knee during his leg kick and showing the opposing batter his uniform number. Then, in one fluid motion, he un-winds his body, drops his back shoulder, and bounds toward home plate with a long, healthy stride. Keeping his center of gravity low, he drives the ball with his back leg, and generates monster torque with his core. Despite his power-finish, he does a nice job of staying over the rubber and keeping his upper body in sync with his lower half. His mechanics use his front shoulder to help whip his arm toward home plate, and he releases the ball with razor-sharp spin, in perfect line with his target. He gets great arm extension and finishes with a complete follow-through and torso rotation. He stays balanced throughout his delivery and doesn’t jerk his head. By finishing his follow-through, he doesn’t subject his shoulder to a recoil. He doesn’t fall off the mound, but his delivery’s sheer power causes him to walk-off toward the first-base line.
Firmly dedicated to honing his craft, Buckel has developed above-average control. Combined with his excellent hand-eye coordination and body awareness, his small(ish) stature is actually an advantage; it allows him to stay compact in his delivery and place his pitches. As evidenced by his extraordinary high school career at shortstop, Buckel is far more athletic than most professional pitchers. His extra agility and balance allow to repeat his delivery consistently, from pitch to pitch, and he releases the ball in line with his target. He maintains his arm-slot and release throughout his starts, and doesn’t push any of his pitches. He’s superbly conditioned, with strong legs and a powerful core. His training and preparation afford him control and power that lasts deep in to his starts.
Buckel practices tirelessly to develop feel and command over all of his pitches. His dedication shows come game time. Though he saps every bit of velocity from his body in his delivery, he doesn’t waste any energy with extra moving parts or violent motions. Keeping his head quiet and focused on his target, his clean, fluid delivery results in consistently above-average control. He spots his fastball to all four quadrants of the strikezone, and he keeps opposing hitters guessing. A groundball machine, Buckel pounds both left-handed and right-handed batters in on the hands with his cutter and can shave the outside edge of the plate with his fastball when necessary. He locates his offspeed pitches to the bottom half of the zone consistently, and can throw all of his pitches for strikes. When he finds his rhythm, he pitches ahead in the count, with an aggressive, go-after-’em style.
Bright, composed, hard-working and well-coached, Buckel shows all of the mental ingredients for superb command and pitchability. He’s young and inexperienced, but his command is already well-ahead of the vasty majority of pitching prospects in the low minors. With his cutter and fastball, he throws quality strikes, pitch after pitch, and he pounds the catcher’s mit. He gets on top of opposing batters quickly with a long stride and deceptive mechanics, causing his ability to locate to play-up even more. His offspeed pitches, particularly his changeup, are a little bit behind in terms of pure command– not surprising considering his experience level. However, he can throw his offspeed stuff for called strikes, already. He does a nice job of managing his breaking pitches in the bottom half of the zone, as well, and limits mistakes and hangers. With men on base and behind in the count, he maintains his composure and focuses on making his pitch. He doesn’t waste pitches, and approaches each batter with a plan. Blessed with a veteran feel for pitching, Buckel keeps the ball on the ground and avoids the fat part of the bat. With more experience and work, his command and control should both rate as plus in the big leagues.
Even without premium velocity, Buckel’s fastball is a future plus pitch in the big leagues. His delivery’s arm extension and full follow-through add hissing spin and riding action. He has a quick, clean arm action and his long stride helps him jump towards opposing batters, adding extra life and deception to his repertoire. He releases the ball a good bit closer than most pitchers, and he uses the mound to stay on top of his fastball. Clocking in consistently between 90-92 MPH, and occasionally touching 94 MPH, his four-seamer explodes out of his hand and shows visible rise. A la Tim Lincecum or David Robertson, his mechanics make his velocity play up as if he were throwing in the mid 90′s consistently. Opposing hitters have fits recognizing the ball and putting together a strong swing. With great feel and advanced command of the pitch, Buckel locates his four-seamer with Major League precision, leading to strikeouts and forcing weak contact and groundballs. His ability to throw quality strikes with his heater also allows him to more effectively use his offspeed repertoire.
Buckel’s primary offering is his four-seamer, but he’ll also switch to a two-seam grip occasionally. Like his four-seamer, his two-seamer shows nice hop. He’ll sink it and use it’s tail to run off the outside corner against lefties. His two-seamer’s extra movement will be valuable with men on base, giving him yet another groundball-inducing weapon.
Since coming to the Rangers, Buckel has pretty much scrapped his slider in favor of a harder, tighter cutter. Sitting in the high 80′s, the pitch has developed in to his most effective secondary offering. Like his fastball, he shows premium command of his cutter. He’s adept at busting it in on the fists of left-handed hitters and jamming them inside. So far this season, southpaws have managed to reach base just fifteen times in 67 plate appearances (.224 OBP). Against right-handers, the pitch is effective as well. He’ll front-door it across the inside corner, and can spin it just-off the plate, low-and-away, as well. With heavy, late boring action, his cutter is extremely difficult to square-up and loft, leading to plenty of weak grounders and handle-hammering choppers. Combined with his ice-cold nerve and sharp command, the emergence of the pitch as a lefty-killer opens the door for his future as a closer.
Buckel’s offspeed repertoire consists of a promising 12-6 curveball, a nice, fading straight-change and an occasionally- thrown disappearing slider. Clocking in around the mid 70′s, his curveball has big, looping break. He’ll drop it in to the strikezone, shot-put style, from his overhand release, to freeze opposing hitters with called-strikes at the knees. When he needs to mix-in a swing-and-miss offspeed pitch, he’ll spin it a bit harder with tightly-wound, downer break. His former slider, has turned in to more of a power-curve, thrown out of his fastball tunnel. Though his breaking pitches aren’t sexy by any means, he places them well. They show strong downward break and batters swing over and through them nonetheless. He supposedly modeled his curveball after Barry Zito’s technique. With more game use, his curveball should rate as a solid-average pitch.
Buckel’s changeup is still developing, but it has made great strides early this season. He throws it with nice arm speed, out of the same tunnel as his fastball and with a near-identical release. His change shows good two-seam movement, running down and away from left-handers. Judging the impressive movement and-arm speed, some scouts had previously rated his changeup as a future plus. However, he still needs to harness his command of it, and will need to learn to elevate it a bit more. The pitch tends to die as it moves toward the plate and ends up in the dirt far too often. He’s done a nice job of practicing his arm action and has stopped a habit of guidng/aiming it. Honing his feel and command over his changeup is a primary focus of his, and the pitch should still be a very solid offering once he reaches the big leagues.
Smart and poised, Buckel has a veteran’s demeanor on the mound. He approaches each at bat with a plan, and fearlessly attacks opposing hitters. His fundamentals are sound, working off of his fastball and doing his best to control the count. He doesn’t sell out for strikeouts, and is adept at drawing weak contact and inducing double-plays. Off the field, he uses his time to improve himself physically and mentally. His stamina is superb and his efficiency is almost unrivaled among pitchers in his age group. Though he’s a rhythm pitcher, he doesn’t get rattled with men on base, and he does a nice job of slowing down the game when necessary. He has a solid pick-off move, and knows how to hold basestealers.
Buckel’s max-effort delivery and slight stature leads to worries about durability and his ultimate ceiling. He’s spent his professional career tearing apart the low-minors, but many scouts doubt he’ll be nearly as dominant against more advanced competition. He lacks the out-pitch and velocity to be a front-end starter, and also the frame and strength to be an innings-eater. He’s efficient, and he generates plenty of groundballs, but his max-effort delivery will make it difficult for him to shoulder thirty-two-start workloads in the big leagues. He’s listed at 6’1″ 180 pounds by the Rangers, but without a doubt, he’s closer to 5’11″ 160 LBS. His frame isn’t conducive to adding any more size or power without sacrificing considerably flexibility and dexterity.
The Rangers will wait-and-see how Buckel plays against stronger competition in the high minors. His heater can hit 94 MPH, so he’s no soft-tosser, but he really has to get behind the ball to exceed MLB hitting speed (90-91 MPH). It’s difficult to believe that putting that much effort in to his delivery, pitch-after-pitch, will allow him to survive a full-season in the Rangers’ rotation without a significant decline in performance. He’s flexible, athletic and well-conditioned, but he simply doesn’t have the stuff or power to develop in to a front-end starting pitcher. Furthermore, he doesn’t project to have a legitimate put-away pitch in the big leagues, and his efficiency will suffer against polished hitters, who will foul off his fastball and battle him. As a relief pitcher, these worries will be largely addressed. It’s hard to find young pitchers with the combination of mental and physical strength that Buckel possesses. Given the opportunity, he could be a first-tier Major League closer– particularly if his velocity jumps-up a tick or two.
Even while spending his past two seasons in pitching-heavy leagues, Buckel has managed to outperform his competition and make a name for himself. He’s adept at avoiding contact and keeping the ball on the ground, two traits that will allow him to succeed at a high level in the Major Leagues. In the South Atlantic League in 2010, his 2.36 FIP was over a run lower than the league average (3.67 FIP). So far in 2012, while pitching in the Carolina League, he’s continued to dominate, posting a 2.31 FIP. Once again, his FIP is over a run lower than the league-average mark of 3.58.
Throughout the past two seasons, Buckel’s 4.15 K/BB ratio almost doubles the mean figure that his counterparts posted (2.39). Though he’s a strike-thrower, Buckel also avoids the fat part of the bat and limits hard contact. He’s a groundball machine, averaging 2.87 ground-outs for every fly-out this season and 2.38 for his career. Hitters have so much difficulty lofting his pitches that he’s allowed just two homeruns in his last fourteen starts. In fact, he’s never allowed more than one homerun in a game in his entire professional career.
There’s nothing prototypical about him, but nevertheless, Buckel has a bright future in the big leagues. He has all the tools to be a solid middle/back-end starter for a contending team. If the Rangers decide to put him in the bullpen, Buckel could be a superb closer or set-up man. Texas’ player development team has had success with smallish, athletic pitchers in the recent past, and Buckel may just be the most talented of any of them. Like Yankees set-up man David Robertson, his long stride helps him get on top of hitters, and would make him extremely difficult to time during short stints. At present, he doesn’t have a shut-down pitch in his repertoire, but out of the ‘pen, his fastball could inch up to the 92-95 MPH range and he could fully concentrate on developing his cutter and curve.
If all goes according to plan, Buckel has the chance to be a Joakim Soria-type closer. His cool demeanor on the mound and eccentric personality suit a late-inning bullpen job perfectly. More importantly, his impressive command and his ability to neutralize left -handed hitters (.171/.145 righty/lefty batting average platoon split) will help him succeed at a high level. His knack for keeping the ball on the ground and in the park will make him a favorite of his managers as he climbs the ladder, and once takes his career to the homerun-happy MLB.
For now, Buckel will continue to pitch for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans and could finish the season in Frisco, playing for the coolest team in the Texas League– the Roughriders. If the Rangers decide to move him to the bullpen, he could break the big league roster by Summer, 2013.