The Texas Rangers have built their farm system through investments in the International market and high upside draft picks. Texas prefers athletic players with loud tools as an organizational philosophy. Through the years, the Rangers have had a reputation for finding and developing sluggers, especially from Latin America, while struggling to develop starting pitching.
Though the system has been plundered recently through trades to help the big league club, the Rangers still have several enticing prospects we will be featuring through the coming days.
So this is going to be about Cole Ragans, the 30th overall pick in the 2016 Draft by Texas. However, before we can understand the importance of a player like Ragans, some historical context on this organization is needed.
Mainly how bad a track record Texas has at getting production from their top line pitching prospects.
To test this hypothesis, I tracked down top ten prospect lists all the way back to 2005. In the 12 years since, there have been 34 unique pitchers who have appeared as top prospects on the Rangers(obviously some repeated years on lists). What I was looking for specifically was games started by pitchers on that list for the Rangers.
The total came out to 356 total starts among those 34 pitchers, which is a little more than 10 per pitchers. That number’s a bit low; it essentially means that of the 34 best pitching prospects Texas had over the last decade plus they received a third of a season of starts from them.
But wait, there’s more(or less depending on your point of view).
Two of the biggest success stories of the organization are Derek Holland and Martin Perez. Perez has started 81 games for the team and counting, while Holland gave Texas 158 during his time in Arlington. So between those two pitchers, they account for 234 of those 356 starts or just under 2/3rds of the total.
If we strip away those two, it becomes 32 pitchers with 117 starts. That slashes the number to a mediocre 3.65 games started per pitcher. For the curious, the next most after Perez is Chris Young with 38, followed by Juan Dominguez with 17, and Chi Chi Gonzalez with 13.
Yeah, not great.
So what’s this have to do with Ragans?
Ragans represents both great hope, but also worthy yet unfair skepticism based on this history. A Florida State commit before being drafted, Ragans is a prototypical workhorse lefty type. He’s got an easy on the body delivery, a good frame, and no obvious red flags about his health or makeup that have been made public.
That said if we went back and looked at all the scouting reports of the pitchers on those top prospect lists from years past, they likely feature a lot of the same language. In an endeavor where a lot of the results are based on figurative dice rolls, Texas seems to be rolling snake eyes more often than not. Of course Ragans didn’t have anything to do with that 12 years of mediocrity, but he inherits some of it by association.
It’s an unfair reality.
The great hope for Ragans is he’s projectable. He’s only 19, with a lot of growing and learning ahead. Any pitcher who says he models himself after Cole Hamels is off to a good start. As he begins his journey in earnest this year, we should all be excited to see how this young man blossoms.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least keep in the back of our minds a note of wariness about ourselves. There’s too much history not to ignore that potential, regardless of how bright the potential star shines.
Notes to know:
Vital stats: 6’4”/3”(depending on who you ask), 190 lbs, entering his age 19 season
Best pitch: Ragans has a legit three pitch mix, but like most top line prospects it’s the fastball everyone likes. Coming into the draft it ranged between 89-93 MPH, but that was when the young man was still in high school. There’s plenty of time for him to get on a professional strength program, add some muscle to his frame, and with any luck a couple more ticks of MPH. The fastball is also his best commanded pitch, though there’s reasons to be excited for his changeup and curve as he develops them.
What he’s good at: Pitching. That sounds redundant, but it’s an important distinction. Kids between 16-20 often are less pitchers and more throwers. The difference being Ragans has three pitches he can use, and knows how to use them as opposed to some pitchers who take the mound and wing it. Ragans often has a plan on the mound, which is a mentality necessary for anyone who wants to make it at the highest of levels.
What needs work: Consistency. While everything said above is true, the best thing Ragans can do for himself and his career is become more consistent. In high school Ragans would display all the things that made him a first rounder one start, but wouldn’t always carry it over for consecutive starts. He’s shown he has the tools and the capability; the challenge for him now will be to show it every time out on the mound.
2017 outlook: Ragan’s next stop is a little hard to peg. Texas didn’t have him work a lot last season, citing his heavy high school workload. His entire 2016 was 7.2 innings at the Arizona Rookie League, not exactly a great compass. It’s easy to imagine him staying in Arizona, then heading to Spokane for short season in June.
You could also see him break camp with Hickory at Low A as a way to throw him into the fire, potentially accelerating his progress. If I was a betting man, this is where I’d lean. Ragans comes with a reputation of being quite polished. While short season might make more pragmatic sense, Ragans needs innings to get better.
He may be overmatched at Hickory to start, but with time it’s reasonable that he would adjust and improve. In a perfect world, he ends 2017 in Kinston after a hot May and June with the Crawdads.
Overall outlook: Here I am doing that projecting teenagers thing that I lamented when talking about David Garcia in our honorable mentions. Based on what we know right now, I’d slot Ragans as a #3 starter one day.
He’s got three pitches that he’s still improving, and he’s got some filling out to do. As long as he stays healthy, by 2020 or so it’s not hard to envision him starting every 5th day for Texas as their 3rd starter. If his fastball improves, and one of either his curveball or changeup drastically improves, he might be able to push for a #2 spot.
When I see Ragans though, I see a young man with plenty of upside and a real possibility to start in the majors for a decade plus. He might not be Clayton Kershaw or Chris Sale, but he doesn’t have to be to achieve a long and prosperous MLB career.
Click below for more of our Top 15 Prospect List: