Gerrit Cole, The One That Got Away For The New York Yankees
Added by Matt Kardos on August 2, 2012.
Cole, talking with DoubleGSports.com Trenton Thunder beat writer Matt Kardos and other media.
On Tuesday night, Altoona Curve righty and the number eight overall prospect in baseball according to Baseball America, Gerrit Cole, faced off against Trenton all-star ace, Brett Marshall, in one of the premiere pitching matchups of the season. 5,000 fans were on hand at Waterfront Park to witness some of baseball’s best pitching prospects.
Cole’s appearance in Trenton made him only the fifth No. 1 overall pick to ever play at Waterfront Park. The small list included Paul Wilson, Adrian Gonzalez, Pat Burrell and Joe Mauer.
Though neither starter factored into the decision in an eventual 2-1 Trenton victory, the star studded duel lived up to its billing. Cole threw six shutout innings for Altoona, yielding just three hits and a walk while striking out six. Marshall was nearly as stellar, giving up just one run in his six innings of work on a solo home run to Oscar Tejada to lead off the second inning. Marshall allowed four hits and three walks with four strikeouts.
Cole is widely regarded as one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. Selected as the first overall selection in last June’s MLB amateur draft by the Pirates out of UCLA, Cole is the crown jewel of the Pittsburgh farm system and is on the fast track to the Major Leagues. The 21 year old hurler has a fast ball that sits in the mid to high 90’s and has even been clocked at 100, including three times in Trenton on Tuesday. The flame thrower also has a plus backdoor breaking slider and a curve ball that is developing into an above average pitch in the already extraordinary repertoire of the pitcher with unquestioned ace potential.
After originally being drafted by the New York Yankees out of Orange Lutheran High School with the 28th overall pick in the 2008 draft, Cole chose not to sign a lucrative deal rumored to be well over recommended slot value at nearly four million dollars in favor of going off to college. Cole was determined to attend school and never even sat down to negotiate with New York. Had Cole chosen to sign, the landscape of the future for both the Pirates and Yankees organizations would appear much different.
“I had a fan in the bullpen tonight tell me I should’ve signed,” Cole said. “He had a few explicit words for me, but that’s okay, I just kept my head down.”
Cole was headstrong on attending college throughout the entire draft process but admits that growing up as a Yankees fan in a house who pledged their baseball allegiances to the Bronx Bombers did entice him enough to at least seriously consider changing his mind.
“My dad grew up in Syracuse so I kind of had no choice, it was Yankees or bust in my house,” said Cole.
When asked if he felt any pressure to sign with the team he rooted for growing up, Cole admitted, “Yes, it was huge. I was planning on going to school the whole time so I was a little bit taken back by the pick. But, I took the summer to think about it and kind of weighed out my options so that I didn’t have any regrets and that way I was really comfortable with the decision I made.”
Gerrit Cole pitching as a member of the UCLA Bruins
Perhaps nobody is more grateful for that decision than the UCLA Bruins baseball program. As a freshman in 2009 Cole showed great signs of promise going 4-8 with a 3.49 ERA with an eye popping 104 strikeouts in 85 innings of work. As a sophomore, Cole took the next step in his career progression by going 11-4 with a 3.37 ERA while collecting 153 strikeouts in 123 innings and serving as a key cog in the teams historic run to the College World Series in Omaha.
Asked if he regretted his decision to go to school rather than sign with the Yanks, Cole said, “Not really, more so probably in my first year of college a little bit but other than that, I was really comfortable with my decision and so I kind of moved on.”
After being selected number one overall last June, Cole held his ground in contract negotiations and waited right until the final minutes on deadline day last August 15 to sign a deal with Pittsburgh that paid him upwards of eight million dollars in bonus money. Because he allowed the negotiations to linger so deep into the summer, Cole lost the ability to pitch in 2011 due to the minor league seasons ending, making this 2012 campaign his first full season in professional baseball.
“Pro ball is just a different lifestyle compared to college,” explained Cole. “As far as the players, everybody is good. The metal bat kind of plays guys up in college so maybe you treat them like they’re better than they are, but here, everybody is good.”
Cole has moved considerably fast through the farm system in his first pro season, needing just 13 starts in A ball before being promoted to Altoona in mid-June. Cole opened the season as a member of the Bradenton Marauders and absolutely dominated the Florida State League, posting a 5-1 record and a 2.55 ERA while striking out 69 batters in 67 innings and holding them to a .217 batting average.
Since arriving in AA with the Curve, Cole has gone 2-4 with a 3.94 ERA in seven starts while striking out a batter per inning (32/32). He has gotten markedly better in each start since coming to the Eastern League after struggling with command early on. That is no surprise though; many pitchers typically face an adjustment period after switching system levels due large in part to facing better and more advance hitters.
“The difference is more patience,” Cole said. “The hitters have more of an idea of who they are in their approach,” explained Cole. “The higher you move up and the more mistakes you make, the more you get punished for them, In Bradenton I think I got hurt for being in the zone too much because guys are just swinging regardless of the count. I definitely notice some pitches up here that guys hit that would have gotten me swings and misses back down there.”
As far as evolving into a big league stud, Cole feels as though he is right on track with where he wants to be in his progression towards that ultimate goal.
“I’m definitely where I want to be, I’m getting better every time I go out there,” Cole admitted. “That’s all you can really ask for.”
When Cole was drafted by the Pirates, many fans and analysts dubbed him as the savior who would serve as the key to unlocking the chains that have pinned the Pittsburgh franchise to mediocrity for the better part of the last twenty years. It was thought that once Cole reached the majors either by next season or certainly 2014 that the Pirates would then be ready to compete and restore much needed credibility. Instead, Pittsburgh is already in a playoff race ahead of schedule and the role of Cole now changes from savior to essentially a boost to any already viable roster once he is indeed big league ready.
“It’s definitely exciting. This is the second year in a row where we are buyers at the deadline, so that’s pretty cool,” said Cole. “You know, we’ve certainly got a shot to win the division and with the extra wild card berth, that helps. Definitely finishing over .500 looks like it’s coming around the corner real quick for us too.”
When will Cole get the call up to the bigs?! Nobody can be certain of that, but for a pitcher of his caliber and the pace that the organization has demonstrated moving him with early this season, it appears as though he is on a fast track to the majors, and sometime late next season should not be out of the question seeing as though he will likely open 2013 in AAA. Seeing college pitchers from recent drafts like Drew Pomeranz and Stephen Strasburg already leaving their mark at the games highest level, Cole realizes that he is not too far off from being there with them but also understands that he cannot worry about anything aside from getting better through each start.
“I just take it as it is,” Cole explained. “Those guys are really good. I know Drew really well and I know Stephen a little bit and they’re really good at what they do. For me, like I said, it’s just about getting better every start. You can’t dwell on it much and you can’t think about when you should move up and what not. I’ve got enough other stuff to worry about right now.”
As the Pirates continue to crawl out of despair and into prosperity and the Yankees continue to search high and low for a front end starting pitcher, you have to believe sometime in the near future the Bombers are going to look themselves in the mirror and ask the question, “is Cole the one who got away?”