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Finding the Next Cole Ragans for Fantasy Baseball

Trying to find the next Diamond in the rough going into 2024.

The rise of Cole Ragans was one of the best stories in baseball during the 2023 season. The former first-round pick bounced between AAA and the Big Leagues for the Texas Rangers before breaking out after a trade to the Kansas City Royals. In 12 starts after the trade, Ragans posted a 2.49 ERA, striking out 89 hitters in just 71.2 innings. His 168 ERA+ would have ranked second in the league, behind Cy Young winner Blake Snell, had he kept up his second-half pace for the full season.

Despite a less-than-stellar 2022, there were signs that Ragans had the tools to be successful at the big-league level. His offspeed stuff was fantastic with the Rangers and only got better after he arrived in Kansas City. His main issue in Arlington was his four-seam, which posted a -13 run value with hitters slugging .701 against it. The Royals tweaked it, adding almost 2 inches of horizontal break, and while it isn’t his best pitch, hitters did less damage against it (.233 average against)

Every team, without a doubt, is wishing for an in-house breakout from an arm in their system. With many teams struggling to find starting pitching depth, dozens of arms will have the opportunity to show what they can do. We’re taking a look at three guys with the talent to make a difference, and will likely have the opportunity to earn significant innings at the Major League level. Ragans is impossible to duplicate, but here are some guys who have the chance to break out like he did in 2023.

Also, be sure to check out Ragans’ arsenal breakdown from Nick Pollack himself to find out more about what makes Ragans so filthy.

 

Finding the Next Cole Ragans

 

Tobias Myers – 25 Y/O RHP, Milwaukee Brewers

The lone arm on this list yet to make their MLB debut, Myers has been biding his time in the minors for seven long years. A former sixth-rounder drafted at just seventeen years old, Myers is already in his sixth organization since signing with the Orioles in 2016. This year may just be his lucky year though, as the Brewers rotation has regressed immensely from the unit that put together a 3.71 ERA in 2023.

The Brewers traded Corbin Burnes to the Orioles for DL Hall who has yet to make any significant impact at the Major League level. Burnes is nearly impossible to replace and he is not their only departure. Brandon Woodruff is now a free agent and has recently dealt with significant injuries. Wade Miley and Colin Rea should be viewed more as stop-gaps than reliable pieces to their rotation. This leaves a group of Joe Ross, Robert Gasser, Aaron Ashby, Myers, and Hall to compete for rotation spots this spring. Myers is the biggest risk of the group due to his lack of Major League experience. That being said, he has legitimate upside for GM Matt Arnold to consider.

Myers’ pitch repertoire is ready for the big leagues, and his unique, almost violent delivery gives hitters fits at the plate. His fastball doesn’t light up radar guns, but plays well up in the zone due to the arm-side horizontal movement he’s able to generate. He tends to leave the heater over the middle of the zone, which allows hitters to do damage, but when he’s able to hit his spots, it gets good results. His supplementary offerings are good too, as he relies on a wicked 12-6 curve and tight sweeper/cutter to get hitters to whiff.  He also uses a change with some solid arm side fade and sink that plays well against lefties. The arsenal and the results it generates are ready for its debut at American Family Field should he get the call in 2024.

On paper, an ERA above five raises eyebrows, but his underlying numbers looked solid in 2023. His strikeout and walk rates at AAA were both where you want them to be, with an 11.0 K/9 and a walk rate of just under three. He struggled with his command in 2022 but made adjustments after arriving in the Brewers system which has worked wonders. He can struggle to prevent the long ball, as 20% of the fly balls he allowed ended up over the fence. Myers, should he get the rotation spot, has legitimate strikeout potential and has emphasized improving his control, which should make him a “buy extremely low, sell high” fantasy option for deeper leagues.

 

Keaton Winn – 25 Y/O RHP, San Francisco Giants

Including Winn on this list may be considered cheating slightly, as he’s still considered a top-20 prospect in the Giants system despite a nine-game audition with the Big League club in 2023. That said, his arsenal is too unique not to talk about. Had he qualified for MLB leaderboards, he would have led the league in changeup usage by a significant amount, throwing his split-fingered offering a whopping 55% of the time (2nd is fellow Giant Logan Webb at 41.6%). It’s easy to see why Winn goes to the change so often, it’s filthy. He’s averaging almost 36 inches of vertical drop on the pitch, four more than the MLB average, and the slight fade he’s able to generate makes it a real challenge to barrel up (23.3% sweet spot contact, 69th percentile in MLB).

The changeup will get most of the attention in 2024, but his two fastball variations round out an arsenal that could be a triple threat for the righty. Winn boasts a four-seam/sinker tandem that is separated by ~5 inches of horizontal and vertical break. He doesn’t have elite velocity, but his fastballs sneak up on hitters due to his smooth, almost nonchalant delivery. This delivery also contributes to why his fastballs are effective, as his style of delivery makes it a real challenge for hitters to recognize which variation they’re seeing. The command on the heaters is a question mark, but shouldn’t be a fatal flaw for him. Winn also flirted with a slider in 2023, throwing it just 4% of the time, but the horizontal differentiation from the rest of his arsenal makes it a pitch to keep an eye on.

Going into 2024, the Giants have locked down their first three rotation slots. Logan Webb and Kyle Harrison make up the incumbent core of the staff returning next year. San Francisco also added career reliever, Jordan Hicks, in free agency and has been clear that he will open the season in the rotation. The fourth and fifth spot though are real question marks, and it looks increasingly likely that Winn will start the year as the final starter on the roster. The Giants have been linked to dozens of free agents, and it’s well within the realm of possibility that Farhan Zaidi adds an arm before pitchers and catchers report later this month. As things stand though, Winn is in a position to hold down a starting role, and his unique arsenal makes him one to watch next year.

 

J.P. Sears – 27 Y/O RHP, Oakland Athletics

It’s arguable if Sears can be considered “unknown” or “underrated” after two solid years, but there are signs that he could be even better in 2024.  Sears has the most Major League experience of any of the three arms on this list and is with an organization that desperately needs him to eat innings in 2024. The Oakland Athletics rotation, to put it nicely, isn’t great, and Sears is projected to lead a group that put up the second-worst team ERA in the MLB last season. The additions of Alex Wood and Ross Stripling, plus the possibility of a breakout from Joe Boyle gives the A’s more upside in their staff than they’ve had in recent years, but they’re still far away from being contenders.

Sears’ situation is similar to that of Ragans. Both held down varying roles throughout their professional careers before a trade allowed them to settle into a starting role. Sears only made seven appearances (two starts) for the Yankees before being shipped west in return for Frankie Montas. Ragans immediately broke out and became a must-know in fantasy, while Sears has been solid, but hasn’t put up insane numbers that warranted a rush to the waiver wire. There are positive signs though, as between 2022 and 2023 his strikeout percentage went up by 4%, and he has shown elite strikeout potential throughout his time in the minors (11.24 K/9 in 96.1 IP at AAA with NYY)

Sears’ pitch repertoire reeks of potential. His 5.17 PLV ranks 23rd in Major League Baseball, and just one hundredth lower than George Kirby. He primarily relies on the separation between his four-seamer and his slider in the strike zone but mixes in a changeup occasionally that has a highly graded movement profile (24th in MLB in both horizontal and vertical movement). Savant compares him to World Series Champion Andrew Heaney, and despite being a few inches shorter, the arsenal and movement profile are very similar.

The Oakland Athletics situation in addition to the potential for growth in Sears’ game makes him a “perfect storm” for fantasy owners. According to FantasyPros.com, he’s the 118th-ranked pitcher by ADP, 384th overall, making him a low-risk option later in drafts. His ceiling could be a 200 IP, 10-15 win, 150 strikeout arm, and even if he doesn’t pan out, the draft capital sacrifice is minimal.

Jack Mueller

Jack Mueller is a senior undergraduate student at Miami University studying Journalism and Sport Management. Before joining PitcherList, Jack worked for the Orleans Firebirds (Cape Cod Baseball League) and the Chicago Dogs (American Association) as an advance scout and data analyst.

One response to “Finding the Next Cole Ragans for Fantasy Baseball”

  1. Babbo B says:

    Hard to imagine Sears throwing 200 innnings and only striking out 150 – that’s 6.75/9, he did run a 6.56 during his rookie season in 2022 but improved to 8.41 last season and seems unlikely to regress to that degree

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