7. Kevin Jepsen, rhrp
Birthday: 07/1984 Height: 6’3” Weight: 215
AA – 31.2 innings ERA: 1.42 K/9: 9.9 K/BB: 1.94 GO/AO: 2.73
AAA – 23 innings ERA: 2.35 K/9: 8.2 K/BB: 1.75 GO/AO: 2.36
MLB – 8.1 innings ERA: 4.32 K/9: 7.6 K/BB 1.75 GO/AO: 1.25
Kevin Jepsen broke into the majors this year as a reliever for the Halos, and performed well enough in his debut to supplant Justin Speier on the postseason roster. Though he’s the early favorite to remain in the bullpen this spring, he’ll have to fight to stay there because the Angels also have Jason Bulger, Dustin Moseley, and Shane Loux available for the last slot.
Kevin’s career with the Angels began as a seventeen-year old when they took him in the second round of the 2002 draft. Back then he was a starter, and his potential to climb to the big league rotation looked strongest in 2004 when he overcame minor elbow surgery to manhandle the Midwest League as a nineteen-year-old, striking out 136 over 144 innings and putting up a 3.44 ERA. Walks were a problem then as they are now, but the K’s and end results were promising. Another injury - this time in his throwing shoulder - derailed Kevin’s starting career late in 2004. He spent 2005 trying to work himself back into Rancho Cucamonga’s rotation, but with poor results. At that point, the Angels sent him to the bullpen, and he spent the next two years with the Quakes learning his new role and trying to overcome chronic control problems.
In his minor league career, Kevin has never walked less than a batter every two innings. Jepsen’s issues with the strike zone are reminiscent of Troy Percival’s struggles in his own early ’90’s climb through the Angels system, though Troy’s strikeout rates were off the charts at the time while Kevin’s are only strong. But Kevin is better than Percival ever was at generating ground balls. He led all Angels’ minor leaguers with 2.55 GO/AO in 2008, which powered a breakout season that ended on the playoff roster. Again, his control remained fairly poor, but the difficulty hitters have against Jepsen in making solid contact, or any contact at all, is for real.
Stuff has never been a problem for Kevin. As a reliever, his fastball sits comfortably in the mid 90’s with late movement. His curveball is a second plus offering, inducing both empty swings and weak groundballs. He’s still pretty young too, so he has time to get better. Consequently, Jepsen has a very high ceiling in the bullpen - if he improves his walk rate, the sky is the limit - and that accounts for his place in these rankings.
In terms of stuff and approach, I’d say Kevin looks a lot like late-career Tom Gordon coming out of the pen. They both use a solid fastball to set up hitters, and then drop the hammer with a great curve. Like Tom, Kevin gives coaches and fans alike fits by issuing more than his share of walks, but generally makes up for it with lots of K’s and ground balls. Another good comp for Kevin is Scot Shields, who has a similar approach but with a harder curveball; however, Jepsen’s past injury problems will likely keep him from matching Scot’s tremendous additional “rubber arm” value.
In his best years Jepsen should throw up an ERA in the low threes or high twos while striking out a batter an inning and forcing a ton of groundballs. That’s a closer worthy performance, but I fear Jepsen’s middling control will keep him from holding a back-of-the-bullpen job over the long term.