We are now less than a week away from the clubhouse in Surprise, Arizona being populated with pitchers and catchers. The bullpen mounds will hear the whoosh of fastballs being thrown as pitchers start to get ready for the 2024 season. Reporters and fans will be gathered around to get the first glimpse of some of these players since the World Series parade in November. Fans will also get a first look at some players who are new signees with the Texas Rangers. It was a year ago at this time that Cole Ragans was packing his bag to head to Surprise. Little did his coaches and the team know that he would bring an amazing uptick in velocity and be one of Texas' best pitchers in camp. He did so well that he forced his way onto the Opening Day roster and then eventually to the Kansas City Royals where he became their best-starting pitcher. Who will be that guy that maybe got a look in 2023, but will impress the coaching staff in 2024? There is one name that comes to mind and it is Owen "Barfight" White.
What will Owen White show to impress the team?
It is not a lie to say that 2023 was a disappointment for Owen White. He did make his MLB debut and in June and then was back up again in July. He pitched two innings each time, gave up one home run in each appearance, struck out two, and walked one in each appearance. Overall though his velocity was a tick down all season as he was recovering from a nerve inflammation in his neck early in the season. He was more in the low to mid 90's instead of the mid to high 90's for Frisco and Round Rock. His overall minor league numbers for 2023 saw him finish 4-5 with a 4.22 ERA, 80 strikeouts, 55 walks, and he pitched 108 2/3 innings.
The expectations are not high for White in 2024. He should be reporting to camp fully healthy and will hopefully see his velocity return. The talent is still there. Despite the disappointments in 2023 he was still picked to start the Futures game last summer and pitched a scoreless inning that night.
I think White will come to camp, show off that his fastball has returned, and that his secondary stuff is just as nasty as it was back in 2022. Texas is likely to take is slow with their starting rotation early in camp and so that will give more opportunities to pitchers like White. It will be on him to take advantage of these appearances in much the same way Ragans did in 2023. White can show that his stuff has returned and force his way into a conversation about making the Opening Day roster.
What role could Owen White play for the Texas Rangers if he has a good Spring Training
Lets look back at what Ragans did in 2023 as a starting point. Last spring training Ragans had a 2-1 record, pitched in 14 2/3 innings, struck out 21 and walked six. He made six appearances including a three-inning appearance against the Angels where he threw 20 total pitches and 19 of them were strikes. He did give up runs near the end of the spring training. It was still a dominant spring for the rookie left-hander. That was good enough to earn a role in the bullpen for Ragans.
White is coming to camp as a member of the 40-man roster for the first time in his career. Texas is lacking in starting pitching depth to start the season. White could earn himself a spot in the rotation or the bullpen. The team will be looking at White for three things. First, what is his velocity and can he maintain it for multiple innings? Second, is he missing bats with his pitches? Third, is he effective coming out of the pen?
The velocity is important because it helps his secondary stuff be more effective. White needs to be averaging 95-96mph and be able to touch 97 or 98. If he is doing that then people will start talking. Ragans was touching 100mph last spring training and when he did that in a game people were blown away. White can get people talking if he is touching the high 90's in bullpens as well as games.
When White is going well he gets a bunch of strikeouts. His most memorable appearance was in the Double-A championship game back in 2022. He had missed most of the summer with an arm injury but he came back late and pitched in the final game of the Texas League Championship series. He came on in relief and pitched to six batters and struck out all six. He turned the tide in that game and Frisco was able to come back and win the championship. When White is on he can strike out anywhere from 5-10 batters in a start. He was missing that throughout much of 2023 as he had 15 starts with fewer than four strikeouts. The coaching staff will be watching to see if that has returned for this season.
Finally, if White is to have a role on this team it will be as a swing man. Someone who will be able to start if needed, but mostly be called upon in the bullpen. It will be similar to the role that Dunning and Ragans shared early in the season before deGrom went down and Dunning went into the rotation. It was the role Bradford filled in the second half of last season. It will be the role that White is competing for in camp. He will need to show that if called upon with runners on base then he can come in and put out a fire. He will need to show that he can get ready quicker than a starting pitcher does and can come in throwing strikes. He will need to show that he can pitch multiple innings and be effective.
Camp will start in about six days and I believe the talk of camp will be Owen White and the improvement he has shown from 2023 to 2024. If that is the case then Texas will have more depth in the rotation than previously thought to have had.