SURPRISE, Ariz. -- As the Rangers added starting pitcher after starting pitcher this offseason, more than a few guys moved further and further down the depth chart.
Left-hander Cole Ragans -- likely the eighth or ninth pitcher down that depth chart -- is making sure to keep himself in the conversation. After his start in the Rangers’ 7-5 victory over the Angels on Sunday afternoon at Surprise Stadium, Ragans has allowed only one earned run over six innings this spring. He has struck out nine and walked one.
Ragans, ranked as Texas’ No. 12 prospect by MLB Pipeline before he graduated from prospect status in September, pitched three innings of one-run ball against the Angels. He allowed a leadoff triple to start the game but proceeded to retire nine of the next 10 batters while logging four strikeouts.
“He’s getting talked about a lot, I can tell you that,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “It’s great to see someone like this that you know you're going to need. We're going to get this figured out, but it's what you want to see -- these guys come in and throw the ball that way he's thrown it.
“We’ve got some tough decisions, but he's doing all he can. I can say that.”
In his first big league camp since he made his MLB debut late last season, Ragans has looked the part. Bochy acknowledged that everything just seems sharper for Ragans this year as opposed to last season, when the left-hander opened the season with Double-A Frisco and swiftly earned a promotion to Triple-A Round Rock before his big league callup on Aug. 4.
Ragans averaged 92.1 mph last year on his four-seamer, hitting 94 mph or above only 15 times in the big leagues. Now, he’s sitting around 94-96 mph -- and even topped out at 99 a couple times -- in Cactus League play, raising more than a few eyebrows in Rangers camp.
So where did that velocity come from?
Ragans said he didn’t “go hunting velo” this offseason, but he wanted to get stronger and focus on staying healthy for Spring Training and throughout a full season.
“I've put in a lot of work this offseason with hip mobility … a completely different workout plan,” Ragans said. “I feel like I put on some good weight from last season. Last season, I ended the year at 203 [pounds]. I came into Spring Training this year at 215. So I put on some good weight, got a little more flexible, stronger, all that kind of stuff.
“I feel like I have the same mindset that I had before. My mindset coming to Spring Training was to be healthy, fill up the strike zone, go after guys and attack hitters. That's the biggest thing. The velo is just a plus.”
Ragans, who was selected by the Rangers in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft, finished his cup of coffee in the big leagues with a 4.95 ERA over nine starts (40 innings), notching 27 strikeouts against 16 walks.
The new uptick in velocity may just be a plus, but that combined with improved command is keeping him in the conversation for a spot on the Opening Day roster, whether that’s in the rotation or out of the bullpen.
“He’s pounding the strike zone. And then you look at the stuff, there's no getting around it,” Bochy said. “It's up from where it was last year, the velocity, but you look at the offspeed pitches, the changeup, the breaking ball -- he's been sharp from Day One, including bullpens and live BPs.
“He just has a great look about him. Very confident kid. He's a tough competitor, and he's been a lot of fun to watch.”
Asked what he heard about Ragans coming into the year, Bochy shook it off, explaining that he just wants to see these guys in person before making any snap judgements or assumptions about what kind of players they are.
“We've talked about depth and how important it is,” Bochy said. “Now we've got a couple of guys with minor issues going on, and, more likely, you're going to have that during the season. Every club has it, so to have a guy like Ragans who's there in whatever role he's in -- starting or relieving -- it's a nice option that we have with how he’s throwing.”