Should the Pirates Look Beyond Rendon and Cole?

Should the Pirates consider someone other than Rendon or Cole?

There have been a lot of concerns brought up about Anthony Rendon this year.  The Rice third baseman – or should I say designated hitter, since he hasn’t played much third base this year – is hitting for a .350/.552/.552 line, with the main downside being a lack of power (4 homers in 143 at-bats).

There have been a lot of issues surrounding Rendon.  He suffered major ankle injuries in back to back seasons heading in to this year, and has been held off the field this year with a shoulder injury.  That combination has people questioning whether he can stay healthy.  There’s also the lack of power, which is hard to get a read on for a few reasons.  First of all, the NCAA has new bats this year, which have taken power down across the league.  Second, Rendon has been pitched around a lot, walking in almost one out of three plate appearances on the year, including 37% of the time in the month of April.

The questions surrounding Rendon have some moving in to the Gerrit Cole camp.  Keith Law of ESPN has been the loudest, and I believe the only, supporter of taking Cole over Rendon.  That’s been enough to get some Pirates fans on board.  And why not?  The Pirates have three potential ace pitchers in the system with Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie, and Luis Heredia.  Cole would add a fourth arm, and is more of a guarantee than any of those three.  After his first eight starts, he had a 1.74 ERA, a 0.75 WHIP, a 10.1 K/9, and a 5.8 K/BB ratio.

Things have changed with Cole over the last three starts.  In those starts, he’s combined to allow 18 runs in 18.2 innings, including seven runs in 4.1 innings last night, with six coming in the fifth inning.  Aaron Fitt of Baseball America watched Cole last night, and has a great report on his struggles.  Fitt mentions that Cole was still throwing 95-97, and touching 98.  He mentioned that his slider looked good, and that his change-up got a strikeout early in the game.  There have been reports that Cole is leaving his stuff up in the zone, making him more susceptible to getting hit hard in the last few starts.

It would be hypocritical of me to raise concern over three bad starts for Cole, especially after remaining on Team Rendon throughout his struggles.  Just like with Rendon, we have to look at the talent level, and look at whether the struggles are a long term issue.  Cole obviously has the talent, and his last three starts haven’t been any different, outside of what is being called a temporary mechanical flaw, which is causing him to leave the ball up in the zone.

The big problem I have with Cole, and this is my problem with any college pitcher, is the pitch counts.  That’s a situation that has only been exasperated in his last three starts.  I recently added an area on the Gerrit Cole tracker that lists his average pitches per inning.  Cole has been extremely efficient at times, keeping it under 13 pitches per inning, even in complete games.  However, there have been some alarming starts, and last night was the worst.  Cole threw 110 pitches in less than five innings last night.  That’s 25.4 pitches per inning.  For some perspective, the Pirates will pull a prospect if he throws 30-35 pitches in an inning, regardless of what inning he is in, all to prevent damage to the arm.

So the question is: which player do you take?  Do the recent issues with Cole, as well as the high pitch counts, have you back on Rendon’s side?  Do Rendon’s struggles at the plate this year, along with his injury history, have you ignoring Cole’s recent struggles?  Or perhaps option C?  Go with someone other than Rendon or Cole?

It’s not like this draft is without talent beyond those two players.  In fact, there are two players who have stepped up as strong top five candidates behind Rendon and Cole.  The first is left handed pitcher Danny Hultzen, from the University of Virginia.  Hultzen currently has a 1.19 ERA in 75.2 innings, with a 112:12 K/BB ratio.  For a comparison, Cole has an 81:15 K/BB ratio, also in 75.2 innings.  Hultzen throws 92-93 MPH, and touched 96 earlier this year.  He also has a great change-up, so there’s a good chance he remains a starter.

The there’s Bubba Starling, a prep outfielder who has been described as a freak athlete.  He throws 94 MPH as a pitcher, and is a five tool athlete as an outfielder.  As an outfielder, he’s been mentioned in the same conversations as guys like Mike Trout, who was drafted out of the high school ranks in 2009, and is currently the best prospect in baseball.  The one downside is that Starling has a commitment to be the quarterback with Nebraska, making him a tough sign.  I also hesitate with two sport athletes, as it would be easy for them to switch sports during the first signs of struggles.

Hultzen has been putting up better numbers than Gerrit Cole this year, although he doesn’t have the upper 90s stuff.  Starling is an outstanding athlete, although he would be further away than Rendon, Cole, or Hultzen.  The question is, do you take Hultzen or Starling over Rendon or Cole?  I guess that really depends on what you’re looking for.

If you’re only basing your draft decision on the 2011 numbers, then you should definitely take Hultzen first overall.  The problem is, you would be wrong.  The draft isn’t about taking the player with the best numbers that year.  It’s about taking the player who projects to be the best going forward.  That’s a decision that has to be made on a large amount of data, and not based on a small sample size, which is exactly what we’re going with Rendon and Cole.

Cole has struggled for three starts, but he still has better stuff than Hultzen.  Rendon has had a down year, but we know from previous years that he has power and that he can play strong defense at third base.  The big issue here is that people want to be comfortable with the first overall pick.  It’s easier to be comfortable with a guy who is putting up strong numbers.  But do you take a less talented player all so you can feel better in the short term?  Or do you take the guy with more talent, which gives you the better chance of success in the long term?  I think that answer is obvious.

It’s for this reason that I’ve never left the Anthony Rendon bandwagon.  He was the best pick in the draft heading in to the season, and according to most, still is the best choice.  He’s having a down year, but this isn’t the only year in his career we have to go by.  He’s already displayed the ability to hit for power, as well as strong defense on the field.  If we were only grading him on his 2011 performance, we could ignore these skills.  The fact is, Rendon is being graded on his entire body of work, which is why I can’t ignore the fact that he’s already demonstrated the ability to hit for power and play defense.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steve-Zielinski/100000181161454 Steve Zielinski

    Rendon’s injuries and lack of power this year make me uncomfortable. But his hitting in the past and reports about his approach at the plate suggest that he’s less of a risk than, say, Starling. Sometimes it’s wise to draft baseball players instead of athletes.

    I also prefer college hitters to college pitchers. So, I remain in the Rendon camp.

  • Anonymous

    Let me guess who his agent is….

    • Anonymous

      Remember when a Vanderbilt 3b had decreased production his senior year due to injury. Now that player (savior) is manning the position for the Buccos and has hit a whopping 1 Hr. well at least he hits for average, wait, at least he fields well, wait at least he climbs over tarps well. Rendon is a risk – not playing in the field, power numbers non-existent with new bats.

      • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

        You know what I love about baseball? You only need to see a player struggle for one month to completely write him off at the age of 24.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steve-Zielinski/100000181161454 Steve Zielinski

          At times I get the impression that some fans enjoy seeing players fail. That statement may not be true about panthers0717, but I wonder about some when I come across them crapping on this or that guy when the player is struggling.

  • Anonymous

    I say scrap it all cut McCutchen demote Pedro call up Alex Pressly and Josh Harrison to take their places. Then lets draft the best college HR hitter and maybe even make him a pitcher. Hey if a guy can’t hit in 20 or so games he sucks ;)

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OGCKUSO5MA5VUCJHW2YSJ2K3TM Bob

      You can’t be serious.

      • Anonymous

        Serious as Rashard Mendenhall in a mosque. While were at it they can put resop in the rotation move Ohlendorf to the backend of the pen(I actually do like this) , see if walker can play SS, get Jack Wilson in trade to play 2b ;)

  • Anonymous

    But seriously that pitch count thing with the college guys really scares me. And its has nothing to do with tommy john. Tommy john is like 8 month brush burn anymore(good as new). the diminished velocity is what really kills these guys. Right Brad Lincoln. Hate to look back at that draft(because he was seen as a legit pick at 4 then I believe) but knowing the heavy pitch workload in college coulda been a red flag and possibly had them pick Kershaw or Lincecum. AHH I hate my damn memory

    • F Lang

      I wanted Tim Lincecum and loved his makeup and stuff. We go scared away by his slight size and stature plain and simple. He was a better prospect obviously than Lincoln…who promptly blew out his arm. Bad luck and bad decision from the gutless previous fron office.

      • F Lang

        I actually wanted Longoria but he went the pick before. You’d like to believe Littlefield would have at least been smart enough to pick Longoria but I don’t know…I wanted him on the Bucs so bad…especially because at that time I thought he might be able to be a SS. I’d take Longo at SS over Cedeno!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TQC5HKTKJ52MK7PN2CBR4JIWYQ Kevin

    Bradley from Ga Tech should be in the mix for #1.

  • Anonymous

    Tim…….I’m with you 100%. Take Rendon. Like you, overuse of pitchers in college scare me a lot.

    As for K-dro, his struggles have been for longer than a month. He’s had one good month, the ‘dreaded’ hot Sept.

    ………..

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TQC5HKTKJ52MK7PN2CBR4JIWYQ Kevin

    How does Rendon’s power rank compared to Jarek Cunningham? They are similar in age. Also, they were both mid-round picks in 2008 as SS’s. One moved to 3B and the other to 2B. Obviously one signed and one didn’t.

    Does Rendon have more power than Cunningham? If so, is it by a large amount?

  • Anonymous

    Right now I want Rendon first and Starling is closing in on being my number one pick wish list. Something about him being a total athlete intrigues me. Insurance on him is that if he is the number 1 pick, I bet he signs, but if he does not, then we get next years #2 pick. I think a guy like Starling won’t sign if he is drafted anything below 5. Of all the players, he has the most upside and I could see him being the steal of the draft after he pans out.

  • Anonymous

    Hey Tim, I believe this is the last year of allowing overslot signings. Does this have any impact on who we take #1? Correct me if i’m wrong.

  • F Lang

    Rendon’s lack of power with the new bats and injury history are disturbing but he is a feared player almost in the way that Bonds was during the ‘roid years. Opposing managers literally will not pitch to Rendon because they know how good he is. This is highly uncommon and shows that he is a special guy. I think if you believe he can hit 20HR and .310 every year you take him because he is surely going to give you 30+ doubles and 75+ walks every year. That makes him Michael Young with better on base ability. That is fine with me. I do like Cole and Hultzen though. Hultzen being a lefty with good velo and change would be nice to pop in the rotation at PNC in 2013.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TQC5HKTKJ52MK7PN2CBR4JIWYQ Kevin

    A HS RHP has never been the 1st overall pick. And there might be a good reason for that.

    That being said I don’t think there is any doubt that Dylan Bundy is a better prospect than Gerrit Cole. With Cole my concern has always been that he pitches as if he’s at the county fair. It’s all about velocity.

    http://www.perfectgame.org/Articles/View.aspx?article=5548

    http://baseballbeginnings.com/2010/07/12/dylan-bundy-video

    Given the opportunity I would be comfortable selecting Bundy #1. overall.

    If I had to pick a “demographic” I’d go with a college hitter. If I had to pick a player I’d go with a 6 foot HS RHP.