Cole Ragans began the 2023 season with Texas. Some suspected then, but no one really knew, that Rangers general manager and former KC Royals pitcher Chris Young had assembled a World Series-caliber team.
The Rangers not only reached the Fall Classic, they won it. Ragans, however, didn't make it to baseball's biggest party — Texas didn't deem his 2-3, 5.92 ERA, 17-game performance worthy of a big league roster spot and sent him to the minors in mid-June. Two weeks later, they swapped him to Kansas City to get Aroldis Chapman.
The deal also brought outfield prospect Roni Cabrera to the Royals, but only Ragans remained at the forefront of club news as the season progressed, and only he made it to Kansas City before it ended. (To be fair, Cabrera is only 18 and won't be in the big league conversation for some time).
Ragans went immediately to Triple-A Omaha but pitched once for the Royals before they called called him up for good Aug. 2; the rest is, as they say, history, and good history at that. Utilizing him as a starter, the role he filled as a rookie in nine 2022 Texas games before the Rangers made him a reliever in 2023, Ragans went 5-2 with a 2.64 ERA in 12 starts.
So good was he down the stretch that, his short stint with the club notwithstanding, he was named Kansas City's Bruce Rice Pitcher of the Year. (Before that, he was also our choice for KC's best hurler).
Pundits and fans alike wasted no time anointing him as next season's staff ace.
But is that lofty "ace" status too much to ask of a young pitcher who has yet to spend a full season in the majors?
Time will tell if Cole Ragans can be the leader of Kansas city's rotation
Hard to dispute is the notion that Ragans was the best pitcher the Royals had this season. Jordan Lyles lost 17 games, Zack Greinke lost 15, and Brady Singer lost 11. Only Singer with eight, and Lyles with seven, won more games than Ragans' five, and they pitched for the club all season. No other regular KC pitcher's ERA held a candle to Ragans' 2.64.
Small sample-size numbers to be sure, but certainly suggestive of big future things. So, too, are some of the factors underlying those numbers — Ragans increased the velocity and quality of his some of his pitches, and as a Royal struck out 89 in 71.2 innings (11.18 BB/9).
But sample size is important, and Ragans' warrants a bit of caution. Remember, he pitched only 12 times for the Royals, and only 26 in parts of two seasons for the Rangers, before the Chapman trade. And he's only 25. Evidence that his 2023 success is sustainable over time is required before we can definitely consider Ragans this team's ace.
Whether he can provide that evidence will be known soon enough. But for now, he's certainly off to a good start.