2019 Minor League Manager Of The Year: Corey Ragsdale
Awards and recognition really aren’t Corey Ragsdale’s thing.
They’re nice and all, he said, but they’re more a reflection of a team effort rather than one person pulling on the rope.
So Ragsdale is deflecting credit to players and coaches for him being selected by Baseball America as the Minor League Manager of the Year.
The Down East Wood Ducks blazed their way to a first-half division title in the high Class A Carolina League and reached the postseason under Ragsdale in his first season.
Many of the Rangers’ top prospects and best players in 2019 played for Ragsdale, who also served as the organization’s minor league field coordinator. As the Rangers try to rebuild from within, a project that started in 2018 and is ongoing, Ragsdale is one of the key people in the process.
Just don’t tell him that.
“I had a few people who congratulated me and all that, and basically what I told them is, ‘Good players and a good staff make you a good manager,’ ” Ragsdale said. “That’s what it did for me. It makes me reflect on the team we had, the guys we had—the players and the staff—and really appreciate those guys and how good they were.”
The players? Start with Futures Game MVP Sam Huff, the catcher who joined Down East in May after tearing up the South Atlantic League.
Righthander Tyler Phillips was so good early on that he was promoted to Double-A Frisco. The same goes for Demarcus Evans, who was selected by BA as the first-team reliever for its overall minor league all-star team.
The Rangers’ selected first baseman Curtis Terry and righty Jason Bahr as the organization’s minor league player and pitcher of the year. Terry finished at Down East, and Bahr started there before a bump to Double-A.
Don’t forget center fielders Leody Taveras, Bubba Thompson and Julio Pablo Martinez, shortstop Anderson Tejeda and third baseman Sherten Apostel.
They form the bulk of the next prospect wave the Rangers expect to reach Arlington.
“Corey’s been really influential both with our players and our staff,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “He’s got this really good way about him. Because of the relationships he builds, he can really push the guys and help them get results. He’s been really open-minded, too, embracing new tools and helping staff and players understand how they can help them. We’ve desired to put our best players around him when we can.”
The Woodies surged out of the gate with 50 first-half wins, a total that ranks second in Carolina League history. They cooled some in the second half, including a sluggish finish that kept them from setting the single-season wins mark for a Rangers affiliate.
Still, Down East finished 87-52, and just two minor league teams won more often in 2019. The Wood Ducks fell in the first round of the playoffs in five games to eventual Carolina League champion Fayetteville.
“That’s the thing I’m most proud of,” said Ragsdale, a former pro shortstop who spent his final two seasons as a player in the Rangers’ organization in 2008 and ’09 and has been with them ever since as a manager or instructor.
“If I had to give one compliment to our guys, putting the talent aside, I was so proud of how they came to the park every day. At 7 o’clock, they wanted to win every night. It was pretty special. They had a seriousness and a focus to them in pregame. We challenged these guys a lot, and they played their tails off.”
Down East’s success was built on pitching. The club led the league with a 3.00 ERA and allowed the fewest home runs (65).
Huff, Terry and Martinez helped the offense finish second in home runs (93), while Taveras, Martinez and Thompson helped Down East lead the league in stolen bases (156).
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Ragsdale hopes that the players took away the message that to be great, they have to be great every day.
“As an organization, we talked to these guys about attitude and effort a lot,” he said. “That’s something we try to push, not necessarily the win and the loss, but how we go about it and the desire to win every game. I think a lot of that goes to the staff. I think they were a great example for our guys.”
The coaching staff echoed the organization’s message and picked up the slack when Ragsdale left the team to tend to his duties as field coordinator. He took a few in-season trips to visit other Rangers affiliates, during which time infield coordinator Kenny Holmberg stepped in.
Ragsdale used mornings and early afternoons to juggle the coordinator duties. Once players started trickling in, he shifted gears to game mode. But even then, the jobs would collide.
Hitting coach Chase Lambin, pitching coach Steve Mintz and coach Turtle Thomas saw their duties expand when he had to step away to handle a burning issue elsewhere.
“He truly did double duty,” Daniels said. “Most affiliate managers get a lot of down time in the winter. They don’t have 200 people to worry about in the spring. And they don’t spend their mornings during the summer on the phone with other coordinators and managers in the system. Rags did all of that, on top of managing one of the best teams in the minors.”
The Rangers have determined that Ragsdale is such a valuable asset that they want him on the major league coaching staff. He will be the field coordinator in Texas under manager Chris Woodward, replacing Jayce Tingler after he left to become the Padres’ manager.
The bulk of the players who carried Down East to 87 wins in 2019 should see Frisco at some point in 2020, if not higher. In particular, pitchers Phillips, Evans and fellow reliever Joe Barlow could make their major league debuts.
“Going into the year we knew the bulk of our talent was at the lower levels, and we felt pretty good about those clubs,” Ragsdale said. “We wanted to push those guys. All these guys who were there, talent plays. There’s absolutely no doubt about it, but talent that plays their butts off has a chance to be special. A lot of those guys took steps forward this year.”
Their manager had much to do with it, even if he doesn’t want the credit.