Cole Uvila is a Texas Rangers pitching prospect who put himself on the map last year with a terrific season in A ball, followed by a dominating Arizona Fall League stint. A righthanded reliever, Uvila will likely start the 2020 season with the Frisco Roughriders, and its not out of the question he could be pitching in Arlington at some point this season.
I had the opportunity to talk to Cole, who is a very interesting person with a great backstory, along with being a very interesting prospect. This is Part I of the Q&A I did with Uvila, where he talks about his years playing college ball for three different schools, working his way back from Tommy John surgery, and the experience of getting selected in the last round of the 2018 Draft:
AJM: I know you’re a native of the Pacific Northwest, and started in junior college in Washington, and then you ended up transferring to Georgia State University (in Atlanta) for your junior year. What sort of culture shock was that for you, going from the Pacific Northwest to the Dirty South?
Cole: It was good — growing up I was from Port Angeles, Washington, a little small town out on the peninsula in Washington, and the way I always describe it is that I got kind of an entry level introduction when I moved to the city — the Tacoma area of Washington for junior college. It would have been a really big culture shock if I went straight to Atlanta out of high school, but I got used to the city in junior college. The Atlanta area is great, and Georgia State is right in downtown Atlanta, so it was a lot different. I had a lot of good teammates who were native to the area who showed me the ropes, so it was a lot different, but was two great years for me there.
AJM: I know heading into your senior season, the plan was that you were going to be the ace — the Friday night starter for your team. Your season got cut short after just three games due to Tommy John surgery. It is revealing for us as fans to understand how that process goes, when you realize that there’s something wrong — can you tell us how that got diagnosed?
Cole: It was a normal day, just like any other, and I specifically remember, I went to a trainer that morning — the morning I blew out my elbow — and got some work done, because I was feeling a little tight. I remember playing catch, getting ready to throw my bullpen, and I remember telling my trainer just how good I felt, and how I wanted to keep doing the maintenance work we had been doing that morning more and more often just because of how good I was feeling.
Funny enough, we were playing Mercer, a smaller D-1 school in Georgia, that day — the team that Kyle Lewis, who eventually won the Golden Spikes that year and got drafted in the first round, played for. So there were a ton of scouts there, and the Rangers scout who ultimately drafted me wanted to see my bullpen that day, so we orchestrated the entire day around that.
Typically, for a mid-week bullpen, I’d be taking it pretty easy, throwing at 80%, just feeling my pitches and getting ready for Friday, but with Tucker (Derrick Tucker, the scout who was responsible for the Rangers drafting Cole) being there, and knowing the Rangers were interested in me, and this being my senior year and I was staring down the barrel of a potential professional career, I wanted to show him what I had. So I was letting it rip, and I threw a curve ball, and I felt a weird sensation in my elbow I had never felt before. Before I threw another pitch I turned to my pitching coach who was right there standing next to Tucker, and I said, “Hey, something isn’t right.” He told me to throw one more, so I threw a fastball that felt really clumsy coming out of my hand, and it skipped in there, like a cricket throw. So we shut down the bullpen, and I ended up having surgery eight days after that.
You know, its not really a pain — its more like an electric shock in the elbow, kind of a numbness-slash-jolt.
AJM: This was your senior year — after surgery, did you have any thoughts of, well, maybe this is it, maybe I just need to hang it up, or were you determined to get back there on the mound?
Cole: Its funny — I had a conversation in the fall with one of my other senior teammates, and we were just b.s.-ing about how, if we ever blew out, that’d be it, we’re old, all that stuff. And I remember saying that, that yeah, if I blow out this year that’s it, I’d hang it up. And once I actually blew out, and I actually had to face that decision, there was absolutely no question I was going to get the surgery and try to make the most of it. And I actually think it was easy, given the fact I was having such a good year — if I had come back in my first three starts that year and had really struggled, and had no attention from professional teams — well, you never know. But I think I had a lot of momentum of the time, and everything was going so well, that it would have felt unjust to just hang it up.
AJM: You ended up transferring to Gwinnett College for your final year of college baseball. Was that necessary for you to have another year of eligibility?
Cole: Once I had my surgery, I was faced with the decision of whether to try to rush back in nine months and pitch for Georgia State as a fifth year senior following the year of my surgery, because I had surgery in March, 2016. So I could have been ready for the 2017 season — but the more I dug around, the more I researched and read the studies and investigated, I saw how Tommy John surgery guys who take a little more time to rehab show that 15 months is the sweet spot. Which put me in a really bad spot — I had the surgery in March, so I either had to rush back to be ready for 2017, or I had to take a really long time and prepare for 2018. So I went the long road, went back to Seattle, and trained at Driveline there.
The original plan was to schedule a scout day at Driveline and throw for a bunch of scouts and try to get signed out of the gym. But Derrick Tucker, who drafted me — I told him my plan, and he said, dude, that’s cool, but its so much easier to get drafted when you’re connected to a school, and its easier for you to be seen. He said, if you have a year of eligibility left, I can maybe facilitate something for you at Georgia Gwinnett. And he, along with my pitching coach at Georgia State, who had left the school, reached out to Brent Strom, now the head coach at Georgia State, and got that connected for me.
It was so much easier that way, because if I was going to have to go back to Georgia State for 2018, I’d have had to apply for a sixth year, and go through a bunch of stuff with the NCAA, and write a bunch of papers. I would have had to get a bunch of doctors. I even would have to take a Spanish class over the summer. Whereas with Georgia Gwinnett, there were no issues like that. And I was ready for a fresh start — I wanted to go somewhere new, and start over, and prove myself, because I think if I had gone back to Georgia State I would have been deemed the guy who was getting an opportunity and didn’t have to do much. And at that point I wanted something different.
AJM: When you were at Georgia State, you were mostly a starter. It looked like you did a mix of starting and coming out of the pen at Gwinnett. Was that by design?
Cole: In the fall, I was a starter — I always was a starter in college. I was deemed after the fall as our “Guy” — I was going to be our horse, and they were going to ride me to the World Series. I got our start on Opening Day, and was our Friday night guy. I had bets with teammates that I was going to be an All-American, and all that sort of stuff, because I had pitched so well in the fall.
And then I just kind of ran into it. I think it was a little bit of rust, a little bit of nerves, and I think through my first six starts I had like a 6 or 7 ERA. My velo was pretty good, but not good enough to get drafted as a 24 year old — I was in the low-90s, 92, 93. And the best thing that happened for my career was that my head coach said, if you want to keep starting, you can, because we still believe in you. But his direct quote was, “What do you think about being the most bad-ass closer in the NAIA?”
And at that time, I was kind of ready for something different. I had struggled, and my biggest problem was that I could get through the order one time, and the second time through, the scouting report was, work the count, get his pitch count high, and I had these blow-up innings in the fourth or fifth inning. At that time, it all made sense — so I went from being our Friday night guy to being our closer. My velo jumped 4-5 mph in those shorter stints, and if it wasn’t for that switch, I don’t think I would have gotten the opportunity with the Rangers. It was a great transition.
AJM: You were a 40th round pick in a 40 round draft — was this a situation where you were expecting to be drafted, and you were pissed off you didn’t get selected earlier? Were you following the picks online? Were you out golfing and trying not to think about it?
Cole: Its funny — I think there were a handful of teams that submitted me, but I knew that the Rangers were the most interested, and I really thought I was going to go to them. Derrick Tucker, the guy I’ve mentioned many times — he wanted to be there when I got drafted. So he asked me to go golfing on the second day of the draft. He really thought I was going to go, like, in rounds 7 through 10, because that’s where he had submitted me — and he really wanted to be there with me when my name was called. I never got a call on the second day, obviously, and he was a little bummed out, but he was like, dude, you’re going to go early tomorrow, don’t even worry about it, but maybe the Rangers aren’t going to get you now.
The third day was a really, really long day. And it was such a long day and such an emotional day I think that when I did get drafted, there was no anger — it was just such a relief, and such an exciting thing. The third day of the draft is like 7 or 8 hours — I was on Twitter and listening the whole day because my fiancee and I were driving back to Seattle from Georgia, so were sitting in the car, and we had nothing else to do or think about, so I was a little frustrated maybe around Round 20, but when it gets to Round 35, you’re feeling like you’re going to go undrafted, and when you do get drafted, it feels like the best thing ever.
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