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June 11, 2013

The Call-Up

Gerrit Cole

by Mark Anderson and Paul Sporer


The Situation: Pittsburgh left-hander Wandy Rodriguez is suffering from inflammation in his left forearm, causing him to miss a start and forcing the Pirates to look for a replacement in the rotation. Enter Gerrit Cole, the top-ranked pitching prospect on BP’s preseason rankings, who will make his major-league debut on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Background: A first-round pick of the Yankees in 2008, Cole opted not to sign and instead honored his commitment to UCLA, where he topped the Bruins’ rotation for three years. In 2011, the Pirates made him the no. 1 overall pick in the draft and signed him with an $8 million bonus. The right-hander made his official pro debut in 2012, dominating High-A Bradenton through 13 starts. He allowed just 53 hits in 67 innings while striking out 69 batters en route to a 2.55 ERA. The Pirates pushed him to Double-A Altoona in the second half of last season, and he responded with a 2.90 ERA and over a strikeout per inning in 12 starts. After another promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis to start the 2013 season, Cole has posted a 2.91 ERA in 12 starts with just 44 hits allowed in 68 innings, though he has seen his strikeout rate dip to 6.2 whiffs per nine innings.

Scouting Report: Cole fits the physical profile of a workhorse frontline starter, standing 6-foot-4 and checking in at 240 pounds. He is a solid athlete with excellent strength in both his upper and lower body. His delivery is clean and repeatable, and he does a good job of making adjustments to his mechanics on the fly. His ability to consistently repeat his mechanics gives him a plus command profile long term and should help his entire arsenal play up a bit. Cole’s fastball has sat in the 94-95 mph range this season and reached as high as 98 mph when he needs a little extra. The heater shows excellent movement in addition to its plus-plus velocity, making it a true swing-and-miss pitch that can completely dominate hitters.

Cole’s slider is a second plus-plus pitch with good deception, tight spin, and extremely sharp, darting movement thrown in the mid-80s and peaking at 89-90 mph. When I saw him earlier this season, Cole’s fastball and slider were strong enough on their own for him to enjoy sustained success in the majors. With work, his changeup could also become a plus pitch, though it has been inconsistent so far this year.

The biggest challenge Cole faces is maintaining his intensity from one pitch, hitter, and inning to the next. He has looked bored at times in Triple-A, causing apparent lapses in focus and occasionally resulting in his being hit hard. When he is dialed in, though, Cole can be completely unhittable. His raw stuff is that of a frontline starter, and his physicality matches that projection. Now he just needs the mental side of his game to catch up to the rest.

Immediate Big-League Future: Cole’s future in the big league rotation is directly tied to the status of Wandy Rodriguez’s left arm. If Rodriguez returns quickly, Cole will either be forced back to Triple-A, or the club could consider having him replace right-hander Jeanmar Gomez in the starting rotation. Cole is the future anchor of the Pirates’ rotation, and if they feel he is ready for a full-time job and any monetary ramifications are in the rearview mirror, they will make room for him on the 25-man roster. Regardless of whether he takes his next rotation turn in Pittsburgh or Indianapolis, Cole should be expected to experience immediate success in the big leagues. —Mark Anderson

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Related Content:  Scouting,  Minor Leagues,  Gerrit Cole,  Pirates,  Call-up

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