Valley Christian alum promoted in Texas Rangers organization

Former Lions pitcher, infielder and outfielder Ryan Cordell joins Frisco Roughriders in Texas.
By: Steven Wilson,
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Ryan Cordell is embracing the grind. 

Not only is the 2010 Valley Christian Academy graduate getting used to the heat in Texas, but he’s adapting to the high level of competition he’s now seeing in Double-A baseball as part of the Frisco Roughriders. 

“The humidity is definitely different in Texas,” Cordell admitted. “I learned that out real quick during my first series out here.”

The outfielder recently made the jump from California’s Advanced-A minor league High Desert Mavs to the Texas Rangers Double-A affiliate in Frisco, Texas near Dallas-Fort Worth.

“Obviously, any time you can move up to the next level it’s a big deal,” Cordell said. “I’m really excited about getting to play in double-A — it’s definitely a whole different animal. It’s the real deal.”

During his senior season at VCA, Cordell earned Sacramento Metro Area League MVP and all-section second team honors before playing ball for Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

After connecting on six home runs, 40 RBIs and 28 stolen bases as a junior at Liberty in 2013, Cordell was selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft by Texas Rangers in the 11th round.

“There was no way I was physically ready or mentally ready coming out of high school,” Cordell told the Press Tribune at that time. “Three years of college is definitely a grind and hard work. You’re balancing schoolwork and college ball, but I learned a lot about myself. I’m definitely more prepared to start pro ball now.”

Cordell was relegated to the instructional league, where he showed off some of his multi-faceted skills.

“When I got drafted, one of the things the Rangers really liked about me was my athleticism and my size,” the 6-foot-4, 205-pounder said. “It’s rare to find a guy with that combination. I’ve always had that, but that’s not going to carry you to the big leagues. So I’m focusing on getting better every day, whether that’s defensively or whether that’s perfecting my swing.”

Ryan got his size from his father, Tom, who routinely towers over the average citizen, but his dad was an offensive lineman and tight end in his high school days and he wasn’t known for his burst of speed.

“My dad always jokes that I was switched at birth,” Ryan said with a laugh. “He’s a big guy, but he doesn’t know where I got my athleticism from. I think it came from my mom’s side. Her cousin was a professional beach volleyball player.”

Ryan’s uncle Mike Whitmarsh was an Olympic silver medalist in beach volleyball and was drafted into the NBA before switching over to pro volleyball, where he spent 15 seasons.

But even Whitmarsh would marvel at the number of positions his nephew has played thus far in his baseball career.

“I came into Spring Training and (the High Desert Mavs) told me they wanted to see if I could play shortstop, so I started the year there,” Cordell explained. “But when our centerfielder went down with an injury, I made the switch out there. When he came back, they started working me in at third base.”

Cordell had no professional experience at third before this season and admitted there was a learning curve when playing on the hot corner. 

“I try to separate my offense and my defense — no matter what position I’m playing,” he stated. “Wherever I’m playing that day, that’s where I’ll do my early work with ground balls or fly balls and just try to get comfortable.”

That versatility was one of the reasons the Frisco Roughriders made the call for Cordell to board a plane and join their club.

“I played three positions with the Mavericks and when I got here (to Frisco), I played two games in center, one game in right field and another at third base,” Cordell recalled. “So I figured that I’m going to be moving around, just like I did with the Mavericks.”

Currently listed with the outfielders, Cordell has appeared in 16 games with Frisco and has a total of 16 hits, including two home runs and eight RBIs.

“He’s always had a powerful bat, but now he’s getting the chance to show off just what he can do,” Ryan’s coach at Valley Christian Brad Gunter Jr., said. 

He also hasn’t made an error yet. 

“I’ve been getting more comfortable switching positions and I’m cool with just showing up to the ball park day by day and just finding out where I’ll be playing and just roll with it,” Cordell said.

Despite his production, Ryan knows just how competitive his new league will be. 

“As far as pitching goes, the guys here know what they’re doing and there’s a lot of talent at this level,” he admitted. “It’s going to test me and I know I’ll have a learning curve. But I just need to keep improving and get better if I want to stay here or move up to Triple-A or the big leagues.

“The velocity may be the same as you’d see in high-A, but the pitchers know what they’re doing. They’re attacking you in specific ways and throwing a lot more breaking balls for strikes. So you have to stay focused during each and every at-bat.” 

The Orangevale native found out about his switch to the next level just two games before he took part in the California vs. Carolina All Star game.

“I was in Modesto on a Saturday and I found out that I was going to Texas with my teammate Alex Burg and we were both playing in the All Star game,” Cordell explained. “We had a couple days off after that to get everything squared away and then we boarded our flights. So the All Star game was a nice way to play with a good group of guys and just enjoy the game.”

That same weekend, Gunter was in town to watch him alum play. 

“He’s a great guy and an outstanding example for our program,” VCA current baseball coach and Athletic Director said. “He practices with us leading up to leaving for Spring Training and he helps out a lot of the guys on our team.”

Throughout the year, Ryan keeps an eye on Valley Christian’s baseball program, monitoring their success in his down time and keeping in touch with his former coach.

“Brad’s always texting me to see how I’m doing and I am always checking to see how they’re doing,” Cordell said. 

Even while at VCA, Ryan’s versatility was impressive. But Coach Gunter knows his star pupil will need to keep adapting if he wants to reach the MLB one day.

“It’s amazing to see just how many positions he’s played in the minors,” Gunter Jr., said. “You can do that sometimes in high school, but to do that at the next level is something else.”