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. You can read Part II of the Q&A here. This is Part III of the Q&A I did with Uvila, where he talks about his freaky high spin rate,
AJM: The nice thing about the AFL is that they have the Statcast data available from some of the parks, so we got to see some of the information we don’t usually get to see from minor leaguers. And I know that was one of the things that put you on the map with some of the pitching geeks and stat geeks out there — you got a mention on the Statcast podcast for having one of the highest spin rate curveballs in the Arizona Fall League. The recorded spin rate on your curve would be one of the highest in the major leagues, and I believe you also have a pretty high spin rate fastball. Is that something that you’ve specifically worked on, or is that something that has just come naturally for you?
Cole: For me — its funny, because in college, you have no idea. At the schools I played at they didn’t have access to stuff like that, but I’d always been told that my fastball has a lot of ride to it. And then once I got into pro ball, they were actually able to quantify it and say, the reason it rides like this is because you spin it well. I don’t know if it is how I grip the ball — I don’t know what it is. Its probably something that I’ve always had naturally, that wasn’t truly understood until I got to the Rangers.
But there was a big breakthrough with that — guys who spin the ball like I do should pitch up in the zone, and for my whole career in college I tried to pitch down in the zone. I think that it was my first weekend in Spokane, Tyler Carroll, who was the video and Trackman guy in Spokane, he called me into the office and said, hey, I want to talk to you about something. And this was all so foreign to me then, but he said, okay, here’s your data, this is where you project for your fastball to play well in the zone. You need to stop throwing low fastballs — you just need to only throw high fastballs.
I credit that conversation — as well as that conversation being confirmed with feedback from Jono (Arnold, the pitching coach for Spokane in 2018) and DC (Danny Clark, Rangers Minor League Pitching Coordinator) and our pitching coordinators — with, not turning around my career, but really really helping my career, because I just started seeing so much more success once I stopped trying to throw low. And that’s been something I’ve been relying on for the last year and a half.
AJM: One of the things you hear about is, there’s so much data out there, and what’s the best way to get the player the information you need without it being information overload. For those of us who aren’t out there on the field — who know generally what a Trackman is, but not necessarily how the data works or that sort of things — when you’re dealing with the folks who are giving you this information, how do they sit down with you and walk through with you what data they have and what it means?
Cole: With the Rangers, I’ve only been in the organization a year and a half, but its been a constant since I got there. But its not something they throw at your face, like, after every single outing. Its kind of something where, if you seek it out, they’d love to talk to you about it. With certain guys — there are plenty of guys in the organization, they just don’t want to know. They’ve been pitching a certain way for their whole career and its worked for them and its gotten them to this point and they don’t want to get too in their head about it.
Because of my background at Driveline, and kind of coming up in this era, and not only being a baseball player but also a fan of the game way before I was ever any good at the game, I’ve always been into that stuff. I was always into sabermetrics, I read Moneyball — I love that stuff. So for me, it was super cool, but what was even cooler was when I was able to apply it, and see that it works. If you were to ask certain guys in the organization, are you a data guy, or are you not interested, I definitely fall in being pretty interested in that stuff.
But that stuff can also consume you, and it can get you away from just pitching, and what’s important, and just getting guys out. I kind of fell into that in spring training of last year, where I was just so consumed by what my pitches were doing and if what they were doing was “good” that I lost sight of, “I’m here to get guys out.” DC had to take me aside and kind of remind me of what’s important, and that’s to get something out. Something he said to me that will sit with me forever is, he doesn’t care if its 1900 rpm or 3000 rpm, he cares if it gets the batter out.
So for me its a fine line of using that stuff as a resource, maybe look at it once every two weeks, make sure my pitches haven’t changed, that they are still consistent and still in the range of the pitch metrics that I want them to be, but also not be obsessed with it or thinking about stuff like that on the mound.
AJM: I saw on Twitter, you replied to somebody who was talking about the problems that minor leaguers have when they get moved around — that player was talking about having put a deposit on an apartment, then having to move and put a new deposit down on an apartment in another city, which, when you’re making $800 a month or $1200 a month, is a problem. You mentioned that when you got moved up, the Rangers took care of you, they took care of your expenses so didn’t have the same financial problems in that regard. You would think that every team would do that, and I was wondering if you could talk a little about what it is like to be living as an A ball player, being paid what A ball players get paid, and trying to feed yourself, take care of yourself, get a good night’s sleep, while struggling to make ends meet.
Cole: The Rangers, in general, are known to be a top five organization in terms of taking care of players. The food we get, the busses we travel in, the hotels we stay in — again, this is the only organization I’ve been involved with, but I can confidently say that they are in the upper echelon compared to other organizations. They take really, really good care of us.
Them refunding me for every dollar I spent in Hickory those first two weeks really shows that, too. And that tweet you’re talking about — I just had to send screenshots of the money I spent on my mattress, my rent, and all that, and it was on my next check. They take really good care of us there, and that’s the reputation the Texas Rangers have.
I feel really lucky to be a Texas Ranger, because I know — I have friends in other organizations where its not that way. It is what you see on Twitter about the peanut butter and jelly and the Motel 6. Its not like that for the Rangers.
As far as making ends meet and the grind of the minor leagues — it wears on you. For me, for someone who never expected all this, its still such an awesome opportunity, its so much fun, I really think its all about your perspective. I think there’s guys who get kind of down about it and it kind of consumes them. For me, its a glass half full situation. In general — yeah, I complain about stuff, like anybody, but at the end of the day I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else.
To me — the pay, obviously, I’m not racking up money, my net worth definitely doesn’t, like, increase during the minor league season. But its definitely enough to, like, pay your rent, and then with food paid for, travel is paid for, you still have some money to do fun stuff and save up a little bit. As far as all that goes, the Rangers take great care of us — it is a grind, but it is also a great opportunity, and you have to look at it that way.
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