Friday on the Farm: Ranking the top five starting pitchers in the Texas Rangers system
(The Associated Press/Tony Gutierrez)
Before diving into the top five starting pitchers in the Texas Rangers system, much needs to be said about those who just missed out.
Some of them have made their MLB debuts (A.J. Alexy, Glenn Otto). Some of them had breakthroughs in 2021 following injuries (Cole Ragans, Cody Bradford). Some of them hit a couple roadblocks (Ronny Henriquez, Yerry Rodriguez). One of them didn’t pitch at all (Dane Acker).
And there are many more (Zak Kent, Avery Weems, Mitch Bratt and Larson Kindreich just to name a few).
Collectively, those in the top five and those looking to get there, they give the Rangers the most starting pitching depth they have had in a long time. Maybe ever.
“It’s never been this deep. It’s never been this good,” assistant general manager Ross Fenstermaker said. “Even the Derek Holland, Neftali Feliz days, I think we’ve got more quality depth than we’ve ever had.”
The starters come in all shapes and sizes, though most of them are right-handed. Their repertoires vary, as do their ages and experience levels, but they have been told over and over to pound the strike zone and to attack.
“I see a lot of competitors,” right-hander TK Roby said Thursday on the Texas Rangers Baseball Podcast. “And I see some guys who are different pitchers, like Ryan Garcia is not the same pitcher that Ricky Vanasco is. There just a lot of different pitchers, which is really exciting.”
All that’s left now is the patience to see who comes in. It won’t be all of them. The Rangers would be thrilled with three or four of them becoming quality big-league pitchers.
The five below are the best bets.
Jack Leiter, RHP
The Rangers weren’t going to let Leiter pitch after he threw 110 innings at Vanderbilt, so they designed a throwing program for him to follow in Nashville while continuing to work toward his degree.
His work there and a long weekend in Arizona during instructs reinforced the Rangers’ belief that they made the right call on going with him over a high-risk, high-reward prep shortstop.
Leiter’s four-seam fastball is electric, and his offspeed stuff is good enough now to allow him to flourish at the lower levels of the minors. He can improve some characteristics of his offspeed pitches, which the Rangers anticipate won’t take long.
Could he be in the majors in 2022? That might be too much to ask, but it won’t be long.
Cole Winn, RHP
The reigning Minor League Pitcher of the Year had little trouble with Double A hitters and tossed five scoreless innings in his second and final Triple A start of the season.
Winn, the Rangers’ first-round pick in 2018, will start his season back at Round Rock. The Rangers want all of their prospects to have to earn their big-league debuts, and Winn is no exception.
He offers four quality pitches, and throws them all for strikes. He knows how to pitch, and he competes on the mound, too. Fans will see him in Arlington soon enough.
Ricky Vanasco, RHP
Vanasco throws hard and has stuff. He’s confident. The analytics are a dream. The mentality on the mound, the desire to blow up whoever in the batter’s box, is unmatched in the organization.
The elbow? It appears to be fine after he completed his rehab and pitched throughout the fall instructional league.
Vanasco has never pitched above Low A, but the Rangers think he could move quickly in 2022. He and Leiter could both start next season at High A Hickory. Get tickets now.
Owen White, RHP
Once he got going again in August, he was very good at Low A Down East and was the best pitcher in the Arizona Fall League. The Rangers held a high opinion of White before the AFL started, and his stock is now soaring.
He’s not quite among the top three of Leiter, Winn and Vanasco but he’s getting there with a fastball that has hit 99 mph. He complements them with a curveball, slider and changuep.
And he could be with Leiter and Vanasco in Hickory. Get tickets now.
TK Roby, RHP
Roby was selected in the third round of the 2020 MLB Draft, which had been shortened to five rounds. He was coming off a banner junior season in high school, but didn’t get a chance to pitch leading up to the draft. That might have benefited the Rangers.
They believe they have a pitcher who is mature beyond his 20 years and limited experience. He throws strikes with all of his pitches, beginning with a fastball that clocks in regularly at 95 mph and a big bending curveball that is his best off-speed pitch.
It might take a while, but the Rangers believe Roby will be a quality major-league pitcher.
Jeff Wilson, firstname.lastname@example.org