SURPRISE, Ariz. -- While the Rangers are holding organizational meetings inside a conference room, left-handed pitcher Cole Ragans is getting ready for his wedding next month. Texas' No. 1 Draft pick from 2016 is also seven months removed from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery and is throwing from 105 feet on the back fields of the Rangers' Spring Training facility.
"It's going well," said Ragans, the Rangers' 8th-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline. "Everything feels phenomenal. This is my first week at 105 feet. It feels like a long ways, but everything feels really good."
Ragans is hardly alone. The Rangers' complex has been busy all year, given the number of injured pitchers who have spent long hours in rehabilitation. It is a problem that has vexed Texas for several years, and the revolving door continues.
"It is an industry-wide challenge," general manager Jon Daniels said. "We are a part of that. It's something we have spent quite a bit of time looking at and we'll continue to do that."
The Rangers are going to be busy this winter trying to find starting pitching. Right now, left-hander Mike Minor is the only pitcher guaranteed a spot in the rotation. But as much as the club needs starters right now, the bigger challenge is sorting through their top pitching prospects, getting them back to health and on track for Arlington again.
"It's tough," Rangers assistant farm director Paul Kruger said. "You never want to lose arms that you see in your future. But at the same time, the program we have down here -- [Minor League pitching instructor] Keith Comstock and our medical rehab coordinators -- they do such a good job of getting these guys back to playing and stronger than where they were previously. We are not too concerned about their futures. It's quite bright."
Ragans had his surgery in mid-March; before the season was over, right-handers Alex Speas, Collin Wiles, Clayton Blackburn and Kyle Cody followed him to the operating room. Wiles was a supplemental first-round Draft pick in 2012; Speas was taken in the second round in 2016 and Cody was the Rangers' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2017. Blackburn, acquired from the Giants, was off to a strong start in Spring Training his elbow problems began.
"When you first see them and they tell you they're having the surgery, you feel for them," Ragans said. "You've been there before. But once they get in here, it's more of you [joke] about it, because you are all here. There is no need to be down about it. You have fun hanging out, getting your work in, pushing everybody."
Tommy John is not the only plague on Texas pitching. Ronald Herrera, a highly regarded prospect acquired from the Yankees, missed the entire season with shoulder and elbow problems. Left-hander Brett Martin and right-hander Mike Matuella also had issues that affected them on the field. Martuella had an 8.24 ERA in 20 games at Class A Advanced Down East, and Martin had a 7.89 ERA in 29 games at Double-A Frisco. They are both former top prospects who are healthy again but must find a way to regain their former level of success.
There are bright spots. Left-hander Joe Palumbo underwent Tommy John surgery on April 26, 2017, and made it all the way back last season. He had a 2.78 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 11 starts at three levels, finishing up at Frisco.
Chi Chi Gonzalez, the Rangers' No. 1 Draft pick from 2013, also completed his recovery from Tommy John surgery and did not allow a run in three outings at the end of the season. He is expected to be at full strength in Spring Training, although he is a Minor League free agent.
Then there is Edinson Volquez, the elder statesman of the Rangers' pitching rehab program. Volquez has pitched 13 seasons in the Major Leagues and has twice undergone Tommy John surgery. The second time was Aug. 4, 2017, while with the Marlins.
The Rangers signed Volquez as a free agent in Spring Training, knowing he would not pitch in 2018. He spent the year rehabbing in Surprise with the others and is expected to be ready for next season as a possible candidate for the rotation. He has also provided some sage leadership for the younger pitchers going through the process.
"From the first day I started range-of-motion exercises, he said, 'Just give it a couple of weeks, you'll feel better than you do today,'" Ragans said. "You'll be surprised how quick it goes."