Pirates scouts sold on 'big, intense' right-hander's ability as team once again opts for pitcher by taking UCLA starter with No. 1 pick
Tuesday, June 07, 2011
By Bill Brink, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Cole, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-hander whose fastball can hit 100 mph, became the second consecutive pitcher the Pirates chose with their first-round pick.
"He's big, he's physical, he's competitive, he's intense, he's intelligent," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said in a conference call from team headquarters in Bradenton, Fla.
Cole said in a conference call that he found out about three minutes before the draft that the Pirates would choose him.
"Obviously one of the most memorable phone calls I've ever received," he said.
Cole is 6-8 this season with a 3.31 ERA, twice taking perfect games into the seventh inning. He moved into second place on UCLA's career strikeout list with 376. Last summer, he played for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team and went 2-0 with a 0.72 ERA in five games. A 20-year-old from Santa Ana, Calif., he won 11 games for the Bruins in 2010, striking out 153 batters in 123 innings.
Cole's numbers suffered this season compared to his previous standards, and his teammate, pitcher Trevor Bauer, compiled better statistics, but Huntington said Cole's future projection outweighed the present results.
"Our focus is selecting the player that we believe is going to be the best for the organization two, four, six, eight, 10 years from now," Huntington said. "Gerrit has the makings of three above-average major league pitches."
The Diamondbacks selected Bauer with the third pick.
Cole said he did his best to ignore the speculation about draft position.
"I didn't really let it get to me or affect me very much," he said. "I just control what I can control and let the teams do the evaluation."
The Yankees drafted Cole in the first round out of Orange Lutheran High School in 2008, but Cole opted for college. He did not take a loss in his first three high school seasons.
"There's a lot of different aspects of the game that I've fine-tuned," since the 2008 draft, Cole said.
In addition to his fastball, which routinely sits in the mid- to high-90s, he throws a hard slider, a changeup and a two-seam fastball in the low 90s.
Those pitches sold the Pirates, who observed Cole's performances at UCLA closely.
"Collectively with our scouting staff, we did not miss a start," scouting director Greg Smith said in the conference call. "I got multiple looks at him, as did our leadership group."
Agent Scott Boras is advising Cole. Boras represents Pedro Alvarez, and negotiations got tense between the two sides after the Pirates chose Alvarez in the first round in 2008. Huntington had said that a player's representative would not affect who the Pirates drafted.
"Signability is an issue with every player that comes off the board in the first round," Huntington said. "We're going to fight to find a common ground that makes sense for both sides. And we believe at the end of the day we'll get a deal done."
The Pirates selected two high school pitchers, Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie, in the first and second round of the 2010 draft. The Pirates gave Taillon a $6.5 million bonus, the largest in club history, and signed Mexican right-hander Luis Heredia to a $2.6 million bonus as well.
The Pirates will spend heavily again this year: The previous two No. 1 overall picks, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals, earned huge contracts and signing bonuses. Harper, taken first overall in 2010, signed a $9.9 million contract with a $6.25 million bonus, and Strasburg signed a $15.1 million contract with a $7.5 million bonus as the No. 1 pick the year before.
Boras represents Harper and Strasburg as well, but no one in this year's draft was as highly regarded as those two. The price, which the Pirates and Cole have until Aug. 15 to agree upon, will still be high.
The Pirates bypassed Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon, who was considered the top hitter in the draft. A sore shoulder has kept Rendon from playing the field as much this spring, but Huntington said a multitude of factors caused the Pirates to select Cole instead.
"There was nothing in Anthony's record that changed our willingness to draft him or not," Huntington said.
The Pirates also considered Virginia pitcher Danny Hultzen and high school outfielder Bubba Starling, but chose Cole, hoping that at some point in the near future he can take the mound at PNC Park.
"You got Roberto Clemente, great city, great ballpark," Cole said of Pittsburgh. "Lots of history, lots of tradition. Steelers, obviously. I've heard it's a great place to play, great environment, fans are unbelievable."
Cole was the Pirates' only pick Monday because the team did not have any compensation picks. The Pirates will make their next pick, the 61st, when the draft resumes at noon today.
Bill Brink: email@example.com.
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Pirates make power move
By Kevin Gorman, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
The Pirates have stockpiled power arms in the past two drafts, loading up on flamethrowers in hopes of finding a future ace, knowing it's the one thing they cannot afford to attract in the free-agent market. It's why they took a pitcher in the first round for the 12th time in the past 16 drafts.
"Pitching is a game of attrition, unfortunately," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said soon after choosing Cole. "You can never have too much of it. It's the most valuable commodity in our game."
By adding Cole, the Pirates are sending notice to former first-rounders Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Tony Sanchez, as well as Jose Tabata, that top-of-rotation talent is on the way. They also are giving promising prospects Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie and Luis Heredia the necessary time to polish their pitching repertoire.
Mostly, the Pirates shot for the stars.
The safe pick, baseball analysts agreed, would have been Virginia left-hander Danny Hultzen, who went to Seattle with the second pick. Sure, Hultzen has superior statistics to Cole, who finished 6-8 with a 3.31 earned-run average, 119 strikeouts and 24 walks and a .242 opponent batting average this season for the Bruins. Hultzen is 10-3 with 136 strikeouts and 16 walks this season, numbers eerily similar to a former Pirates No. 1 overall pick who was 11-3 with 139 strikeouts and 18 walks in 2002:
Remember Bryan Bullington?
That's not to suggest Cole will be a star and Hultzen a bust, or the other way around. But the Pirates had a scout at every one of Cole's games since January, saw the mechanical flaw in his delivery, saw his pitching plan and saw him getting battered around and still didn't flinch in selecting him first.
"If we were focused on taking the player who performed the best this year, you're right, there might have been other options," Huntington said. "We felt (Cole) has the biggest impact potentially for us of anybody on the board."
As we learned with Bullington, No. 1 overall is no place to play it safe. But Anthony Rendon's sore shoulder was scary enough that five other teams skipped on the Rice third baseman, who went to the Washington Nationals sixth overall. And, contrary to popular belief, the Pirates' system is short on pitching.
Hultzen might make it to the majors faster, but the Pirates were charmed with Cole. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder has three above-average pitches, touching 100 mph on his four-seam fastball, and the Pirates believe he has a higher ceiling. You should love that Cole was a 2008 first-round pick who opted for college instead of signing with the Yankees. The Pirates love that he relished his role of pitching in the Pac-10 on Friday nights, developing a dangerous changeup and a promising slider under John Savage at UCLA.
"One of the things that we really stressed with our scouting staff and certainly in our draft room down here is our vision to see down the road and see what the biggest impact can be when you look at the crystal ball," Pirates scouting director Greg Smith said.
"When you look at Gerrit, the physical side, the strength, not only the weapons he has now but what we think can be harnessed going forward and can be helped and improved going forward. There's a lot of things where you like the ingredients, the makeup to be a starting pitcher down the road."
The Pirates now have the potential to pair Cole and Taillon at the top of the rotation, along with Charlie Morton and James McDonald or Allie and Heredia. When it comes to pitching, they have plenty of possibilities.
That's not even taking into consideration that the Pirates still have lefty Rudy Owens and righties Brad Lincoln and Bryan Morris at Triple-A Indianapolis, even if they project as middle-of-rotation or bullpen types.
That's why Huntington was talking about having options and depth. He has the flexibility to finally start making deals the way the Philadelphia Phillies did, using former first-rounder Kyle Drabek as the key to the Doc Deal that brought ace Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays in December 2009.
That's a concern for tomorrow, one that can't be considered until after the Pirates pay the ransom it takes for super agent Scott Boras to convince his client to sign. Today, we should celebrate that the Pirates made the bold pick, staring at the ceiling instead of focusing on the bottom line.
Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
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UCLA's Cole makes pitch to be Pirates' top pick
Coach calls big, powerful right-hander 'a special, special arm'
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Friday, May 06, 2011
LOS ANGELES -- No one in the nation, not instructors, not scouts, has a better feel for the pitching of UCLA flamethrower Gerrit Cole than the young man on the receiving end.
So, amid all the reports that trail any prospect with a chance to be the No. 1 pick in Major League Baseball's amateur draft -- which belongs to the Pirates June 6 -- perhaps the most important evaluation comes from a single word uttered through the mask of catcher Steve Rodriguez.
That happens when Cole puts all of his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame and golden right arm into a darting, 98-mph fastball that can look unfair at the collegiate level.
"I've learned how to handle it over the years because I've been catching most of his games and bullpens since our freshman year," Rodriguez said. "But, man, there are still times, because of his movement, where it'll hit the wrong part of the glove, and I really feel it."
There is more to Cole than the fastball that stays in the range of 93-96 mph and registers a strike 68 percent of the time. He has a curve with a heavy finishing break. He has an 88-mph slider, about 2 mph harder than most in the majors. And, in the past few months, he has found a changeup that one American League scout recently compared to the trademark pitch of the New York Mets' Johan Santana.
Some even compare Cole to Stephen Strasburg, the once-in-a-generation pitching phenom taken No. 1 overall by the Washington Nationals two years ago.
Thing is, Strasburg needed elbow surgery shortly thereafter, a painful reminder of how unpredictable pitching can be.
What makes Cole most popular on the UCLA campus, apparently, is that he is focused only on the Bruins, not the Pirates, Seattle Mariners, Arizona Diamondbacks or any other team that might draft him. To that end, Cole declined an interview request from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, just as he had from the Seattle Times, Arizona Republic and New York Times.
That is unusual for an elite prospect. The other clear candidate for No. 1, Rice University third baseman Anthony Rendon, is being interviewed by publications nationwide, even basement-run blogs. And it might suggest that Cole has trouble handling pressure.
Not so, those closest to him insist.
"Gerrit's handled this well, and that's because he's been through it," UCLA coach John Savage said, referring to Cole having been drafted by the New York Yankees in 2008 before choosing college. "You're talking about someone who's had a lot thrown at him for a 20-year-old junior."
The Yankees took Cole, a native of Santa Ana, Calif., in the first round, 27th overall. But, even though he grew up and remains a fan of baseball's most successful franchise -- as a child, his picture appeared in the Newark Star-Ledger holding up a sign reading, "I'm a Yankee forever!" -- he rejected them.
"That still amazes me," Savage said. "But he's close with his family, and they knew this was best."
Cole is a team captain, and teammates call him a vocal leader.
"He's one of the best," Rodriguez said. "He wants to see our team succeed more than himself. You can see that with how he cheers for us when he's not pitching. I don't ever hear him talk about the draft."
"It's a major challenge," Savage said. "Our draft is like no other, at the end of our regular season but before the College World Series. And, being here in L.A., there's tons of media, autograph requests, a mock draft every other week from Baseball America or ESPN ... you'd better have blinders on."
There also are "minimum 15-20 scouts watching every game," Savage said. That includes, he added, the Pirates attending all his starts this season.
Cole has a 3.45 ERA in 11 starts this season, back-to-back perfect games carried into the seventh inning March 4 and 11, complete games April 1 and 8, and 81 strikeouts with only 15 walks in 76 innings. For his career, his ERA is 3.25, and his 338 strikeouts are second on UCLA's all-time list.
But not all has gone smoothly. As a freshman, Cole went 4-8 despite a 3.49 ERA and took it hard.
"Being able to taste failure, it makes you kind of want to throw up," Cole told Baseball America last month. "It makes you just hate the game."
He soon rediscovered the love and, this spring, found a new level. With improved conditioning and better use of his lower body for torque, his command of the fastball increased and the changeup went from complementary to "plus-plus," a scout's highest grade.
Nothing has impressed Savage more than the endurance.
"He sits in that 93-96 range the whole game," Savage said. "Sometimes, there's even a spike. He holds his velocity unlike anybody I've ever seen. It's just a special, special arm."
That also was because some extra effort was removed from his delivery upon leaving high school.
"There's a flow now. He came to us as an arm that could strike people out. Now, he's a pitcher."
As for the Strasburg comparisons ...
"This is a different delivery, arm action, pitches ... when I see Cole, I don't think of Strasburg. And dominance-wise, he's not quite there."
That has shown of late: Cole has been tagged with 18 runs in his past three starts, all losses. After the most recent start a week ago, he fired his cap into a trash can outside UCLA's locker room.
"I don't have any answers," Cole told reporters that night. "The overall goal this year was to pound the zone. I've been getting ahead of guys. It's just that the ball's getting hit around the park."
Savage dismissed it as a minor matter of not pitching inside enough. Cole's stuff and velocity have been just as sharp as early in the season.
Most services rank Rice's Rendon the No. 1 draft prospect, and there is cause: After a slow start from offseason ankle surgery, he is batting .286 with four home runs and an astonishing .552 on-base percentage, fueled by pitchers avoiding him for an NCAA-high 62 walks. He also is superb defensively.
Still, there are concerns about two major ankle injuries, a sore shoulder that has limited his duty to designated hitter much of this season, and a smallish 6-foot, 180-pound frame that might make him injury prone.
Baseball America editor Jim Callis consistently has ranked Rendon first, though he recently acknowledged that "Cole is making a push" at No. 2. ESPN's Keith Law has it the other way, calling comparisons between Cole and Strasburg "reasonable" and writing two weeks ago that "there is absolutely no question" Cole is No. 1.
The Pirates are not commenting on any specifics of their No. 1 pick, but they are known to be focusing heavily on these two, while still not ruling out others. There is internal concern about Rendon's physical stature and health, and there is concern about Cole simply because he is a pitcher.
Both are represented by super-agent Scott Boras, meaning they will command top dollar. That is certain to be $10 million and up, which would be the greatest one-time expenditure in franchise history, and it presents this choice:
The team can go for the position player, with history showing he is more likely to contribute in some capacity in the majors. Third baseman Jeff King, the Pirates' No. 1 overall pick in 1986, was an example of a serviceable if unspectacular player. If Rendon turns out great, so much the better.
Or the team can prioritize pitching, as the Pirates did last year with Jameson Taillon at No. 2 overall. The Pirates have posited consistently that nothing is harder to acquire than elite starting pitching prospects, and Cole would be added to Taillon, Luis Heredia and Stetson Allie.
Neal Huntington, the Pirates' general manager, said the team's approach will not change at No. 1.
"Our philosophy is to take the player we like the most at the time of our selection," Huntington said. "We have approached the past three drafts with that philosophy, and we will attack the fourth draft with the same philosophy."
Savage bristled at the notion that Cole would be a health risk.
"He's never missed a start at UCLA, and his delivery has only gotten cleaner," Savage said. "My own view is that he's a guy who wants to be in the majors in just a few months, and he'll get there. The evolution of Gerrit Cole is only halfway to where it's going to be."
Dejan Kovacevic: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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