An elite prospect for years, Gerrit Cole first showed how different he was when he spurned the Yankees' first-round offer to sign out of high school in 2008. Cole's reasoning had little to do with money. He just wanted to go to college. He felt like attending UCLA was the better option for him, personally and athleticially, at that particular point in his life. Now, nearly through with his outstanding Bruin career, he appears ready for professional baseball. The real question: are opposing batters ready for Cole?
To say Cole has outstanding stuff would be an understatement. His four-seam fastball sits 96-98 MPH touching 99 MPH frequently and occasionally flirting with triple digits. Cole attacks the zone with his four-seamer; he's not afraid to throw it up or down, inside or out. While he primarily uses his four-seamer, Cole also mixes in a two-seam fastball sitting 91-94 MPH with solid sink. His fastball command has improved greatly since his high school days and now is firmly above-average. Cole's fastball is one of, if not the, best heaters in the 2011 MLB draft. Each fastball grades as at least a plus pitch, the four-seamer bordering on a 70.
It's very rare to say this about a pitcher who throw upper-90's, but Cole's fastball is not his best pitch; his changeup is. Coming in 83-86 MPH with rare late tumble, he has a true swing-and-miss changeup. He maintains virtually identical arm speed between his fastball and changeup. The combination of the two pitches is devastating. Hitters must gear up to deal with 97 MPH, then 85 MPH with movement comes at them and they're sunk. Cole's changeup is already a big league out-pitch. I would not hesitate to put a 70 scouting grade on it.
In high school Cole's primary breaking ball was a an upper-70's curveball with 12/6 break. Despite his curve flashing plus potential when he was in high school, Cole has shifted his focus to a slider in college. At its absolute best, Cole's slider flashes plus but it's more consistantly a notch below that. His slider sits 86-88 MPH with above-average break, but the pitch is obviously still a little raw. It's not a stretch to see the slider as an above-average pitch down the road. Even if it falls a little short of a 55 grade, Cole's slider should at least be a very solid fourth pitch (I consider two-seam and four-seam fastballs as two different pitches) for him, giving hitters just that something extra to think about.
There were legitimate concerns about Cole's delivery out of high school, but those have largely been cleaned up over the course of his college career.
Cole begins on the extreme first base side of rubber and generates the bulk of his energy through his lower half. He achieves elite levels of hip rotation, the main reason he throws so hard. He's smoothed out his stride compared to a few years ago. Once Cole would land a bit closed and could over-stride, making it harder for him to get up over his front him during his follow through. This season Cole seems to have made a conscious effort to land more in line with the plate, increasing his hip rotation even further, and helping his command. This relatively simple change in the position of his plant foot has helped make him more effecient and productive. It's terrific news, and goes a long way in aleviating a concern I once had. Now Cole uses his lower half very, very well.
Cole's arm action is relatively simple and has gotten increasingly smooth over the past couple years. He reverse rotates his shoulders slightly and gets to the pick up phase of his delivery very well. Cole shows very good timing. He gets the ball up into the driveline in time to make full use of his powerful kinetic chain.
It was easy to notice the massive amount of recoil Cole had in his follow through during his high school and even early college career. The improvement in straightening his stride has allowed him to direct more of his energies to propelling the ball towards homeplate. More energy in the ball means less left in the arm. Less energy in the arm means less recoil. You can see that improvement in Cole. Recoil is a major injury red flag; he does that much less now.
Cole is by no means bullet proof. Any pitcher who throws as hard as he does generates a ton of force. That in and of itself increases the risk of injury. However Cole shows specific efficiencies in his delivery that suggest he handles those forces better than most. All in all, I see Cole's injury risk as average at worst and likely somewhat below average.
Cole has struck out 25.3% of batters he's faced this so far year while walking just 4.9%. His numbers, while good, belie how excellent his stuff it. He is an aggressive strike thrower who's not afraid to pitch to contact. It's rare, but I wouldn't be shocked to see his strikeout numbers to go up in pro ball.
He has big league ready stuff and a deep arsenal with three above-average pitches. He can beat you with velocity or finesse. He's outwardly competitive and aggressive on the mound. He throws strikes and isn't afraid to challenge any hitter he faces.
Gerrit Cole might be the only pitcher who has true ace upside in the 2011 Draft. If he stays healthy and reaches his potential, it's not a stretch to see him as one of the game's dominant hurlers and a perennial Cy Young contender. Even in an absolute worst case scenario -- health permitting -- he's still a pretty good big league pitcher.
Cole is as good as any pitching prospect in recent years. He stacks up with the Strasburgs, Taillons and David Prices of the world. Heck, considering the fact that I see him as less of an injury risk at the same stage I'd probably take Cole over Strasburg at the same point in their careers. Cole is a legit 1 or 1A prospect in this, or any, draft class. For me, he'll immediately be one of the 10 best prospects in all of baseball the minute he signs.