Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Young Guns - Gerrit Cole

Gerrit Cole, 22, was born in Newport Beach, California, and went to Orange Lutheran High School. After being unscored on as a soph JV pitcher, Cole was promoted to the varsity. And no wonder; the scouts lined up to watch a junior prep pitcher who could hit 94 on the gun. As a senior, Cole had an 8–2/0.47 slash with 121 strikeouts in 75 IP.

He was named an AFLAC All-American, USA Today All-USA high school player, first-team EA Sports All-America selection and a second-team Baseball America All-America. Cole was ranked as the top high school prospect by Perfect Game Crosschecker and the fourth-best high school player by BA, and polished those accolades by hitting 96-97 on the radar while on the high school showcase circuit.

Baseball America rated him the 17th best prospect available in the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft, and the Yankees made him their #1 draft pick that year with the 28th overall selection. Cole was a pinstripes fan, too, with the Bronx Bombers lore drummed into him by his dad, who was raised in Syracuse. But he never seriously negotiated with New York, determined and comfortable with his decision to attend UCLA, even if it left a reported $4M sitting on the table.

Cole put up a line of 4-8/3.49 in his freshman year as a Bruin, and in 85 frames whiffed 104, walked 38 and yielded a .191 OBA. He set UCLA's freshman single-season record with 104 strikeouts, earning All-Conference and Freshman All-America honors from the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. The righty also claimed a spot on the 2009 US Collegiate National baseball team, and was chosen as the top prospect on the team by Baseball America after posting a record of 4-0/1.06 with 46 K in 34 IP.

In 2010, Cole and Trevor Bauer may have been the best one-two punch in college baseball, leading the Bruins to 51 wins, the most in school history. They were ranked second in the nation, and finished that way, advancing to the finals of the CWS before South Carolina took the crown. Though smacked around by the Gamecocks at Omaha, Cole posted an 11–4/3.37 slash with 153 K in 123 IP, third best in the nation for collegiate strikeouts.

He was again named to the Collegiate National Team roster, going 2-0-1/0.72 ERA in five games (four starts) with 23 strikeouts and four walks in 25 frames and was named the top team prospect for the second consecutive summer by Baseball America.

In his junior year, Cole went 6–8/3.31, with 119 strikeouts in 114-1/3 innings for the Bruins, struggling during the second half of the year. His pitches were delivered up in the zone, and were flat. But those problems were thought to be mechanical due to overthrowing, and he was considered one of the top two choices to go #1 in the upcoming draft, along with Anthony Rendon.

The Bucs ended the suspense quickly when they made Cole the first overall pick in the 2011. As a Scott Boras client, it was de rigueur to sign at the deadline, and with fifteen minutes to spare, Cole chose a minor league contract with an $8M bonus over the Bucs other offer, an $8.5M major league contract running through 2016, because of the length of the payouts.

The Pirates didn't assign him to a team after that late August 15th signing, but did the next best thing when they rostered Cole with Mesa of the Arizona Fall League after working on his delivery a bit at Pirate City. He was 2-0/3.00 and whiffed 16 in 15 IP with the Solar Sox. The rookie was selected to start the AFL Rising Stars game, where he didn't last an inning because of a high pitch count (and two homers/five runs surrendered).

Cole was invited to spring training in 2012 by the Bucs as a non-roster player just to get a feel for the ropes. He was optioned early in March to High Class A Bradenton, where he joined RHP Jameson Taillon, who was drafted #1 the year before. Cole was named a FSL Mid-Season All-Star after going 5-1/2.55 with 69 K in 67 IP in 13 starts for the Marauders.

He jumped to Class AA Altoona on June 15th. He made 12 starts for the Curve and went 3-6/2.90, striking out 60 batters in 59 frames. Cole became the first pitcher in franchise history to throw 100 mph, hitting triple digits numerous times. He also gave Pirate fans palpitations when he got smacked in the puss with a liner while pitching against Harrisburg. Not only did he escape with just a bruise, but picked himself up and finished the frame.

But he did have trouble finishing off batters and innings. Cole was too often at the 90 pitch mark by the fifth or sixth inning, and only got through the seventh one time. That's a situation they hope to work out next season.

Cole was a member of the 2012 All-Star Futures Game, and had a mixed outing, striking out a pair but giving up a two-run homer to Cubs prospect Jae-Hoon. He did give the fans what they wanted, though, when he hit 100 mph on the radar gun.

On August 29th, Cole was just a step away when he was promoted to Indy. He allowed the first three batters he faced to score, then tossed five shutout innings with seven whiffs after the settled down. But there was no great comeback in the playoffs, when he gave up eight runs in two innings against the Charlotte Knights. The Buc FO likes its prospects to weather a storm; Cole's ship took on a lotta water at Indy, so it'll be interesting to see how quickly he can plug the holes.

His repertoire consists a four-seamer that he throws between the mid-to-upper nineties, touching three figures occasionally. He also serves a sinking two-seam fastball, slider and changeup. The hard slider is his out pitch while his changeup is improving. It's also reported that Cole played with a slurve last year, after ditching his high school curve ball during his Bruin years.

The 6'4", 220 pound hurler likes to pitch inside, something the Pirates work on constantly at the lower levels, and so using both sides of the plate shouldn't be a problem. His home run rate was excellent, giving up one long ball every 19 innings. Cole did give up 3 walks per game, but K'ed nine, and his 3:1 ratio was pretty strong. His toolkit is filled.

But Cole's still not a sure ace, although he has all the upside to become a number one. For all his hype at UCLA, Cole went just 21-20 in college and 9-7 during his minor league tour last year. He likes to work upstairs with his fastball, which is fine, but he has to keep his mechanics in line to keep the ball from missing in the middle of the plate. His pitches are sometimes flat, and that's usually caused by overthrowing.

He has such a good heater that he often gets by with just pumping it down the middle and getting some weak flies or blow-by strikes, but can stand to polish his command within the strike zone. Cole also needs to develop a better game plan, but that should come with experience. He has only worked 132 pro innings, and the pitching coaches and his catchers will help focus him to both get him deeper into games and to keep him from hitter's counts. So he has a punchlist to complete before he's ready to step on a MLB mound.

Cole will start next season at Indy. The ideal timeline is to bring him up in late June or early July, so as not to start his clock too soon. That, of course, depends on how the Bucco rotation shakes out and how Cole progresses. The Pirates' hope is for him to be established in 2014, and have Taillon, who should start in Altoona in 2013, take his spot and be ready to join him sometime that season.

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