Happy Friday, LSB. Texas Rangers prospect Hunter Cole just keeps hitting.
Things on the farm have picked up a bit since my panic-stricken, sky-is-falling post from about a month ago about the upper levels of the Rangers’ minor league system, who at the time were a combined 15-34. It’s steadied quite a bit for both team and individual and some pretty interesting storylines are starting to develop, one of which is the quiet, continuous tear that former RoughRider, new Expressian(?) Hunter Cole has been on in his first season with the Rangers’ organization.
Cole came over as the Player To Be Named Much Later from the Sam Dyson trade. Dyson’s rusted exoskeleton was sent to San Francisco in June of 2017 and Cole wasn’t named as the tradepiece until November. He was drafted in the 26th round by the Giants in 2014 after spending three years as a Georgia Bulldog. In college he played both outfield and third, and in his first two seasons of pro ball he played first, second, and third along with left and right, but he’s exclusively been an outfielder for the past three seasons. He’d clocked in at the bottom of a few Giants’ prospects lists in ‘15 and ‘16 but as a 26th rounder approaching his mid-20s, he hadn’t been viewed as much of a serious prospect to this point.
He entered the 2018 season at the age of 25 after putting up slightly above-average offensive numbers with AA Richmond (VA), which has to be the AA club furthest away from its big league parent in all of baseball. The Rangers’ minor league outfield was and still is pretty cramped, so Cole was sent to AA Frisco to start his stint in the Rangers org.
His success with the RoughRiders was immediate. He homered on opening night and had six base hits through the first four games. Hunter was often the lone bright spot through the Riders atrocious 7-28 start, and the key to his success wasn’t subtle: he was just hitting the shit out of the ball. He posted a slash of .366/.480/.512 in April and only slightly came down to Earth in May, finishing just about two full months of baseball with Frisco hitting .330 with a .927 OPS and 8 home runs. His strikeout rate is high (or what used to be high) but manageable, and he’s been drawing more walks this year than in prior seasons.
He was promoted to AAA Round Rock a few days into June and, again, has had immediate success.
Those were both in his Express debut and he’s added another dong since, Hunter sporting a cool 1.505 OPS through his first 3 career AAA games. And that’s after taking an o-fer last night.
Cole’s shot at the majors will come from his across-the-board average skillset. He plays an average defense in left and right with an average arm that might even play up a bit thanks to a quick release. He’s not a burner but he’s not slow. He’s got good bat-to-ball skills and a decent eye, and as his 2018 numbers and the .gifs above have shown, he can really swing into one when he’s locked in. Early in his career he looked to project as a utility type guy but his inability to play either shortstop or centerfield is going to hinder that.
I’m interested to see if the Rangers start to try him out again at third or first in AAA, or if they leave him to the corner outfield. He could turn into something like what was once envisioned for Ryan Rua, a righty bat with some pop that can play at the corners, one who you won’t feel too guilty about not playing every day. If he provides anything of value to the big league club in exchange for Sam Dyson (who, as a reminder, left Texas with a 10.80 ERA and a -1.5 WAR in 17 innings) it’ll be a positive.
Cole could end up getting a look in Arlington towards the end of this season, or he might be someone we see off and on over the next couple of seasons as the team experiments with bits and pieces on what most of us are assuming will be a rebuilding ballclub.