For Cole Ragans, the KC Royals need to weigh the person and the production

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Talent. Production. Hope. Those are just some of the things that enraptured fans with KC Royals pitcher Cole Ragans in the second half of last season. His explosion on the scene saw him perform like one of the league's best pitchers. But 2024 offers a new gauntlet with new expectations. Kansas City has a choice when it comes to Ragans. Will they mirror the pressure from outside the organization, or will they slow-roll Ragans in 2024? All that comes down to one thing: Ragans the person, not the production.

How the KC Royals treat Cole Ragans in 2024 would have massive ripple effects.

Something that many, myself included, can easily forget is that there is a person behind the player. A person with a different upbringing than ourselves, different circumstances in life, and frankly different day-to-day worries. After all, life's problems don't become impossible just because a guy reached the major leagues. Fans don't see that, though. They see the on-field action, the numbers in the box score, and hear a snapshot of a player's personality in locker room interviews.

Royals fans haven't heard much from Ragans throughout his Kansas City tenure. That is not necessarily a bad thing, considering his circumstances. But it doesn't give us much to think about who he is. Think about it: I feel we have a good snapshot of Vinnie Pasquantino because we often see and hear from him. I am not saying we know his deepest, darkest secrets, but we know about his football allegiances and Vinnie's personality pretty well. It would be nice if Royals fans had the same warm and fuzzy feeling about Ragans, but that is all it is: a nice to have.

Why bring all this up? Ragans is entering 2024 in a different state, team, and role than he was in 2023. He was flirting with bust territory with the Texas Rangers; now he has ace potential with the Royals. At least that is what the Royals fanbase wants to see from him this year in Kauffman. What I am saying is simply this: If Ragans thrives under the pressure and expectations' weight, throw him into the fire and let him cook. But if Ragans doesn't thrive under the pressure and expectations' weight, Kansas City needs to take a conservative approach and make that clear to the Kansas City fanbase.

I don't think the casual Royals fan understands how much is riding on Ragans not only excelling but not burning out. He is under team control until 2029, which feels so very far away. Couple his team control with the lack of MLB-ready help in the minors, and Ragans is very important to this rotation, ace or not. Kansas City must identify if they want to put that burden on him or if he can handle it.

The ability to handle those expectations is not a quantifiable stat. I can sit here and cite his strikeout rate, how his fastball stacks up around the league, and so on. But, we are not in that clubhouse, and we know Ragans at a fair distance. Manager Matt Quatraro, coaches, and players are, though. I believe that if Kansas City wants to make the most of Ragans, they need to make his role clear.

If the pressure is too much or seems like it at first, that is fine in my book. Ragans is a competitor, sure, but having the franchise partially ride on your production is a lot to bear. Addressing mental health in sports is relatively new, and the Royals are one of the leading organizations in that regard. Melissa Lambert, the Royals’ director of behavioral science, made history this past season and is a physical representation of how seriously Kansas City takes mental health.

All this boils down to this: I want Ragans to be the unexpected pitching savior for Kansas City. He looked like it down the stretch last year. But, it is unfair to expect him to be that and thrust him into that role if he isn't ready for it. The people in the organization and Ragan's inner circle know if he is or isn't ready. For fans, only time will tell. Ultimately, it is important to trust the process and allow Ragans to develop at his own pace. Patience and support from both the organization and fans will be crucial in his journey towards potentially becoming a pitching savior for Kansas City.