Three pitching prospects who may be Major League ready

February 21st, 2024

This story was excerpted from Kennedi Landry's Rangers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Less than two weeks into Spring Training, much has already been made about how the Rangers' rotational depth will be key for 2024.

It’s easy to see why. Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Tyler Mahle are on the shelf until the summer at the earliest with varying injuries, leaving the top four starters as Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Dane Dunning and Andrew Heaney. Second-year lefty Cody Bradford -- who made eight big league starts in 2023 -- is likely the frontrunner for the No. 5 spot, but nothing is definite just yet.

But what -- or who -- after that? If one of those five goes down, who is next up?

You can read about 2022 first-rounder Jack Leiter in depth here, but what about the other hopefully big league-ready pitchers? A trio of prospects -- , Cole Winn and Zak Kent -- are all on the 40-man roster. They could earn Opening Day spots, either in the rotation or out of the bullpen.

“I think it's a great opportunity for them,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I'll say this: we’ll see everybody, we're staying open minded. We're going to hopefully get everybody some work.”

Here’s a look at those three options.

RHP Owen White (Rangers' No. 8 prospect)

2023 Minor League stats (25 games between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock): 4.22 ERA, 108 2/3 IP, 80 K, 55 BB
2023 MLB stats (2 games): 11.25 ERA, 4 IP, 4 K, 2 BB

White is seemingly the next man up after the projected five-man rotation, and he is the only one with big league experience, even if it was just two relief appearances.

“I really thought he showed poise out there,” Bochy said. “You know, he didn’t look overwhelmed by pitching in the Major Leagues. So, it's a good thing. I think he showed that he's got some stuff to pitch up here.”

In 2023, White took a slight step back after his breakout '22 season, in which he posted a 3.59 ERA between High-A Hickory and Double-A. But he’s confident that building back his strength and velocity this offseason will make a big difference in trying to earn a spot on the big league club.

White said he doesn’t have any expectations for himself this season, but he wants to do whatever it takes to help the team.

“I think the biggest takeaway was that I didn't have my best stuff last year,” White said. “I grinded my way through it. I went into this offseason and kind of tried to freshen up some mechanic stuff and just kind of get back on the right route.”

RHP Zak Kent

2023 stats (13 games between Rookie ball and Triple-A): 4.87 ERA, 40 2/3 IP, 43 K, 13 BB

Injuries were really the only thing holding Kent back from a potential Major League debut in 2023.

In 2021, the right-hander posted a 3.64 ERA between Hickory and Frisco. He then followed it up with a '22 campaign in which he had a 3.94 ERA over 24 combined starts between Frisco and Round Rock after an oblique injury slowed him down in the spring.

Kent worked at Tread Athletics in Charlotte, N.C. -- along with White and Dunning -- to build up his strength and refine his mechanics in the offseason. He should be in a much better place this year, whether he breaks camp with the big league club or not.

“With health, I have confidence now,” Kent said. “Now that I'm healthy, I have a ton of confidence in my ability and just letting the chips fall where they may. When I'm healthy, I don't feel like there's many teams that can put a good game against me. I'm pretty diligent in my in my work and work ethic, and I work hard. I take pride in going six, seven innings. That's what I was able to do when healthy.”

RHP Cole Winn (No. 28 prospect)

2023 Triple-A stats (29 games): 7.22 ERA, 101 IP, 97 K, 79 BB

Once the best pitching prospect in the Rangers’ system, Winn has had two seasons of non-stop speed bumps since reaching Triple-A. In 2022, he struggled to a 6.51 ERA and followed it up with a 7.22 ERA in '23.

“Honestly, it's been tough,” Winn said. “It's been really tough. You never want to go out and, honestly, be terrible. It's been a lot of growth. You learn what that feels like and how not to feel like that and building a different mentality. It’s showing up every day and still putting in the work, regardless of if the results are there or not.”

Winn played in the Puerto Rican Winter League this offseason, looking to refine some of the things he worked on at the end of the 2023. One of those items was re-adding the two-seamer to his repertoire, a pitch he had scrapped coming out of high school.

“I felt like I was figuring out a lot of things at the end of the year last year, so I think I was just building on that and continuing to challenge myself and grow,” Winn said on his time in Puerto Rico. “The only thing I can control is how I perform and how I do day-to-day, so I think that's the main focus for me right now. Just trying to put myself in a good spot to potentially make the team.”