He'll start Opening Day for the KC Royals, but then what?

Projecting Cole Ragans' 2024 season.

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Spring training has been interesting for Cole Ragans, the southpaw hurler the KC Royals obtained in last year's Aroldis Chapman trade with Texas. Excellent in his first two Cactus League starts — he held the Angels scoreless with five strikeouts and no walks in two innings, then blanked Oakland with three strikeouts in as many frames.

But it seems the good never goes without the bad in spring training, and so it went for Ragans in his last two outings. Colorado roughed him up for four runs and six hits in 3.2 innings last Tuesday, and Milwaukee mistreated him similarly Sunday evening when, despite striking out a half-dozen Brewers, he gave up four runs and five hits in 4.2 innings. Ragans left the game with a 5.40 ERA, and opposing batters are hitting .283 against him.

Not to worry, though, if you're Ragans and the Royals — per MLB.com KC beat writer Anne Rogers, he's their pick to start when they host Minnesota for Opening Day March 28. And Rogers reports he received the good news from manager Matt Quatraro, pitching coach Brian Sweeney, and general manager J.J. Picollo.

How Ragans, who's appeared in only 38 major league games, will fare against the Twins remains to be seen. It's a big game on a big stage, but ultimately more important is how he performs over the course of what could be his first full major league season.

If he pitches like he did for the Royals last year, he'll be able to consider the 2024 campaign a rousing success. Although he pitched only 12 times after the Chapman trade, he went 5-2 with a 2.64 ERA for the Royals, a record that earned him the Kansas City Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America's Bruce Rice Pitcher of the Year award as the team's best hurler.

But what lies ahead for him this season?

How FanGraphs projects Cole Ragans will pitch for the KC Royals

FanGraphs (Depth Charts) predicts Ragans will start 29 games and finish 10-10 with a 3.99 ERA and 2.5 fWAR.

How will Cole Ragans actually perform for Kansas City this year?

Ragans proved in 2023 that he can, at least over a short span, hold his own and more against major league hitters; what he must prove in 2024 is that he can do so over the much longer haul and grind of an entire season.

On its face, FanGraphs' projection suggests a fair performance by Ragans, but does it sell him short? Probably. Ragans is good and if he stays healthy (he's twice undergone Tommy John Surgery), gets decent run support, and continues what he started after joining the Royals last summer, he should win 12-14 times with an ERA in the 3.25-3.40 range.

If he does that, he'll prove 2023 wasn't a fluke.

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