Top Pirates pitching prospect Gerrit Cole will make his Major League debut Tuesday Night at PNC Park. Cole and the Bucs will face pitcher Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco Giants in the first game of the homestand.
Cole was drafted by Pittsburgh with the number one overall pick in the 2011 draft out of UCLA. In his first professional season last year, Cole made 26 starts among the Pirates’ High-A, Double-A and Triple-A teams. The right-hander collected a 2.80 ERA, 136 strikeouts and 45 walks over 132 innings, mostly between Bradenton and Altoona.
He entered this year as Baseball America’s No. 7 overall prospect and MLB.com’s No. 9 prospect, both the highest ranking in the Pirates system. Cole earned a 2.91 ERA, 47 strikeouts and 28 walks in 68 innings for Triple-A Indianapolis. While he has not dominated, failing to strike out more than five hitters in any one outing, Cole has pitched seven shutout innings in each of his last two starts. Since the start of May, he owns a Triple-A-best 0.90 WHIP.
The Pirates control the rights of the 22-year-old pitcher through the 2019 season. Cole’s service time clock will start on June 11 when he will be added to the team’s 25-man roster. The projected cutoff for Super Two status, under which Cole would be arbitration-eligible after the 2015 season, is 2.119. Even if he stays with the team for the rest of the season, front office executives spoken to by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review do not believe Cole will reach Super Two status.
Tim Williams believes Cole will stay on the Pirates for good in 2013. If he returns to the minor leagues, he would burn one of his three option years.
Cole is the highest-ranked pitching prospect Pittsburgh has had since fellow No. 1 pick Kris Benson was rated No. 7 by Baseball America in 1998. He has a top-level fastball that sits in the mid-90s and can touch 100 miles per hour. Cole’s second-best pitch is a slider that can make hitters swing and miss in addition to a good changeup. He has the look of a workhorse at 6-foot-4, 240 pounds and has No. 1 starter potential.
There are still weaknesses to Cole’s game, including fastball command that can be troublesome, especially when pitching from the stretch. This season he his holding hitters to a .171 average with the bases empty but a .225 average with runners on. The numbers were similar last year: .216 average with the bases empty and .249 with men on base.
The addition of Cole to the Pirates rotation should be very exciting, as he will become the first No. 1 overall pick to start for the Pirates in his MLB debut since Benson did so in 1999. If Cole stays with the team beyond his first start, as expected, he joins a rotation of A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano and Jeff Locke, with the team still figuring out when Charlie Morton or Wandy Rodriguez will return to the mound.