The first overall pick of the 2011 amateur draft, Cole did not pitch after signing his first pro contract and he came out of the gate a little rusty in 2012. After allowing 13 runs in his first four starts of the year he’s given up just four runs in his last five starts in high-A ball. In total, he’s allowed 32 hits and just 13 walks in 45.0 innings. He’s also struck out a large number of batters (46) while inducing above-average ground-ball rates. Cole has a big, strong frame capable of handling a large workload and he has the ceiling of a No. 1 or 2 starter. It wouldn’t be a stretch to expect a mid-season promotion to double-A and a major league debut some time in 2013. Cole is truly ace material and he’s the type of young pitcher that Pittsburgh has been trying to develop for years.
If you’re impressed with tools than you’re probably already familiar with Lake. The shortstop injured his back in spring training and missed all of April while rehabbing in extended spring training. He’s been quite impressive since returning. He split 2011 between high-A and double-A ball. Returned to double-A to begin ’12, Lake has already walked 10 times in 63 at-bats. This is particularly important because his over-aggressive nature at the plate has been a detriment to his development over the years. He walked just 13 times in 242 double-A at-bats last year. He probably won’t keep up the 14% walk rate but hopefully he can keep it above the 5% he had at double-A last season and definitely over the 2.8% rate he had in high-A ball. As well, Lake’s strikeout rate is currently under 20%, something he has never done in a full season. If the 22-year-old prospect keeps showing improvements to his approach at the plate, he could definitely be a solid contributor at the MLB level with good gap power, the ability to hit 10-12 home runs and steal 15-20 bases. He also showcases a plus arm on defense but questionable range for the position.
Robinson, 27, continues to be one of the best hitters in triple-A who has never played in the majors. The 6’5” 240 lbs first baseman finds himself in an organization that already features two solid players (with youth still on their side) at the first base (Eric Hosmer) and designated hitter (Billy Butler) positions. But if Bryan LaHair can chisel out a big league career, perhaps Robinson can, as well. All he needs is an injury to either Hosmer or Butler. A left-handed hitter, the triple-A star is enjoying his second tour of duty in Omaha after posting MVP numbers in 2011. Currently he’s hitting .314 with 21 extra base hits (seven homers) in 47 games. He also has 31 walks to 27 strikeouts. Robinson has been an above-average hitter at every level he’s played at and has never posted a wRC+ below 125 in his six-year career. The former 25th round draft pick (2007) out of Troy University has already accomplished more than most players selected in that range but his best hope for fame and fortune might come from a trip to Japan.
Ventura, soon-to-be-21-years-old, has been on fire in his last three starts. The diminutive fire-baller has given up just eight hits in 18.0 innings of work, while also striking out 22 batters. Overall, he’s allowed 36 hits with 15 walks and 58 Ks in 44.1 innings of work. Despite his 5’10” 140 lbs frame, Ventura can dial his fastball up to triple digits at times but he’s still learning to command it down in the zone and struggles to get a good downward angle on the ball. His secondary pitches also remain ‘in development.’ The right-hander’s stuff is impressive but he may eventually join fellow small guy Tim Collins in the Royals bullpen; Ventura could develop into a successful high-leverage reliever.
Wheeler is having perhaps the quietest outstanding season in the minor. The right-hander currently features a 1.97 ERA in eight starts. In his last start on May 23 Wheeler allowed just two hits and two walks in 8.0 innings of work. He struck out six batters. On the year, he’s given up just 27 hits in 45.2 innings but has struggled with his control by walking 21 batters. He has, though, struck out 51 double-A hitters. In just his third pro season, Wheeler is on the cusp on the major leagues. He needs better overall command of his pitches, as well as a more consistent changeup but he could probably survive in the majors right now. Wheeler, who turns 22 in a few days, has the ceiling of a top-of-the-rotation arm but don’t expect him to take a regular turn in the starting rotation until 2013. However, he could become a factor late in the year if the Mets remain in the playoff hunt.