Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
Wyatt Langford 20240326 FEATURE LEAD

College to Opening Day in 280 days: How Wyatt Langford rocketed to the Rangers

March 28, 2024

ARLINGTON -- Wyatt Langford, by his own admission, was the worst hitter on his Little League team.

“I couldn’t hit worth a lick,” he said with a laugh. “I’m talking about 9 or 10, compared to my other teammates.”

Langford’s dad, Michael, said his son has always been a fierce competitor, even at that age. So when his rec ball coach started posting the stats from every game in the dugout, Wyatt was upset that he was at the bottom of every list.

That was when Michael became his coach.

“I think my dad was tired of hearing me complain and cry about it and so we finally started working on it,” Wyatt said. “He made me hit every hour of the day.”

“I said, ‘I will start coaching you and you're gonna listen to me,’” Michael recalled via phone interview. “He was serious about it. I saw how much it meant to him, so we started, and it just lit a fire under him. He went from last to first and he’s been there ever since.”


Michael coached Wyatt from rec ball, through travel ball and high school. From early on, he could tell his son had exactly what it took to go far in this game. The first component was his competitiveness. Whether it was baseball or Mario Kart on the Wii, Wyatt always wanted to win.

“He once cried, he was mad because he didn't beat a throw in T-ball,” Michael said. “He said ‘Dad, if I had cleats I'd have beaten him.’ He was so persistent about it that I went to Walmart late at night and bought him some cleats and the next day, sure enough indeed, he outran those kids.”

The second was Wyatt’s refusal to accept failure. He would practice and practice and practice and practice. If he had a hitless game, he would immediately come home to hit some more. He never stopped wanting to get better.

Michael points out that his father was a farmer, and they come from a family of hard workers with strict values. That was embedded in Wyatt from the start and was easily channeled into all sports.

“[Wyatt] has an undying passion to always succeed,” Michael said. “It didn't matter what sport -- football, basketball, track. Whatever he did, he did not want second place. He just wanted to compete, he wanted to get better.”

The third component is seemingly obvious, but Michael doesn’t agree.

“Everybody says their kid loves baseball,” Michael explained. “I hear that all the time. I coached him along every step of the way. I hear that cliche.

"But no, you don't understand how much he loves the game. I'm sure all the great players are the same way, but that's why they’re the 1% of the 1%.”

Despite his obvious talent level, Langford didn’t play in tons of showcase events in high school like many top prep players do. He opted for Perfect Game events alone, but his schedule was packed otherwise at the time.

Wyatt was a six-year varsity starter for Trenton High School's baseball team, while also playing both varsity football and basketball. He played travel ball for the Florida Hardballers, a club founded by John Colacci and Kevin Maris, the son of Roger Maris, who first told Michael that Wyatt was one of the best pure hitters he had ever seen.

And watching Langford these days, you wouldn’t know that he was ever at the bottom of a Little League stat page, or was ever underrecruited out of high school.

The outfielder, who worked his way to becoming the No. 4 overall pick by the Rangers in the 2023 MLB Draft out of the University of Florida, slashed a .360/.480/.677 across four levels of the Minors in his debut professional season, finishing out the year with Triple-A Round Rock.

He spent most of October on the taxi squad throughout the Rangers’ World Series run, taking live batting practice off big leaguers and staying in case the impossible happened and his name was called.

Langford was in watch-and-learn mode more than anything in his first big league camp, not doing much inquiring of the veterans, opting to just soak up the experience from the guys around him.

He’s come a long way from that kid who threw a mini tantrum after being the worst hitter on his Little League team.


Langford now carries himself well in a clubhouse filled with All-Stars and potential future Hall of Famers. He moves with a quiet confidence, knowing the player he’s become without feeling arrogant. He doesn’t talk about himself much, though teammates and coaches rave about his play on the field.

Now MLB Pipeline’s No. 6 overall prospect, Langford has spent less than a year between his last collegiate contest -- a loss to LSU in Game 3 of the College World Series -- and his MLB Debut vs. the Cubs on Wednesday, when he picked up his first big league hit and RBI.

“You cannot process it,” Michael said.

Langford has played just 44 games in the Minors, skyrocketing from the Arizona Complex League to High-A Hickory and Double-A Frisco before getting all the way to Triple-A Round Rock to end the 2023 season. His ascent is almost unthinkable in today’s game.

So much so that Rangers manager Bruce Bochy thought of another phenom from a college in Florida.

“If you're gonna draw [comparisons] to someone that's similar, number one pick out of college, I mean, him and Buster [Posey] -- very just mature beyond their years,” Bochy said of Langford. “Very humble men that just do things right.”

Wyatt Langford college celebrate

On MLB Opening Day in 2023, Langford was in Gainesville, Fla., gearing up for a big SEC matchup against Auburn at Condron Family Ballpark. It was early in the college baseball season, one that ultimately would become a legendary one for Langford.

A native of Trenton, Fla. -- just 30 miles outside of Gainesville -- Langford went undrafted out of high school and played just four games for the Gators during his freshman season in 2021, though it was a numbers game more than an indictment of Langford’s ability.

But he would soon become one of college baseball’s most feared hitters, at the school he grew up cheering for.

In the offseason between his freshman and sophomore seasons, he decided on his own that he would put in the work so the coaches had no reason to not play him. He dramatically transformed his body to produce more power in his 6-foot-1 frame.

He then transitioned from catcher to outfield, as the Florida staff hoped to get him on the field more.

“I was happy with it [playing outfield], because it meant I was going to play,” he said.

Langford recorded a 1.166 OPS, while tying the single-season record at Florida with 26 home runs. He even posted a 1.000 fielding percentage in 66 games in the outfield.

“It was easy for us,” said Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan over the phone. “The bottom line -- I think any coach or manager would tell you -- is that you try to put your best nine players in a lineup and try to figure out where they work best defensively. For Wyatt, it was left field. It became fairly easy for him.

“If I could go back and do this thing over, we would certainly have given him more than four at-bats his freshman year,” he added with a laugh.

Langford followed that sophomore season with an even better 2023 campaign, in which he ranked among the top SEC hitters in runs (second, 83), walks (second, 56), on-base percentage (second, .498), slugging percentage (second, .784), total bases (third, 185), hits (sixth, 88) and batting average (seventh, .373) en route to earning first-team All-SEC and first-team All-America honors.

His lasting impact was guiding the Gators to within one victory of a national championship.

He launched the longest home run (456 feet) in the history of Charles Schwab Field at the College World Series with a game-tying solo shot in the ninth inning against Virginia on June 16, before homering in back-to-back games against LSU on June 25 and 26. That CWS stretch also included his first-career five-hit game (5-for-5), where he totaled three extra-base hits and six RBIs.

From almost not playing at all during his freshman year to a position change his sophomore year to a top-four Draft pick, Langford has completely transformed himself as a baseball player over that time period.

He’s a self-made player, and a superstar in the making.

“He's always been able to handle things at such a mature level,” O’Sullivan said. “People ask me all the time about different players -- if I’m surprised about this player or that player. When I take a step back, I'm really not. I know that it's easy for me to say because I had Wyatt for three years. He’s just different.

“I know it's hard for me to explain. Not just from his physical ability standpoint, but just his ability to channel everything and stay in the moment, so to speak. That's a really hard thing to teach in any sport, any athlete, but he's able to do that.”

Wyatt Langford stance

A lot of things had to fall into place for the Rangers to land Langford. First, they moved up in the inaugural Draft Lottery at the 2022 Winter Meetings in San Diego, from seventh to the No. 4 overall pick in the 2023 Draft, right in the sweet spot for an elite Draft class.

The other was the luck of the draw. A pair of LSU Tigers -- to whom Langford’s Gators lost in the College World Series final -- in Paul Skenes and Dylan Crews went No. 1-2 to the Pirates and Nationals, respectively.

Then it was up to the Detroit Tigers, who ultimately took a prep bat in Max Clark, leaving Langford for the Rangers’ taking.

“We think he's the perfect fit for what we're building here -- who he is as a person, his winning pedigree and certainly the talent as a player,” general manager Chris Young said after the Draft. “It's not often you have the opportunity to draft a player as accomplished as Wyatt. Certainly our goal is not to be picking at the top of the Draft ever again. That said, this was a great year to be picking at the top. He's the perfect fit for our organization, and I just couldn't be happier that he's a Texas Ranger.”

O’Sullivan’s Florida program has produced a number of first-round pick and big league stars, including Rangers right-hander Dane Dunning (first-round pick by the Nationals), first baseman Pete Alonso (second-round pick by the Mets; 2019 NL Rookie of the Year), outfielder Harrison Bader (Cardinals), catcher Mike Zunino (Mariners) and right-hander Brady Singer (Royals).

O’Sullivan insists he can tell stories for ages about all the guys he’s coached, from a walk-on catcher who made it all the way to the Major Leagues, to the heralded guys like Alsonso, who led MLB in homers his rookie season in 2019, to Dunning, who he calls one of the most selfless players he’s coached.

Langford is just the next amazing story.

“Every player has their own story,” O’Sullivan said. “I guess when we do this long enough, you just appreciate all the different unique stories. Certainly Wyatt’s is unique in his own way. … He became the most talented player on our team and arguably the hardest-working player on our team. When you have both traits of God-given abilities and tremendous, off-the-charts work ethic and you combine those two, you end up getting players like Wyatt.”

Wyatt Langford 20240326 swing

Langford roomed with Josh Jung and Nathaniel Lowe in Surprise, Ariz., during Spring Training. He said he wasn’t sure what he was going to do about housing in camp before Jung texted him with the proposition.

Outside of baseball, it's a pretty normal house of 20-something boys. Jung plays Fortnite -- he’s the loudest -- and Texas Tech or Florida games are on the TV. For Langford, it helped being around a guy like Jung, another former Top 100 prospect who dealt with similar expectations, as his big league debut neared.

But Jung hesitates to say all that, noting with a laugh that he was never as heralded of a prospect as Langford has become. After all, Langford’s time in the Minors was far shorter than both his and Lowe’s.

“Just being a first-round pick, having those expectations, I mean, especially after the season he put together, it's just incredible and a wow factor,” Jung said. “For me being his teammate, he's a really good player, so it’s about how you can just help him grow. The pro game is just a little different from college and it seems like he adapted pretty well.

“So it’s going out there and doing what he did this past season. It’s really about finding his place in the clubhouse, finding his place on the team. Seeing all these veterans that have won all the awards, how they go about their business, how they go about their routines, how intentional they are with their work, and just making it his own.”

That’s not hard for a guy like Langford, as hardworking and consistent as any big leaguer.

A perfect illustration of who Langford is as a baseball player came early in Spring Training, before he started setting the Cactus League on fire.

He had a 1-for-10 start in Cactus League play, which would appear disappointing for a kid trying to make the Opening Day roster. But neither Langford nor the Rangers’ hitting coaches were particularly worried about the slow start for the outfielder.

He would get back to doing what he does best eventually. And he did. He proceeded to slash .365/.423/.714 in 21 Cactus League games, leaving that “drought” far behind him.

“The hitting coaches did a good job kind of helping me work through some things,” Langford said. “It was really just the way my hands were moving. I had them a little lower than usual and they were coming through the zone a little lower, and I was missing under a lot of stuff. I just moved them up and that was really it.”

That’s one thing about Langford that has been echoed from his father to O’Sullivan at Florida to the Rangers’ coaches in both the Minors and Majors: he’s coachable.

But not so coachable that he abandons the things he knows he does well.

“He's one of the most coachable players you'll ever find,” Michael Langford reiterated. “And the fact that he would always work on his own. He always wanted to work. That's pretty much what drives his work ethic, again, is his passion to be competitive.”

Wyatt Langford has praised offensive coordinator Donnie Ecker and hitting coaches Tim Hyers and Seth Connor for how much they’ve helped him hone in his abilities at the big league level in a short time.

The trio echoes that praise back at him.

Ecker emphasized that Langford's ability to read a pitcher was the first thing that stood out about him when they first got together in person. His advanced level of game planning and plate discipline is comparable to big league veterans, in Ecker’s opinion.

“My favorite thing about him, and I say this with great respect to the people that have been his life before he got here, but he is very much on the side of being self-made,” Ecker said. “He was figuring out problems on his own through college. Even now, I think his resourcefulness to go figure out what he has to do to solve the next problem is a really nice strength of his.

“The common ingredient I see from him and other great players that I have been lucky enough to be around is the behind the scenes. You watch them work and you watch them be honest about their development, and you're not really surprised when you see what happens on the field.”

Wyatt Langford signing autographs

Langford may have almost expected to be on the Opening Day roster after his hot spring, but that didn’t stop his heart from almost beating out of his chest when he walked into the manager’s office at the Rangers’ Surprise facility.

Bochy shot him straight, foregoing any jokes or fakeouts. The kid deserved to know straight out of the gate.

“Getting to hear it definitely took a weight off my shoulders,” Langford said.

When Mitch Garver departed for Seattle in free agency this offseason, the Rangers had a glaring hole at designated hitter. It really appeared to be the only gap in a lineup that just won the World Series.

But Texas made only two offensive additions this winter, adding backup catcher Andrew Knizner and re-signing outfielder Travis Jankowski as a fourth outfielder/pinch-runner.

Entering camp, it was clear the Rangers needed a designated hitter. And they always wanted it to be Langford.

“I don’t think we were hoping, I think we knew,” Bochy told reporters.

As much as his quick ascension through the Minors and his scorching hot Cactus League line made an impression on the big league coaching staff, it’s been far more his performance off the field and within the Rangers clubhouse that made the decision

“He carries himself like a professional, like a Major Leaguer,” Bochy said.

“I wouldn't even talk about the performance as much as just the way the man has carried himself. There's a lot of attention on him, a lot of pressure, I'm sure. Because I know coming in he wanted to be with our club, so the way he just handled everything, he's really carried himself like a Major Leaguer from day one.”

Now Langford ushers in both the present and the future of the Texas Rangers.

He’ll be playing alongside All-Stars and future Hall of Famers. There’s a young core forming with Jung and fellow rookie outfielder Evan Carter. There’s the middle infielder superstar duo of Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, and a rotation eventually headlined by Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer along with Nathan Eovaldi.

They're the best pitchers he’s ever seen in his baseball career, and the best hitters to compare himself to. But the Rangers never had any doubt that Langford would be here and that he’ll contribute to their title defense.

“He’s got a gift,” Bochy said. “It was only a matter of time with him.”

“He’s special,” Jung added. “I think we're looking at someone that’s gonna be really special for us for a long time. ”