The Cole with the brightest pitching future in the Texas Rangers’ organization, 2016 first-round pick Cole Ragans, underwent Tommy John surgery in late March.
Alex Speas, the second-rounder that year, underwent the same operation in late June.
Kyle Cody, the Rangers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2017 and a sixth-round pick out of the University of Kentucky in 2016, will have the procedure Thursday.
Bad things really do come in threes.
The Cody news was delivered Saturday afternoon before the Rangers faced the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards. Only Tuesday, Cody allowed two hits and struck out five in three scoreless innings of a rehab start for the Rangers’ rookie team following an extended absence with elbow inflammation.
The injury was another blow to a farm system of a team that has stated that 2018 is now a development season as part of an organization-wide development overall, and 2019 and 2020 might be as well.
Question: How can there be development of a starting pitcher if there’s no one left to develop?
Answer: The Rangers, while acknowledging the impact of the injuries to top pitching prospects, have others who could contribute as early as next season.
“You don’t think about it as a whole group but individual players, and you feel bad for each guy going through,” said assistant general manager Mike Daly, the former farm director. “We have guys. We have a lot of guys, but we need to have a lot of guys. But that’s in every organization.”
To keep things in perspective, the left-handed Ragans was expected to pitch at Class A Hickory this season and the right-handed Speas was pitching at Hickory. Cody, another righty, was expected to open at Double-A Frisco.
Ragans and Speas likely were not going to be pitching for the Rangers in time for the opening of Globe Life Field in 2020 before they were injured. Cody probably won’t pitch again in the minors until 2020.
But all three will pitch again.
As the Rangers look for internal help for the next two seasons, the top candidates, as mentioned by Daly, are righties Ariel Jurado, Jonathan Hernandez and Edgar Arredondo and lefties Yohander Mendez and Joe Palumbo.
The righties are at Double-A Frisco, though Jurado made his MLB debut in May in a spot start at Chicago and should receive a promotion to Triple-A Round Rock.
Hernandez blitzed the Carolina League for Down East to earn a spot in the Baseball America Top 100 (at No. 93) and a promotion to Frisco, where he hasn’t been nearly as effective. He was 1-3 with a 7.71 ERA after his first five starts with more walks (21) than strikeouts (17).
The Rangers are trying to determine how to balance Palumbo’s innings so that he can be a second-half option in 2019. They are also continually evaluating why players are having these injuries.
“Whenever any player has a setback like this, we constantly are looking at our processes and we’re trying to learn from it and understand it,” Daly said. “We’re trying to learn from the industry, too. Are we outliers to other organizations, or is that something going on in the industry? That’s something we’ll continue to dive into.”
Team physician Dr. Keith Meister, who performed surgery on Ragans and Speas and will do so on Cody, has said multiple times that young pitchers are throwing too hard too soon and too often before they enter professional baseball.
In addition to the Rangers pitchers who have been on his operating table, Meister has also operated on patients as young as 15.
The Rangers aren’t the only team to lose prospects. The Tampa Bay Rays, for instance, saw their top prospect, Brett Honeywell, have Tommy John surgery during spring training, and the Oakland Athletics’ top two prospects, Jharel Cotton and A.J. Puk, followed later in spring camp.
Those were blows to their respective MLB teams. The Rangers’ Tommy John trio is a blow to an organization in development mode, but it’s not going to cripple the Rangers’ system.
“It’s a blow, but they’ll be back,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “They’ve got a lot of work ahead of them, but the outcome tends to be pretty positive when guys get through that program.”