Most of the hype coming out of the Arizona Fall League for Pittsburgh Pirates prospects has been dominated by Robbie Grossman. The outfield prospect is either leading, or is in the top five of every offensive category, posting a .375/.474/.615 line in 96 at-bats. However, the latest talk has been focused on Gerrit Cole, who is also impressing scouts in the AFL.
Danny Knobler of CBS Sports has a very positive update on Cole, quoting a scout as saying that Cole’s fastball was better than Stephen Strasburg’s. The scout, who was not in the Pirates’ organization, also mentioned that Cole’s fastball was as live as he had seen, dating back to Nolan Ryan, and that Cole could have gotten major league hitters out on that day.
We heard a lot of Cole/Strasburg comparisons earlier in the year, mostly coming from Keith Law. The basis of those comparisons seemed to be fastball related, with Cole hitting 100-101 MPH, and sitting 98 MPH in the 8th and 9th innings after 100+ pitches. Cole also has a plus slider and a changeup that has graded as a plus pitch at times, which only adds to his arsenal.
The big question that has been asked ever since Cole signed his $8 M deal with the Pirates is: when will he arrive in the majors. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Cole start out in high-A next year, if only to avoid the cold April in Altoona. I’d expect to see him in Altoona by June. From there the question comes up again: how soon until he is in the majors?
Cole has great stuff, although he could use some work polishing up his pitches. He had some issues elevating his fastball during his junior year, which made his stuff hittable. The Pirates have been working with him, making a few minor changes to get the ball down. Those changes have also added some movement to his fastball. His changeup rated as a plus pitch throughout the 2011 season at UCLA, although it was inconsistent at times, and could use some work.
I’ve always pegged Cole for a June 2013 debut, giving him plenty of time to work on his pitches. But what if he is absolutely dominant to start the season? Could we see him up in 2012? The playing time in the Arizona Fall League certainly helps his progression, but I would still be surprised if he arrives in 2012. Unless the Pirates are competitive again this July, I don’t see him arriving that quickly, mostly because I don’t see the Pirates calling him up for the final months of a losing season. Whether they keep him down in AAA for two months in 2013 to avoid Super Two status is another question.