Reports From Instructs: Gerrit Cole

The obvious headliner at Pirates instructs was 2011 #1 overall pick Gerrit Cole. Cole has been on prospect radars for some time, as he went unsigned out of a southern California high school in 2008 when the Yankees made him a 1st rounder despite being an obviously tough sign. Negotiations never got started and Cole decided he wanted to go to UCLA, where he cleaned up his delivery and command while adding a plus changeup to his power fastball-slider repertoire. Three years after turning down a potential multi-million dollar bonus, Cole signed with the Pirates for $8 million.

Cole’s professional career has been mostly ho-hum. No arm injuries or real struggles while also not quite dominating the way his stuff probably should. He signed late in 2011 then had a successful if short stop in the Arizona Fall League followed by a debut season starting in Hi-A and ending in AAA with basically the same numbers at all four stops: a K/9 in the 9’s and BB/9 around 3. A notable event happened in late June when Cole was hit in the face with a liner while with AA Altoona, but he returned later in the season and looked fine in instructs.

Those numbers will obviously play in the big leagues but there’s math that we do looking at minor league numbers, expecting some regression at each level. One thing to keep in mind is the Pirates organizational development plan for pitchers. They heavily stress fastball command and in the first full season in the system. Pitchers are instructed to throw primarily fastballs, usually over 70% per game. In instructs, Cole threw one off-speed pitch in two innings and in a game I saw in Hi-A earlier in the year, I counted 7 off-speed pitches in a full outing. That will obviously affect Cole’s feel for these off-speed offerings and make projecting him a little more difficult.

Back in May, Cole was sitting 94-97 and hitting 98 mph with his four-seamer that had some run to his arm side. He would also occasionally throw a sinker at 91-93 with heavier movement that could be a useful weapon going forward. His slider was nasty even in limited use, ranging from 86-91 mph with sharp, late break that darts from one end of the plate to the other with ¾ tilt. He wasn’t very consistent with the tilt for obvious reasons but one of his plus-plus sliders actually looked almost identical to Red Sox prospect Matt Barnes’ plus curveball, except Cole’s slider was 90 mph.

Cole threw one curveball at 81 that he should scrap, just a slower version of the slider and only threw two changeups in the low 80’s. The changeups showed plus potential, turning over with fade and bottom but the changeup is a pitch that comes with feel, something Cole can’t have throwing it twice a game. His command was fine for the level, but would waver more than you’d like, usually missing up in the zone.

More recently in instructs, Cole only went two innings but put up the big numbers on the radar gun you hope to see. He was 96-99 in the first inning, hitting a 101 and then sitting a paltry 96-98 in the second inning. Cole got two strikeouts, two groundballs, elevated with purpose and his fastball had life down in the zone and cut to his glove side. He threw one slider, a plus-plus yakker at 88 mph, but more importantly he subtly improved his delivery.

Cole has a big, sturdy frame at 6’4, 220 pounds that looks like it was designed to absorb thousands of innings. He creates velocity by breaking his hands late, loading his hips and front shoulder before exploding to the plate with a lightning quick arm. It’s amazing how good Cole is at keeping his arm in sync with his body. You’ll notice that most of the time when I write about pitchers with mid 90’s velocity I mention how their arm is late to catch up with their body and it drags behind, causing control issues and heightening injury risk. This is because most people aren’t gifted with a mid 90’s fastball but many more can throw in the low 90’s and so they do things to juice their velo.

Cole has a true 80 fastball but he doesn’t cheat at all—his arm starts exploding when his hips do, he takes a direct path to home plate, his elbow stays low relative to his shoulder at foot plant, he has only slight head movement and good posture at release, a solid front side, an arm that works well out front all with good enough balance to not spin off to first base. Much the same way that I wrote about Marcus Stroman as a genetic freak that I want to bet on because he keeps beating expectations, I don’t want to bet against a guy with clean mechanics and the level of genetic gifting of Cole.

Back to the subtle improvement Cole made late in the season. One reason I think his results weren’t matching his stuff beyond pitch usage was that his aggressive stride would often be too long, causing him to overextend his front leg and throw against that leg rather than over it. In instructs, Cole’s stride was shorter and he consistently got over his front leg. This allows him to control his body better and have an easier time getting the ball down in the zone. His power fastball with lively movement should be a groundball machine and break bats left and right, which I think he’ll be doing more in 2013. Cole also appeared to raise his arm slot slightly to a consistent high ¾. In the full outing from May, I noticed his slot would lower occasionally to a ¾ slot, a sign of fatigue that leads to less command that could also just be a byproduct of a lack of focus or a slight posture/balance change.

There are some other things scouts don’t like about Cole, such as his stiff, un-flexed throwing arm in the beginning of his arm stroke and his no better than average deception. Neither of these really bothers me as his arm gets into a much better position by the time it starts accelerating and throwing 100 mph with a 70 slider tends to keep hitters on their toes as much as a deceptive delivery can. Cole turns 23 at the end of the upcoming season, so everything is pointing at a big league debut sometime in 2013 as he continues progressing toward his ceiling of a true #1 starter.



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Kiley McDaniel has worked in the scouting departments of the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates and has written for ESPN, among other outlets. Follow him on twitter for real-time thoughts on the players he’s seeing and hacky attempts at humor.


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Pirates Hurdles
Guest
Pirates Hurdles
3 years 6 months ago

Thanks Kiley, I can’t figure why the Cole may end up a closer narrative is still out there?

While at Pirate City did you see Luis Heredia? I would love to hear your take on him.

TheOneWhoKnocks
Guest
TheOneWhoKnocks
3 years 6 months ago

Damn you Cole.
You should have signed with us in 2008.

Jeff Long
Member
3 years 6 months ago

I can’t express how happy I am that he didn’t.

Todd Fargmann
Guest
Todd Fargmann
3 years 6 months ago

Us, eh? You work for the Yankees?

LHomonacionale
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LHomonacionale
3 years 6 months ago

You finally caught him. The jig is up.

Bucfan
Guest
Bucfan
3 years 6 months ago

Good write-up. Cole’s three-pitch arsenal is plenty for a starting pitcher, particularly with the movement on his slider and the velocity difference with the change.

The change-up is also a very useful pitch against lefties. Looking forward to seeing Cole’s 80 fastball, 70 slider, 70 change-up in the majors by August of 2013.

Debby Downer
Guest
Debby Downer
3 years 6 months ago

I doubt he is ever going to have a 70 changeup. BA had that in their handbook for 2012, but they are always extremely optimistic in their projected grades. Its probably better seen as a 60 ceiling with 55ish more likely because its just his third pitch. He has never shown great command and he probably won’t turn into an ace, but his stuff is good enough to become a #2.

bucn22
Member
bucn22
3 years 6 months ago

Thanks for your valuable insight, Debby.

FeverTree
Guest
FeverTree
3 years 6 months ago

Has anybody ever seen a definition of what “ace” means versus “#2”? When you define a pitcher as a “#2” what do you mean? Is Yu Darvish an “ace” or a “#2”? Or is he some other number? What about Zack Grienke? Ace or #2?

Cliff
Guest
Cliff
3 years 6 months ago

Kinda sound like a Cole hater to me. Pretty much just a bunch of unfounded claims based on personal bias rather than factual observations. Cole’s BB/9 rate of 2.82 in A-Ball and 3.51 in AA certainly show that he’s got good command of his fastball. His final season at UCLA in 2011, he only walked 24 batters in 114.1 IP, good for a 1.89 BB/9 rate. Given that he’s basically averaged a strikeout per inning or better at all levels, I’d say that’s actually above average command for a guy that throws so hard. When you put his numbers up against guys like Bauer(4.54 BB/9), Hultzen(5.45 BB/9), and Wheeler(4.20 BB/9), he certainly looks like he’s got all the makings of a #1 in the bigs. Just as you certainly appear to be a disgruntled Yankees or USC fan that has simply made overstated generalizations that, frankly, are just unfounded.

Debby Downer
Guest
Debby Downer
3 years 6 months ago

IMO an ace is a pitcher who can consistently eat 200+ innings while posting elite FIP or ERA. A #2 starter could post similar FIP or ERA as an ace, but potentially can’t stay healthy. Or a #2 could stay healthy but post great FIP or ERA instead of elite. For a good #2 starter, I’m thinking James Shields, Hiroki Kuroda, Jordan Zimmerman, Madison Bumgarner.

I think Greinke is an ace and Darvish could become an ace if he can reign in his walks. While I think Cole could eat up 200+ innings a year, I’m concerned his BB rate might end up above 3 BB / 9 IP and his lack of true command will prevent him from missing bats at an elite rate. That’s why I think he could become a good #2 starter but not an ace.

Debby Downer
Guest
Debby Downer
3 years 6 months ago

To Cliff
Minor league numbers tell only part of the story. We need to project how minor league pitchers will do in the future at the major league level. Cole has posted solid BB numbers and I think he will post solid BB numbers at the major league level, but it won’t be elite. I don’t think Wheeler, Hultzen, or Bauer will become #1 starters. Wheeler has never shown plus control/command and neither has Cole. Hultzen didn’t show a plus fastball last year and his control deteriorated, although he has shown great control/command earlier. I like Cole better than any of the others you mentioned, but I still think he becomes a #2. I think Bundy could become a #1 and Walker has that potential.

A true #1 is hard to find. They need at least plus control/command to get there, though. Cole flat-out doesn’t have that right now. Its possible his control/command could improve, but I don’t feel as confident it improving as I do with a guy like Taijuan Walker.

E-Dub
Guest
E-Dub
3 years 6 months ago

Cole’s change was his second best pitch in many outings his sophomore and junior years at UCLA, and it absolutely has plus potential. He has to throw it, and the Pirate FB-command policy inevitably delays this, but it’s in there. Kiley is dead on with Cole’s arm speed, which is phenomenal as well as the issues with the 4-seamer being up in the zone far too often. Can’t argue with the FB policy re Cole, as FB command was a clear deficit when he was in college.

jdbolick
Member
Member
3 years 6 months ago

Great piece. Thanks.

Thinly Chubby
Guest
Thinly Chubby
3 years 6 months ago

Whew I just saw a low res picture of him and thought it was Matt Cain. Definitely a good body comp(the extra height doesn’t hurt) and I agree whole heartedly on his mechanics. He’ll be a fun pitcher to watch for many years barring any freak incidents.

Alex
Guest
Alex
3 years 6 months ago

I think Cole will definately have his early struggles, but in time, he’s going to hone his off-speed pitches with most practice. Once/if he can do that, it’s just staying healthy from there.

I love pitchers like Cole; clean, easy, big fastballs.

Leo Walter
Guest
Leo Walter
3 years 6 months ago

I watched Cole pitch several times at AA last season,and I thought that if he modified his delivery to ge more tilt to his fastball he would at least be an excellent #2 ,and possiblty being something like Matt Cain as far as productivity is concerned. As ” Alex ” alluded to,he also needed to work on his off speed pitches as there didn’t seem to be enough speed separation between his average fastball and his slider.I

Tom
Guest
Tom
3 years 6 months ago

What you folks may not know is that Cole is a great kid from a great family in southern Cal. Living in southern cal, you know the real deal behind these kids as Jared Weaver was also from a great family. You could feel that in the stadium when he threw his no hitter last year. All this should play very well for Cole in the Major’s! Good grounding should never be understated in predicting success! 2013 will be a big one for Cole!

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