How Cole Ragans learned from Cole Hamels

September 7th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Anne Rogers’ Royals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

KANSAS CITY -- The similarities are uncanny.

has been compared to four-time All-Star and World Series MVP Cole Hamels since the Rangers drafted Ragans in the first round of the 2016 Draft. But the comparison was brought up once again this week when Rob Friedman, otherwise known as Pitching Ninja on X, overlayed the two lefty starters to show just how similar the mechanics are.

“OK, that’s crazy,” Ragans said, laughing when shown the video.

“That’s probably the ultimate form of flattery when someone tries to emulate your motion,” Hamels added later. “I tried to emulate Tom Glavine. As you age as a player, you try to pass the torch in a way.”

The reason for the similarities is partly by design. When Ragans, 25, was a junior at North Florida Christian High School, he added an overhead windup to help with his timing. He used Google to help find other lefties who did the same.

Hamels, who by then had logged nearly 10 years in the big leagues and won the 2008 World Series with the Phillies, was one of the top search results.

“I was like, ‘Well, he does it, and he’s doing pretty well,’” Ragans said. “It kind of grew from there. Studied his mechanics, how he was doing it, what his movements were, and then after that, I just started watching highlights.”

Highlight, after highlight, after highlight. At his after-school job before baseball practice began, Ragans would pull up YouTube in between filing papers and sending faxes.

“And I’d just go down a Cole Hamels rabbit hole,” Ragans said. “Cole Hamels 2008 highlight tape. All the strikeouts he had. The World Series. I literally would go through all of them.”

Hamels was traded to Texas in 2015, which meant that when Ragans joined the organization, they were sharing the same Spring Training complex in Surprise, Ariz. So in ‘17, the Rangers arranged for Ragans to spend a day in big league camp with Hamels.

“When I was young, I spent a good amount of time with older pitchers,” Hamels said. “... Sometimes experiencing things through visuals and interacting -- and sometimes words don’t need to be said -- can be helpful. I learned a lot that way. So when I became a veteran, I wanted to incorporate that with the Rangers. Especially with a young guy, you want to give them any advice or knowledge before they go into a season. That’s what’s so special about Spring Training. I think that’s how you encourage good players to become good teammates.”

Five minutes with Hamels would have been enough for Ragans, then 19 years old. Instead, he spent seven hours as Hamels’ shadow. They ate breakfast together, worked out, played catch and sat in the Rangers’ dugout for a few innings of that day’s Cactus League game.

“It’s definitely a day I can remember like yesterday,” Ragans said. “Sitting there getting to spend a day with a 10-year vet who I had watched a lot of stuff on, it was really cool. Just to see how he prepared and got himself ready, I’ll never forget it.

“I probably asked him a million questions.”

Hamels answered every one.

“I liked the fact that he had a good presence,” Hamels said. “He had that confidence, but it wasn’t overbearing. He really wanted to learn. You could see it in his eyes and mannerisms that he knew he was going to belong one day. He just needed to figure out what he had to do to get there, and then take it up another notch on how to stay and actually be really great.”

Two Tommy John surgeries and a trade later, Ragans is emerging as that player. The American League Pitcher of the Month in August, Ragans has a 1.51 ERA in eight starts with the Royals since they acquired him from Texas in the Aroldis Chapman trade. Ragans’ velocity has ticked up even more, hitting 100 mph and sitting 98-99 mph deep into his starts.

And what he learned during his day spent with Hamels is still paying off.

“When he got to the field that day, he knew exactly where he was going to start his day, where he was going to finish it and what he was going to do in between,” Ragans said. “It was so structured, so much meaning behind every little thing. Getting his body ready, throwing programs. Learned a lot just from watching that, and I wanted to do the same thing. A lot of veteran guys are structured, that’s why they’ve been around that long. But he was the first I really saw do it.”

In 2021, the two crossed paths again when Hamels threw a bullpen session for scouts in Frisco, where the Rangers’ Double-A affiliate plays.

Ragans got to the field early to watch the bullpen session and catch up. Ragans’ journey -- from the surgeries early on to the trade this year -- has stuck with Hamels, who was a first-round pick in 2002.

“I really have to give him credit,” Hamels said. “One surgery is one thing, but going through multiple, that’s where you start to figure out the true character, and, when the tough times come, how they deal with it. You can see how he dealt with that and how he will deal with things when they pop up. He’s going to be a really, really good player.”

Hamels officially retired earlier this year after a 15-year career in the Major Leagues. He is adjusting to retired life, but is still keeping up with the game -- and has watched a few of Ragans’ highlights.

He can’t ignore the similarities between the mechanics, but Hamels said Ragans has fine-tuned it even more.

“I never hit 100 mph in my life,” Hamels said, “... He gets into the power position really well, really efficiently. His arm’s a lot quicker. And he blocks [when the front leg becomes load-bearing] better than I’ve seen. I did it well until my knee started hurting, and you just adapt. But for what he’s doing, he blocks really well, and it allows his arm to utilize all the energy that he created. That’s what he does well. I was probably milliseconds behind and couldn’t block efficiently all the time. He’s been able to master it even more.”

The day spent with Hamels was clearly formative for Ragans’ career. But the links between the two have meant a lot to Hamels, too.

“Baseball is so humbling, so to see this and hear this, it’s pretty impressive,” Hamels said. “I’m thankful for the hard work I’ve put in and to see it translate to other people that have used it to inspire them, it’s so flattering. And it’s fun now to watch it.”