The Texas Rangers made so many additions to their pitching staff this winter that you would be forgiven if you forgot about Cole Ragans. If someone is listing off pitchers for the Rangers how far down that list would Cole Ragans be?. Would he be somewhere between the 10th to 15th pitcher named?
Fans would quickly name the starting five in the rotation, then probably Dane Dunning, Glen Otto, Jake Odorizzi, Jose Leclerc, Brock Burke, Jonathan Hernandez, and probably at this point a fan might think -- oh, and Cole Ragans. Well, Ragans is in camp right now and is trying to change that narrative. He has come to camp loaded up with a fastball that has jumped from the low 90s to the upper 90s and is still throwing an excellent changeup and curveball. Ragans does not want to be someone just sent to Round Rock to serve as pitching depth. He wants to show he can fill a role on the Rangers team now.
Cole Ragans' journey to the Texas Rangers
Cole Ragans is not just a guy, he is a former first-round pick. He was drafted 30th overall in the 2016 MLB Draft. He immediately drew comparisons to Cole Hamels who was pitching for the Rangers at that time. He is a left-handed starting pitcher who can locate his pitches on both sides of the plate and has had success when he has been healthy. The health part has been what kept him from making his debut till 2022. He had to undergo two Tommy John surgeries, the first in 2018 and the second in 2019.
In 2020 there were no minor leagues due to the pandemic and so he did not get back to live action till May 2021. He worked his way up the minor league ladder throughout 2021 and into 2022. He was promoted to Round Rock in June of 2022 and made eight starts. He was up and down. His last three starts all were quality starts (six innings and three earned runs or less allowed) and that earned him his long-sought-after promotion to the Rangers.
After the deadline in 2022, the Rangers shifted gears. They called up Cole Ragans and outfielder Bubba Thompson on the same day. The Rangers shifted from trying to win to calling up young talent. Ragans entered the starting rotation and got his feet wet. Much like at Round Rock, he finished off the season with three solid starts. He went four innings or more and did not allow more than three runs in any of those starts.
One thing about his time in the majors last year was the lack of strikeouts. In the minors last season he was regularly around 7+ strikeouts. In the majors, he never had a start with more than five strikeouts. His fastball which averaged 92.1mph was not good enough to miss many bats. Hitters swung and missed on only 11% of his fastballs and they also had a .388 batting average against the fastball. He had more success with his cutter, changeup, and curveball, but the lack of success with the fastball limited how dominant he could be.
Cole Ragans heading into 2023
That brings us to the 2023 season. He has so far made two appearances this Spring. He has looked dominant so far in both outings. He pitched two innings on Sunday against the Guardians and struck out three batters including Josh Bell, who struck out looking to finish his two innings. He returned on Wednesday, pitched an inning against the Dodgers, and struck out two batters. His velocity has been significantly higher and he is not nibbling around the corners.
He is confidently pitching up in the zone and his increased velocity is making his curveball that much harder to hit because of the difference in velocity. The obvious question becomes how did he add that much velocity in one off-season. He said this to Levi Weaver of The Athletic about the work he put in,
"(I did a) bunch of mobility stuff with my hips, ankles, scap(ula)s,” he added. “I just had a different workout program; I put on some weight. I put on 10-12 pounds, but good weight. I don’t feel slow; I still feel like I’m strong — the strongest I’ve ever been, if not stronger.”"- Cole Ragans
He put in the work and it is now showing results. One interesting thing about Wednesday's appearance is that it was only one inning. After having pitched two innings on Sunday he should have again pitched two innings or more yesterday. Pitchers that will be starters every time out will increase their pitch count, and how many innings they pitch. Ragans yesterday only pitched one inning and Bochy said that was the plan.
We still have four weeks until the season starts and so plenty of time for them to still stretch Ragans out if that is what they want to do. There are jobs available in the pen. Brett Martin is going to miss much of the first half of the season if not the whole season after having left shoulder surgery. The bullpen already does have Brock Burke and Taylor Hearn as lefties, but they could certainly use another hard-throwing lefty, especially after losing Matt Moore in free agency. Burke and Hearns are both players who can go multi-innings.
Ragans has been a starter throughout his career and so he could slot in as a middle reliever or be paired with Jake Odorizzi as a long-reliever. How Bochy deploys Ragans going forward will tell us a lot about what he envisions his role to be. They have built up enough starting pitching depth that they do not need to have Ragans serve in that role this season. There will be at least possibly four or five pitchers at Round Rock who could be brought up and make a spot start in addition to Jake Odorizzi.
Right now with the team trying to win having Ragans in the bullpen might serve the team better than keeping him at Round Rock in case they need a starting pitcher. If Ragans continues to pitch like he has he will no longer be the forgotten man, and he will become known as the man who pitches in the bullpen for the Texas Rangers.