If you have been reading this article every week this season, then you know that I am all about finding those diamonds in the rough, especially at this point of the season.
So don’t be disappointed that I am not featuring players such as Jordan Lawlar or Jasson Dominguez. There is a reason for not featuring them – everyone should know they are top dynasty keepers. They have been top prospects for years and if you play dynasty baseball, then they are not sneaking up on you.
Thus, my search for the players who are not only offering value this season but will offer value the next several seasons. The player who falls into that category this week is Cole Ragans, a left-handed pitcher with the Royals.
Tough Road to The Show
For many, Ragans has come out of nowhere this season. But he is not a player who was drafted in the mid-rounds or lower and worked his up. In fact, Ragans is a former first-round selection of the Texas Rangers, who selected him with the 30th overall pick in the 2016 draft out of North Florida Christian High School.
Along the way to the majors, Ragans has had to overcome back-to-back Tommy John surgeries (the first operation failed) in 2018 and 2019 and then had his 2020 disappear thanks to Covid. Overall, Ragans appeared in only 17 games between 2016 and 2020.
But Ragans persevered. By 2022 he was pitching for the Rangers at the end of the season and this year he has burst onto the scene with the Royals after they acquired him at the end of June in the Aroldis Chapman trade.
When you take a quick glance at the stats during his professional career, one of the first things you see is a walk rate that has decreased over time compared to a pretty steady strikeout rate outside of his 2022 stint with the Rangers.
After an atrocious walk rate of 5.5 BB/9 in 2017, a healthy Ragans returned to the mound in 2021 and posted a 3.8 BB/9 rate while pitching at two levels in the minors. In the meantime, he was still posting good strikeout numbers as he fanned more than nine batters per nine innings that season.
He was even better in 2022 in Double-A and Triple-A. In 18 starts, he had career lows in ERA (3.04), WHIP (1.120), and BB/9 (2.9) while posting a 10.7 K/9 rate. Those numbers led the Rangers to promote him to the majors in August. But his debut in the majors did not go well.
Making nine starts over the final two months of the season, Ragans was 0-3 with a 4.95 ERA and 1.475 WHIP. The control he displayed in the minors was mostly there, but his strikeout rate dropped significantly compared to what he was doing in the minors.
From the Pen to the minors to Kansas City
Despite not pitching as well as he would have liked, Ragans entered this season with a chance to make the Rangers out of spring training – and he did. However, it was not as a member of the starting rotation. Instead, Ragans was used out of the bullpen.
The experiment did not work. From the start of the season until mid-June, Ragans appeared in 17 games and had a 5.92 ERA and 1.397 WHIP and a ghastly BB/9 rate of 5.2 and a pedestrian K/9 rate of 8.9.
At that point, the Rangers decided to send him back to Triple A and move him into the starting rotation for Round Rock. Ragans proved he was better suited as a starter, posting a 2.79 ERA and 1.138 WHIP for the Express with a 14.0 K/9 rate, though with a 5.6 BB/9 rate.
But Ragans wouldn’t get a chance to prove himself with the Rangers again as he was dealt to Kansas City for Chapman. Ragans started his stint in the Royals organization by appearing in four games in Triple-A Omaha. Unlike his time at Round Rock, Ragans struggled to the tune of a 4.82 ERA and 1.500 WHIP. But the Royals obviously saw something they liked because they recalled him from the minors and he made his first start in a Royals uniform on July 15.
Hasn’t Looked Back
Ragans has been outstanding since joining the Kansas City rotation. In his debut he allowed only one run on four hits in five innings of work, walking two and striking out three. Overall with the Royals, he is 4-1 with a 1.51 ERA and 0.965 WHIP. His walk rate is a very nice 2.1 BB/9 and his strikeout rate is an outstanding 11.9 K/9.
In his last three starts, he has been one of the best pitchers in baseball. In 19 innings of work, he has not allowed a single run while giving up only 6 hits and one walk to go along with 27 strikeouts.
A Lot of Pretty Red Bars
As you can see from the chart above, Ragans is rocking it when it comes to a lot of the pitching categories Statcast loves to track. The only area where he is close to average is chase percentage and walk percentage. OK, he is near the bottom of Extension, but who cares? He throws how he throws.
Obviously, Ragans prefers to start – or at least has a lot more success as a starter compared to being a reliever. But that makes sense as he was never a reliever in the minors.
But another huge area of improvement for Ragans this season is the huge uptick in velocity. Last year his four-seamer averaged 92.1 mph and his cutter sat at 88.5 mph. This year his four-seamer is coming in at 96.4 mph and his cutter at 91.5 mph. How significant has the increase in velocity been?
In 2022 opposing batters had a 11.7 Whiff% against the four-seamer and an 18.8 Whiff% against the cutter. The numbers this season are now 27.0% and 20.3% respectively. Additionally, the batting average against his four-seamer has dropped from .388 to .253 this year.
Ragans has also introduced a slider this year. While he only throws it 9.6 percent of the time, it has been a nice complement to his fastball. Opponents are hitting only .167 against the pitch with a 46.7 Whiff%.
Not An Easy Add
Dynasty managers are starting to figure out that Ragans has been pitching lights out. In the last week, he has been added in 19 percent of ESPN leagues, boosting his overall roster percentage to 49%. Over on Yahoo, he is rostered in 76% of leagues and 75% of Fantrax leagues.
So just going to the waiver wire and just adding Ragans is not as easy as it would have been last month or even last week. But in the leagues in which he is available, he would be a nice player to add as his future looks solid.
Injuries, and not poor performance, kept Ragans from reaching the majors earlier. Don’t forget he was a former first round draft pick. Unlike the Rangers, it looks like the Royals have found the key to success when it comes to Ragans’ success.