As the first Spring Training games are now in the books, your fantasy baseball draft cannot be more than a few weeks away. Let’s turn up the heat of spring with a little prospect talk. This series on prospects will cover a wide range of players as well as positions. We’ll cover sleepers and some of the more obvious stars of the future.
The next prospect in the series is one of the two big-time pitchers who just finished their college careers at UCLA. Gerrit Cole was the top pick of the 2011 Rule 4 draft and is the more heralded of the two Bruins. Though Trevor Bauer is a great prospect in his own right, Cole seems to be the big arm who can make batters swing and miss.
An elite prospect for years, Cole first showed how different he was when he spurned the New York Yankees’ first-round offer to sign out of high school in 2008. Cole’s reasoning had little to do with money; he just wanted to go to college. Cole felt like attending UCLA was the better option for him at that particular point in his life.
Cole is exactly what scouts envision for a hard throwing right handed starter in the big leagues: big framed and physically mature. He has the height, the strong lower half and the long limbs with broad shoulders, but he could still fill out a bit more overall in time and add some strength in the upper body.
Cole is an aggressive thrower with the ability to work both sides of the plate. He provides an effective, mature, physical presence with a solid four pitch arsenal: fastball, slider, changeup and curveball. Questions of his competitiveness and makeup varied from start to start last year. Some scouts believe he lacks the fire to be a truly great pitcher, noting he has a tendency to pack it in when things don’t go his way. He needs to prove his mental toughness on the mound but he is still young with plenty of time to do that.
Cole’s fastball sits 94-97 mph, and will go through stretches where he gets it up to 95-98 mph. He can hit 100 on the radar gun, but his command is at its best when he’s down around 94-95 mph. That’s where his movement is best and he’s hitting his spots best there as well. The slider is another plus offering from Cole and sits at 86-88 mph and has true slider bite in every way. The changeup is potentially his best pitch, but spotting it is a work in progress for him.
There were some slight hiccups with Cole’s mechanics in 2008, which made teams pause about selecting him out of high school. Overall though, he has greatly improved since then. When he’s got command of his pitches, he is almost untouchable. With rather exceptional command, Cole has the ability to hit the mitt with multiple pitches, speeds and locations, making him a very dangerous pitcher.
Cole is likely headed to High-A Bradenton to start 2012. He could reach Double-A in extremely short order and it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if he received a September call-up. His timetable is easily in the 2013 season and it would take some significant setbacks for him to be delayed beyond that. His talent is close to big league level, but his lack of command and character questions leave his risk level elevated.
Gerrit Cole might be the only pitcher who had true ace upside in the 2011 Draft. If he stays healthy and reaches his potential, it’s not a stretch to see him as one of the game’s dominant hurlers and a perennial All-Star. Cole stacks up with Stephen Strasburg, Jameson Taillon and David Price as one of the most heralded pitching prospects in recent years.