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  • Writer's pictureSteve Potter

4/22/24 : A development success

I moved to the Clearwater area in 2015 and embarked on the “retirement” years of my life with the vision to watch as much Phillies organizational baseball as I could.  Shortly thereafter I began writing about the minor leaguers I was now able to watch.  Here’s a recollection on the development of one player from the initial year who’s presently doing very well for himself at the major league level.

That summer a 19 year old Venezuelan left hander by the name of Ranger Suarez made his stateside league debut pitching for the Gulf Coast League Phillies for Manager Roly deArmas.  His initial visit to Clearwater was in 2014 Fall Instructs Camp. The 2015 GCL team would wind up having 14 players who would eventually play in the major leagues with three (Ranger, Seranthony Dominguez, Bailey Falter) presently active in the show.  That season Ranger posted a 3-0 record in 6 games (4 starts), a 0.65 ERA in 27.2 IP with 20 strikeouts and 4 walks - a 0.687 WHIP.  Ranger began the year with a streak of 17 scoreless innings and was named the Phillies minor league pitcher of the month in July.  He was shut down early that season with a left elbow strain.   Ranger had spent three prior years pitching (signed as a 16 year old) in the now defunct Venezuelan Summer League where in 2014 he made 14 starts and recorded a 1.56 ERA in 80.2 IP with an incredible stat of just one walk! 😳.  Ranger struck out 78 batters that season and had a 0.843 WHIP.   One walk👀😳.

Despite the early gaudy numbers no one was seemingly mentioning him as a “prospect” but those who coached him knew.  I asked Carlos Arroyo (legendary former Phillies pitching coach and coordinator) what his initial impressions were of the teenage version of Ranger - “I saw a young kid with the ability to throw strikes to both sides of the plate with his fast ball.  He was not afraid to pitch inside. Cool and collected on the mound, very poised for a young pitcher.  Baseball awareness, fielding of position, holding runners and a good feel for his change up.  The breaking pitch needed to tighten up.  Quiet kid with a dry sense of humor (funny). Impressive command of his pitches. Walked one batter in the VSL while pitching 80 innings after becoming a starter. He was already a pitcher at that age. Pitched deep in games due to low pitch counts.”

After spending a second year the next season in extended spring training camp Ranger was assigned to short season Williamsport where he continued to excel.  He was named to the league all-star team allowing two or fewer earned runs in ten of his thirteen starts.  On 7/26/16 he threw a seven inning no hitter in the first game of a doubleheader against Auburn - he issued a walk to the first batter of the game, induced a double play grounder from the next hitter and then proceeded to retire the next nineteen batters in order. 👀.  In 13 games (all starts) he posted a 2.81 ERA in 73.2 IP and a 1.15 WHIP.

Teammates have always appreciated Ranger - one who progressed thru the minor leagues with him is Bailey Falter (now a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates)Bailey had this to say : “Ranger has always been a guy I’ve looked up to.  Was fortunate enough to move up the minor leagues with him for a few years and then he got to good for me and I started following him to the big leagues, haha.  Ranger and I are great friends and still stay in touch to this day.  Being both lefties I felt like we just kinda attached to each other but he’s helped out a lot of players with the game including myself.  Ranger is a great clubhouse guy and even better teammate. Always making you laugh!”  Jacob Waguespack (now in the Rays organization) also was one of his initial stateside teammates - he told me that Ranger is fun to be around - “A guy who is always high on life. Smiling, joking around all the time, but got his work done as well.  He’s had his elite command from those early years, that always stood out. Good teammate always dancing in the locker room!”

The 2017 season brought Ranger’s first full season assignment.  He began the year with the Lakewood BlueClaws where he made 14 starts (85 IP) posting an outstanding 1.59 ERA and 0.894 WHIP with 90 strikeouts and 24 walks.  He was promoted to High A Clearwater on 7/4/17 making 8 starts for the Threshers (37.2 IP) posting a 3.82 ERA with 38 K’s and 11 walks.   He was selected as a mid season all-star for the South Atlantic League and was the organization pitcher of the month in April.  In seven of his fourteen starts at Lakewood he held opponents scoreless and had a 23.1 inning scoreless streak in April and early May.

Greg Giombarrese - Vice President - Communications -  BlueClaws remembers Ranger’s time in Lakewood this way : “Before he even got here you look at his numbers and you see he walked one batter in 80 innings in the VSL in 2014. Obviously that stands out but at the same time he was one of the older guys there and you don't know how it's going to translate. That said, he was really good for Williamsport the year before he came to the BlueClaws.  He comes here on a good team - the rotation to start the year included five big leaguers in Sixto Sanchez, JoJo Romero, Adonis Medina, Bailey Falter and Ranger, plus Nick Fanti who threw two no-hitters that year. 

Ranger was very good for sure. He obviously knew how to pitch and he could throw a bunch of pitches for strikes, which was what we had heard before he got here. I do remember him taking a perfect game into the 8th inning against Greensboro in June (26th). He retired the first 23 batters he faced and came out after allowing a single with two outs. The BlueClaws have had a few no-hitters over the years but that was the only time someone legitimately flirted with a perfect game. He threw seven shutout innings in his next start and it was off to Clearwater. 

I can't say I thought he would be this good, but there was no doubt after watching him for three months that he could be a big leaguer. It's just a long way from Low-A to the Phillies, so you never really know. But he kept getting better and he's still getting better to this day. The other thing I remember about him with the BlueClaws was something you still see with the Phillies now - he always has a smile on his face. He was just a great guy to be around and everyone loved having him around the clubhouse and on the team! “

The organization was well aware of the talent - a premium strike thrower envisioned as a major league starter.  Ranger displayed great feel, no fear and a quiet assassin type mentality.  Off-seasons however were a challenge as he would return home to Venezuela and return not ready for the next season primarily because he didn’t have the ability to train and eat well.  Each spring there was a slow ramp up to get his weight & strength built back to continue his development.

In 2018 Ranger opened the season at AA level Reading, he started 12 games (75 IP) posting a 2.76 ERA and was promoted to AAA Lehigh Valley in June - he then made his major league debut on 7/26/18.  Ranger made nine starts that season with Lehigh Valley (49.1 IP) posting a 2.74 ERA and pitched in four MLB games at the age of 22 (3 starts) amassing 15 innings and recording a 5.40 ERA.  He recorded a win in his major league debut on 7/26 against the Reds in Cincinnati.  I remember speaking with a writer from Philadelphia about him and stating that the game would never be too big for Ranger, his composure and moxy would always shine thru.  The national “evaluators” took notice as well, for the first time he appeared on the MLB Phillies team top 30 prospect list 🥸 - something vital to many in notoriety.

Ranger opened the 2019 season with Lehigh Valley where he made seven starts (38 IP).  He battled a slow start and an injury (right abdominal strain IL stint in May) but eventually was recalled to the majors in June - this time as a reliever.  He made 37 big league appearances out of the pen (48.2 IP) posting a 3.14 ERA along with 7 holds and 3 saves - struck out 42 and walked 12.  Some mistakenly believed that a bullpen role would be his future.

The 2020 season was a lost cause - Ranger spent a good deal of his time after arriving in Clearwater in quarantine due to Covid concerns. He eventually was transferred to the alternate training site and appeared in just three MLB games during the shortened season.   

2021 became a breakout year at the major league level.  He started the year by staying back in Clearwater (another slowed ramp up) for additional training then was transferred to the alternate training site in Lehigh Valley - was recalled on 5/6/21 as a reliever - returned to a starting role in August.  Overall he posted a 1.36 ERA in 39 games (12 starts) in 106 IP with 107 K’s and just 33 walks, a 1.00 WHIP.  In 12 starts he recorded  a 1.51 ERA in 65 2/3 innings and ended the season with 21 consecutive scoreless innings which included a complete game shutout against the Pirates and seven scoreless frames against the Marlins. From his first start on 8/2 through the end of the season he had the second lowest ERA amongst qualifying starting pitchers in the league.  He was a finalist for the NL comeback player of the year award.

Since then Ranger has been a fixture in the Phillies starting rotation - 29 starts in 2022 - 155.1 IP 3.65 ERA - (In 2022 he became the first Phillies international signee to make a post-season start for the club), 22 starts in 2023 - 4.18 ERA in 125 IP and this year’s beginning.  There also were some nagging injuries and slow build ups to the past two seasons however this spring became the first where he was able to put in a full training camp without any extended delays in ramp up.

Player development isn’t contingent on any one thing - it’s a combination of multiple factors that gets a player to the show.  Core to the success is the definition of the player, their desire, moxie, skills, temperament, work ethic and will to succeed.  Ranger, now 28 years old, from every one’s account I’ve ever asked, has always been the same person - ranging from the fella who loves soccer and on occasion during spring and his summer times spent in Clearwater could be seen playing in pick up games at DiMaggio Complex to the calm, cool and collected pitcher who also has a strong competitive internal fire on the mound.  A funny and supportive teammate who’s just a normal guy amongst friends.  A couple days ago at the complex I remarked to a scout how it’s really cool to watch a player from his early days of development to ultimately reaching success in the show, in a “village support” sort of way it brings a sometimes emotional connection to the forefront.  No one can tell that a player will reach the highest level by watching just a few practices or games - it’s a consistent and multiple performances review, the grind of development - it’s what I’ve been privileged to watch and write about daily since 2015.  From a personal perspective it truly is great when a fella gets to the top, especially so when you’ve watched the progression!  To everyone involved in whatever manner that’s a development success.

Happy Day, Happy Baseball ⚾️

Note : I've partnered  with Fanatics on Phillies Merchandise - if you would like to help support my website and articles here's a link to order merchandise - I get a small commission on any sales - thanks for the support.

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