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Prospect Notebook: Cole Reflects on Futures Game, Colla Incorporates Long Toss

Gerrit Cole has always been a starter, so when he was asked to warm up in the bullpen in the first inning of the MLB Futures game on Sunday, it was a little strange for the right-hander.

“It was weird,” Cole said. “I think it was weird for everybody. We had 10 starters and I don’t think anybody knew what to do. I was up and down twice. It was just awkward. It’s an exhibition game, you just go out there and really just try to throw fuzz and get outs.”

Throwing fuzz is exactly what the Pirates first overall pick in the 2011 draft did. Cole hit triple digits while pitching for Team USA at Kauffman Stadium. The righty allowed two runs on a walk, home run and whiffed two.

Cole, along with Jameson Taillon, represented the Pirates organization in the game in which Team USA beat Team World 17-5. The media attention was much different at the Futures game than what he saw on Monday in Altoona. Cole left Kansas City at 6:00 am, flew into Pittsburgh and arrived to the ballpark in time to throw a bullpen session while the Curve won their final game before the All-Star break. Cole didn’t get much sleep, but cracked a smile when talking about the experience.

“It was an awesome experience,” Cole said. There was a great buzz at the ballpark. It was a lot of fun…Rollie Fingers stopped in the dugout, Bo Jackson was in there, George Brett. There’s a lot of Hall of Famers, a lot of good players there.”

Growing up, Cole was a big fan of Bernie Williams, and got the opportunity to meet him.

“I watched him all the time,” Cole said. “A couple of the other guys are a little too old for me. You just hear all the stories about them and it was really cool to see them.”

The hard throwing right-hander will start the third game after the break for Double-A on June 14 in Akron. Cole said he plans on heading to the lake to relax with some of his teammates on the off day on Tuesday before gearing up for the team practice on Wednesday and getting ready for the second half to kick off.

Cole made three starts since being promoted from High-A Bradenton. He’s allowed six earned runs over 11.2 innings with 13 strikeouts. In his second start at the Double-A level, Cole was hit in the jaw by a line drive. Although he exited his outing early, Cole didn’t miss his next scheduled start. He underwent tests and was fortunately just diagnosed with a bruise. Cole said on Monday that his neck is still a little sore, but other than that is not having any other setbacks.

The top prospect is looking forward to getting the second-half started, where he is looking to continue to his progression to the Majors. Cole posted a 2.55 ERA over 67.0 innings in high-A before being promoted to Altoona. Although the level has more talented players, Cole said his approach is the same.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” Cole said. “I’m healthy. No problems, no complaints. Just kind of looking forward of getting past getting moved up and the All-Star break. Just getting more consecutive starts in a row… It’s the same game as long as I just go out and be myself. Everything just seems to work out.”

“You kind of have to pay more attention to approaches here, better hitters. But other than that, I just got to get out there and pitch my game really and I’ll be alright.”

 

Colla Added Muscle, Incorporates Long Toss

Mike Colla has put up impressive numbers since moving into the bullpen with the Curve this season. The right-hander was moved into the starting rotation in late April in 2011 and finished strong. Colla posted a 3.70 ERA and ranked fifth in the Eastern League in WHIP.

With Phil Irwin and Kyle McPherson on the disabled list out of spring training, and Gerri Cole working in Bradenton, Colla made four starts at the beginning of the year. He moved back to the bullpen when the organization decided to stretch Tim Alderson back out as a starter.

“It was predetermined in spring training actually,” Colla said. “I was originally going to be a bullpen guy, but Altoona needed some help in terms of the rotation so I kind of filled in spots there. I didn’t know how long I’d be in the rotation for, but I kind of had the plan that I’d be going back in the bullpen at some point.”

Colla has posted just a 1.33 ERA with two saves over 16 games out of the bullpen. He’s struck out 23 batters over 27.0 innings and is holding opponents to a .219 average.

“I like both,” Colla said on which role he enjoyed more.”In relief, you don’t have to think as much. You get the ball whenever you get your named called and do what you’ve got to do. I like the routine aspect of starting as well.”

Over the offseason, Colla worked out back home in Fresno, California, in order to add some muscle to his frame. The 6′ 2″ right-hander bulked up to 226 pounds, and attributes that, along with an individual long toss throwing program, to his success so far this year.

“Me and Duke [Welker] started throwing a little bit more in terms of long toss when he was here,” Colla said. “It carried over when Jeff Inman came here, we started to do long toss as well. I think that’s helped a lot. I think getting a little bit bigger in the offseason has helped me maintain, but I think it’s just the combination of both really.”

While Colla has added an individual long toss program, he’s not close to Tim Alderson yet.

“A little bit less then [Alderson]. He’s like 450 feet. I don’t think I’m that far yet.”

 

Welch Continues Hot Bat With Curve

Stefan Welch started off the first few weeks of the season slow with the High-A Bradenton Marauders. The first baseman hit just .182 over the first two weeks before picking up steam in the month of May. Welch put him self together a 16 game hitting streak from April 28-May 14 which sky rocketed his average to .298. The infielder hit himself out of High-A ball and into the next level with a promotion on June 14.

“I worked with the hitting coach [Kory DeHaan] in Bradenton,” Welch said. “Just the little things, just trying to get set earlier, see the ball better. It started off pretty rough and I was just trying to keep it simple and have fun really.”

“I just wasn’t seeing it well and swing at bad pitches.”

Since joining Altoona, Welch has hit for a .371/.483/.600 line over 22 games. He also came up clutch in the Curve’s walkoff win on Monday before the All-Star break. Welch connected for a pinch-hit RBI single to tie the game at 2-2 before Brock Holt hit the walkoff hit.

Welch has already hit 12 home runs this season, four since joining Double-A. He’s also drawn more walks (15) than strikeouts (13) while at the Double-A level.

“I’m doing okay,” Welch said modestly. “I think pitchers have more control of their off-speed stuff. I’m getting more of the off-speed stuff compared to in Bradenton where it’s more fastballs…Up and down. Just trying to help the team win and do what I can.”

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