Monday, June 6, 2011

All Hail Gerrit Cole

At a few minutes after 7 p.m. tonight, the Pirates called Gerrit Cole's name as the 1st overall pick of the 2011 MLB draft. For months leading up to the draft, it was assumed/hoped/demanded that the Pirates select Anthony Rendon, the power hitting/smooth fielding 3B from Rice. A couple of problems happened though -- Rendon lost his power and was a DH for nearly the whole year. Rendon had a shoulder injury at the start of the year (he said from overstretching) that prevented him from playing 3B and sapped his prodigious home run power.

His medical records were released over the weekend and the diagnosis was severe enough to cause Rendon to drop all the way to 6th overall to the Nationals. He will most likely need some sort of surgical procedure -- the only determination is the severity level of it.

But enough about what could have been. Time to discuss what is in front of us.

Gerrit Cole was a late 1st round pick by the Yankees back in 2008. The only reason he fell to the tail end of the 1st round were his high bonus demands. The Yankees took him and offered him $3M, but Cole decided at the last minute to forgo that bonus and go to UCLA. What was even stranger is that the Yankees were a young Gerrit Cole's favorite team growing up. There is a famous photo of a young Cole holding a sign at the 2001 World Series that reads "Yankee Fan Today Tomorrow Forever". So the fact that he turned down life-changing money and the chance to play for his childhood team was striking.

Even more striking is Cole's current arsenal of pitches. It starts with his fastball which sits 96-97 and touches 100. It is complemented by a plus changeup and a great slider. The bugaboo with Cole in 2011 is that his stats did not reflect the level of his stuff. He finished 6-8 with a 3.31 ERA in 16 starts. In 114 IP, Cole allowed 103 H, 24 BB, and recorded 119 K's. Those are very good, but not eye-popping numbers, especially compared to rotation mate Trevor Bauer who had 203 K's in 136 IP, with a 13-2 record and 1.25 ERA.

Cole's 6 foot 4 inch frame is the perfect pitcher's frame. It is said that his less than awesome stats were due to a mechanical flaw, most likely his front shoulder opening up too early and causing his stuff to flatten out. The Pirates front office are confident that it can be resolved.

With Cole's selection, he becomes the top prospect in the Pirates' system, even ahead of uber-prospect Jameson Taillon. The reasoning is that Cole's stuff at age 20 is a half-step better than Taillon's present stuff at age 19.

Cole will debut in 2012 in the minor leagues; his negotiations this summer will go right down to the wire with "advisor" Scott Boras. Most likely he will get a $7M signing bonus as part of a $10M+ major-league contract. Cole's progression could very well be:

2012 - High A/Double A split year
2013 - Triple A/debut in Pittsburgh mid-season

If all goes well with Taillon, he could be on a very similar timeline to Cole. In July 2013, the Pirates rotation could very well be Cole, Taillon, McDonald, Morton, and a fifth starter from Owens/Locke/Lincoln/Wilson/Morris. I drooled a little bit just thinking about it.

Brighter days are here for the Pirates, with blindingly good days around the corner. Now about that hitting....

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