An effective argument can be made that the Texas Rangers’ rebuild started in the off-season of 2017 and not after the first few months of this season.
The Rangers were so thin on prospects after a series of trades in 2015 and 2016 that ownership infused $25 million into the 2017 payroll so that general manager Jon Daniels didn’t have to trade away more prospects to build the roster.
The next step came after last season, when the $25 million was withdrawn from the budget. That left the Rangers to discover which young players on the fringes of the major leagues could be more serviceable in future seasons.
Put check marks next to Jurickson Profar, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Ronald Guzman and Jose Leclerc. Willie Calhoun has looked better in left field than he did as season ago, and Ariel Jurado has shown well at times on the mound.
More evaluations will take place in September, with expanded rosters giving, among others, Yohander Mendez, an audition for 2019. But only handful of players are coming from the minors, as the Rangers don’t have many knocking on the MLB door.
The best are slowly making their way toward the upper levels of the minors, with a few already there. Some have been in the organization for a few seasons. Others were signed in the past six months.
Who are they? The Star-Telegram has ranked them 1 through 10 and will begin counting them down here.
No. 10: LHP Cole Ragans
Born: Dec. 12, 1997
Height: 6-foot-4. Weight: 195
2018 stats: Did not play
How acquired: 2016 draft (first round, 30th overall)
Just because he didn’t even play this season doesn’t mean he can’t be considered a top-10 prospect, though, perhaps to some, it’s a possible indication of how thin the Rangers are on the farm.
That’s fairly short-sighted, though.
Yeah, there’s some risk with a severe injury, but it’s not like the player doesn’t still have talent. That’s especially so for players who were considered top-five prospects before being sidelined.
So, yes, Cole Ragans remains a top Rangers prospect despite tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow late in spring training and undergoing Tommy John surgery on March 28.
He resumed throwing two weeks ago, at 60 feet, and hopes to be throwing in games again in May. Until then, he is trying to find the silver linings in missing a season so early in his development, and he has found them.
“At first I was really, like, aggravated and mad, I guess you could say, just because I was looking forward to having a good season,” Ragans said. “Now I’m looking at it as more of a positive. I have 12 to 14 months to get stronger, put on weight, and work on my command when I’m throwing all those bullpens trying to build back up. I’m looking at all the positives I’m gaining from it.”
Ragans has been in Surprise, Ariz., for months while coming back, and he hasn’t been alone. Veteran right-hander Edinson Volquez, former first-round pick Chi Chi Gonzalez and lefty Joe Palumbo have rehabbed from Tommy John alongside him. They have all given Ragans advice or confirmed to him that what he is feeling at various stages is normal.
Volquez has undergone Tommy John twice in his career. He had advised Ragans to do something that isn’t easy for many 20-year-olds to do — be patient.
“When I first had it, I talked to Volky, just how it felt and all the things that would go on,” Ragans said. “He just said it takes time. It will be all right. It just takes time.
“I’m trying to take more of the patient approach. Sometimes it gets tough when I get to thinking too much, but I just always tell myself better that it happened now in my second season than in three years or so when I’m trying to compete for a rotation spot.”
As far as the Rangers are concerned, the 2017 scouting report on Ragans will still be accurate when he returns to pitching. He’s a projectable left-hander whose fastball sits 90 to 93 mph. It plays higher thanks to deception in his delivery and late movement, and also because of a changeup that rates as his best off-speed pitch.
He’s a heady pitcher with an idea of what he wants to do and what he needs to improve.
“It’s a good look,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “And he’s smart and he’s confident. Those are two pretty big separators.”
Ragans is working on some of that now. Although he won’t pitch in 2018, this is still a development year for him.
“It adds a little bit of risk, but it really doesn’t diminish your talent or upside,” Daniels said. “In a lot of cases, those guys have nothing to do except train and learn about themselves and the game. Sometimes you’ll see guys come back throwing harder. It’s not because their ligament is better. They’re in better shape, more physically mature and capable of things they were capable of before surgery.”