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. You can read Part I of the Q&A here. This is Part II of the Q&A I did with Uvila, where he talks about starting his pro career with Spokane, his time in Instructionals in September, 2018, and his breakout 2019 campaign.
AJM: Once you did get drafted by the Rangers, you were already on your way back to Washington anyway, and then they assigned you to Spokane, so that worked out pretty well for you.
Cole: That was a really special summer — just being back in Washington, when we went and played Everett, I had a lot of family there, people who hadn’t seen me pitch in four or five years, so it was a really special summer for sure.
AJM: I know that when I started seeing a little bit of talk about you was at Instructs — can you tell me what it was like for you, having finished your first professional season, having just signed your first professional contract a few months hearing, going to Surprise and participating in Fall Instructionals.
Cole: It was great. It was really cool, because in Spokane, you’re in an island, and you just know everybody who is involved with Spokane, the players and coaches and staff there, and the coordinators will come there from time to time, but it was super cool to go to Instructionals because it was like an introduction to spring training, so when I did go to spring training this last year, it wasn’t a system overload.
And Instructs is all about development, so we had things like, these really informative meetings where a coach comes and has a presentation on a certain topic designed to help grow and get better. So you are taking notes and trying to take it all in, and be a vacuum for information. It was really cool for me just to be included in that.
AJM: Can you point to a time when you realized, hey, I’m really on these guys’ radar, I’m not just an arm for the organization to roll out there — the decision-makers having really taken notice of me, and I’m on the map?
Cole: I can’t really pinpoint a time. To be completely honest, I’ve never felt that I wasn’t on the map. The Rangers do a really good job of, just — once you get drafted, you’re just one of their guys, I’ve never felt different. Even now, I’ve felt, from Day One, the stuff that I’ve been told and the way I’m been treated by the coordinators and coaches is the same. I don’t think that I’ve, like, graduated, or turned a corner.
And I think that speaks to how they view the players. Once you’re there, Paul Kruger (the Rangers Director of Minor League Operations), I’ve heard him say, everyone is a first rounder. I think, for me, its been a perfect storm of the organization that drafted me. Certain organizations just see me as old, and a 40th round guy, and they just see all the negatives, but I think the Rangers have always just valued the things I do well and the things I do bring to the table, so that has been great.
AJM: Is this a situation where, from the time the Rangers drafted you, they said, we’re going to keep you in the bullpen, or was there ever any discussion about you going back to starting?
Cole: Never really been brought up by the organization for me to be a starter. And its not like I would never entertain that opportunity, to start again, but I’ve started to really take to the bullpen and the mindset it takes to be successful there. Its just a fun environment anyway to be a bullpen guy — we’re kind of like a band of brothers out there. Being a reliever has been great, and no one with the Rangers has really brought that up.
AJM: You started the year in 2019 with Hickory, but you weren’t there that long — only three appearances before you moved up to Down East. I’m guessing you expected, and probably the organization expected, you to spend more time with Hickory. How did it happen that you were only there a week or two before getting promoted?
Cole: It was surprising to me. I had actually banged up my hip in my last outing in Hickory. Funny enough, it was Steele Walker, the guy that we just traded for — he hit a chopper that was kind of between first base and the pitcher, and I went to dive for it and try to corral it and flip it over to first. It was a really wet night, so my knee went straight into the grass, and it kind of cranked on my hips.
So that morning I went to the training room to get some work done, and Matt Hagen, the manager, he wanted to know an update on my hip. And so Bronson (Santillan, the Crawdads trainer) and I go into the training room, and Hagen says, “How’s his hip?” Bronson says, “Oh, it’ll be good, it just needs some work and it will be fine, he won’t miss any outings.” And Hagen says, “Alright, well, is it going to get tight in a three hour car ride?”
Bronson and I kind of looked at each other, and he’s like, “Nah, it should be fine, he’ll be alright.” Hagen said, “Well good, because he has to be in Down East tonight.”
I was totally shocked. Normally guys get called up the night after they have pitched, not the morning of, so I wasn’t expecting it at all. For me personally, I wanted to get to Down East by the All Star Break — I thought that was a realistic goal, to have a good first half for Hickory and get to Down East by the Break. So it was awesome.
AJM: You ended up having a terrific year for Down East — I know both the Hickory pitching coach, Jose Jaimes, and the Down East pitching coach, Steve Mintz, are really well regarded for the work they do with the A ball pitchers. What was your experience like working with them?
Cole: With Jaimes, I was only there like two weeks, but he was the first person — I don’t know if you know, but going into 2019, I only threw a slider. At the back half of 2019, I only threw a curve ball, I got rid of the slider. And Jaimes was the first person to bring up the idea that, with how my fastball plays, that I should mess with a curve ball. And then when I went to Down East — I didn’t instantly add a curve ball after Jaimes and I talked about that, I kept trying to work with my slider, but I was really inconsistent with it. And Mintz and I got it to a really good place where I was consistent throwing it, but the metrics on it and the data didn’t really suggest that it would play that well at the next level.
So at the All Star Break, we were going over some stuff, and we decided to add a curve ball and get rid of the slider. And so Mintz was really helpful with that. And I think also Mintz, as a coach, he did a really good job of talking about what is important in regards to how to have success as a pitcher. So he was really good on the mental side, and what it takes — basically, when you’re on the mound, you’re the guy, and he would always talk about how you shouldn’t care who is in the box, because you’re going to get him out.
That sort of bulldog mentality that he preached really helped me — because I kind of struggled when I first got to Down East. I think my month of May was probably the worst month I have ever had in pro ball. And so, he kind of just talked to me about stuff like that, and really helped me with the mental side — kind of like, “Grow up.” He also helped me with stuff like my time to the plate — I have a pretty big leg kick, and he really worked with me on shortening that and staying consistent in the zone, using like a slide-step to stay in control of the running game when runners were on, which was a big focus the organization wanted me to have for this year as I move up.
AJM: Someone who knows more about this stuff than me said I should ask you if you spike your curve grip — I don’t know what that means, but I assume you do.
Cole: No, I don’t spike my grip. I have a pretty traditional grip, just with a lot of pressure on the middle finger. I’m almost throwing, like, a one-finger curveball.
AJM: You ended up finishing the season in the Arizona Fall League. I found it interesting that the team assigned you to the AFL, given that is mostly a league for AA and AAA players, and is a challenging environment for pitchers. You’d never pitched before A ball, and they’ve got you rolling out there against some of the best hitting prospects in the minors, and not only did you hold your own, but you made the AFL All Star Game and struck out Jo Adell in that game. Tell me what the Arizona Fall League experience was like.
Cole: It was awesome. They take such good care of you — you’re in a big league clubhouse, eating big league spread, being around high-level coaches and high-level players. You feel like — I kind of joked that for a month you feel like you’re important, just because everything is so well taken care of, you’re playing in the nice big league stadiums, and people want your autograph, and stuff like that.
So it was a really special thing for me, just to take it all in and to just enjoy it. And it was just so much fun — that’s the best way I can describe it. It was just a blast.
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