ARLINGTON -- September 24, 2017, was the last time Jharel Cotton stepped onto a big league field. Ironically, he was pitching against the Rangers that day, tossing five scoreless innings for the A’s in Oakland.
1,405 days later, and Cotton is back in the Majors, having made his first relief appearance in Friday’s loss to the Mariners. He pitched two innings, allowing just one run during his outing.
His wife and baby girl Zola were at Globe Life Field, making the flight from Detroit earlier in the evening and landing just in time to watch Cotton pitch.
“I sent my wife a text [on Thursday] and said, ‘Hey babe, we got big league insurance,’” Cotton said. “She was like, ‘You’re going back to the big leagues?’ and I'm like, ‘Yeah, we’re going back to the big leagues.’ That's how I said it. She was full of excitement.”
One of two callups following the trades of veteran pitchers Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy at the Deadline, Cotton has posted a 3.00 ERA in 24 games in the Minor Leagues this season, almost all out of the bullpen.
Rangers manager Chris Woodward said that Cotton hasn’t been able to stop smiling since he got to Globe Life Field on Friday.
“I learned [Thursday night] that I was coming to the big leagues, and it was just an exciting feeling,” Cotton said. “I almost teared up in front of my guys [at Triple-A]. I couldn't sleep that night because I was so excited. I’m just full of excitement. I didn’t know if I was gonna pitch, but I was ready. They called my name and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I'm gonna pitch today.’ It's been three years. It was fun. My legs were light under me. I went out there and did my thing. It was great to be back in the big leagues.”
Cotton emphasized that it means a lot to him to get this opportunity with the Rangers, especially after going so long without an MLB appearance. His new role coming out of the bullpen was a change he initially resisted.
But when he was designated for assignment by the Cubs and picked up by the Rangers, they wanted the same thing from him. It was his wife’s encouragement that motivated him to take hold of the opportunity.
“I started thinking, like, ‘Hey, just go out there and pitch no matter if it’s [out of the] bullpen or [as a] starter. Just go have fun,’” Cotton said. “I felt like when I started doing that, things started being better for me.”
“He’s obviously pitched really well in Triple-A,” Woodward added. “He’s come as advertised as far as the makeup goes. Everybody loves this guy. He works hard, and he's a good presence to have down in the bullpen. His stuff looks good. Fastball has some life to it, his changeup is obviously one of the better ones in baseball. He's got a really good changeup, and he's added that cutter. The thing is, he's throwing the ball to the plate and executing pitches, and that's what we're looking for.”
Draft picks sign leading up to deadline
The Rangers have officially signed 18 of their 2021 MLB Draft picks in the final hours leading up to the deadline. After signing their 13th-round pick, left-handed pitcher Thomas Ireland, on Sunday morning, Texas came to an agreement with their second-round pick, outfielder Aaron Zavala.
Zavala signed for $830,000, which was well under the slot value of $1,952,300 at No. 38 overall. Zavala mainly plays the corner-outfield spots and was named the Pac 12 Player of Year after slashing .392/.525/.628 during the 2021 college baseball season.
“During Aaron’s routine physical as part of the signing process, a medical anomaly was discovered,” said president of baseball operations Jon Daniels. “The Rangers will work closely with Aaron and the relevant doctors on the next steps from both a medical standpoint and return-to-play program for him. We are thrilled to reach an agreement today and excited about Aaron joining the organization. We look forward to watching his development as a member of the Texas Rangers family.”
Texas also signed catcher Tucker Mitchell (14th round) and right-handed pitcher Kyle Larsen (18th round).
Seven Draft picks were also signed on Saturday: left-handed pitcher Larson Kindreich (8th round); outfielder JoJo Blackmon (11th round); right-handed pitcher Jackson Leath (12th round); right-handed pitcher Evan Elliott (15th round); right-handed pitcher Michael Alfonso (17th round); and right-handed pitcher Joseph Montalvo (20th round).
Per source, the bonus pool looks like this:
• Mitchell: $325,000
• Larsen: $575,000
• Kindreich: $150,000
• Blackmon: $250,000
• Leath: $125,000
• Elliott: $125,000
• Alfonso: $125,000
• Montalvo: $125,000