Pittsburgh Pirates’ fans have not had the easiest time in the past few years. Actually, they’ve been suffering ever since Barry Bonds left for greener pastures in 1992. Since that fateful year the tortured Pirates supporters have endured a record nineteen consecutive losing seasons, watching young stars leave and enduring inexplicable trades (Aramis Ramirez for Bobby Hill) and bad draft after bad draft–in one notable year, 2002, they passed on Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder, Cole Hamels, and Matt Cain, among several others, to select Bryan Bullington.
Eventually, however, the Pittsburgh front office was bound to get it right. Neil Walker (2004) and Andrew McCutchen (2005) are now staples on the parent club, while Pedro Alvarez (2008) has shown glimpses of stardom. Jameson Taillon (2010) is performing well at High A. But it is Gerrit Cole, last year’s first overall selection, who may be the next big difference-maker for the long-suffering franchise.
Cole, a right-handed starter from UCLA, made his first AA start yesterday after mowing through High A in his first 13 starts (2.69 ERA, 9.27 K/9, 3.3/1 K/BB ratio) and did well, striking out six and giving up a pair of runs in five innings of work for the Altoona Curve. Cole is the whole package: at 6’4″, 220 lbs, he has a projectable frame and the elite arsenal to match. Cole’s best–and favorite–pitch is his mid- to high-nineties fastball that touches triple digits and has been called a true 80 pitch by more than one scout. The word ‘explosive’ has been bandied about on multiples occasions to describe Cole’s heater. His breaking ball is a two-plane slider which comes in hard and breaks late with excellent movement, earning a 70 rating. Cole has also reportedly made enormous strides with his change-up, bringing it from the show-me offering it was in college to a true out pitch which he has said he now feels comfortable throwing in different counts. His three plus offerings, and two elite offerings, give the young Pirate arguably the top repertoire in the minor leagues.
If the big right-hander has a weakness, it’s his demeanor. Numerous sources have commented on Cole’s tendency to wear his emotions on his sleeve and lose focus when things aren’t going his way, a serious problem for an aspiring big leaguer. Still young, Cole has time and the onset of maturity to refine his mound behavior and channel his passion into getting hitters, and not himself, out. The former Bruin also has occasionally spotty command, a problem which has not manifested itself in the minors due to Cole’s overwhelming pitches. In the majors, however, it would behoove Cole to work on refining his pitch location. He also has a tendency to overthrow his fastball. With his stuff, however, Cole can get away with some mistakes even at the highest level.
The term “future ace” is thrown around a lot with prospects, probably more than it should be. In Cole’s case, however, the moniker is accurate. Cole has the tools to be a future #1 and the only thing holding him back is himself. The emergence this season of James McDonald has made the Pirates’ pitching situation less dire than in years past, put the big club is nevertheless in urgent need or cornerstones. Cole could be one such player. It’s possible that he earns a late-season call-up this year, especially if the Pirates stay in the race for the NL Central crown, but if not, expect to see Cole in the Steel City no later than 2013, blowing fastballs by big league hitters as he does his part to rebuild a once-proud franchise.
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