Gerrit Cole Showing He May Be Worth All the Hype

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Gerrit Cole

Jun 11, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) delivers a pitch against the San Francisco Giants during the fourth inning at PNC Park. The Pittsburgh Pirates won 8-2. Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Gerrit Cole is a name we may have to get used to hearing. He was the number one pick in the 2011 MLB draft at 20 years old and he came with a lot of hype—now we’re seeing the talent behind the hype.

In 2008, at the age of 17, he was drafted in the first round of the draft by the New York Yankees with the 28th overall pick. With an opportunity like that, many thought he would forgo college and sign with the organization, especially since he was represented by high-powered agent Scott Boras. Cole, however, chose to take advantage of a college scholarship from UCLA. He went on to play three years  there. He ranks second at UCLA in career strikeouts with 376, third in career games started with 49, and fifth in career innings with 322.1. He is third on UCLA’s single-season strikeout list with 153, and is the only player in UCLA history to reach 100 strikeouts in each of three seasons. He also helped lead the Bruins to the 2010 College World Series. (h/t UCLA)

With numbers like that, it’s no surprise that Pittsburgh was willing to use the number one overall pick on him in the 2011 draft, and invest an $8 million signing bonus in him.

He would spend the end of 2011 playing in five games for the Solar Sox during the fall league in Arizona. He finished with a 2-0 record, 3.00 ERA, 16 strikeouts, four walks and only one home run allowed.

In his first full season in 2012, Cole truly began his ascent. After reporting to Pirates spring training as a non-roster invitee, he was optioned to the minor leagues with Pittsburgh’s Class A affiliate, the Bradenton Marauders. He would pitch in 13 games there, going 5-1 with a 2.55 ERA along with 69 strikeouts. He would quickly advance to Class AA baseball, playing for the Altoona Curve beginning in June. He appeared in the 2012 All-Star Futures game, and also recorded 12 starts with the Curve, boasting a 2.90 ERA, and another 60 strikeouts. In August, he was promoted to the Class AAA Indianapolis Indians, where he would win his only start with them that season, giving up three earned runs and striking out seven.

Cole was impressive enough in 2012 to have many people thinking he was a lock for a big league roster spot this season. Cole, himself, may have even fallen into that group of people. But partway through spring training of this season he was sent back down to the minors. However, he seems to have set out with a goal to compete and prove himself. According to his former high school coach, his competitive streak is one of the things that make him great.

“Gerrit is one of the most competitive people I’ve ever coached,” said Mike Grahovac, who coached Cole at Lutheran Orange and is now the head coach at Concordia (Calif.) University. “He doesn’t like to lose at anything. That’s a good quality to have. You give him the baseball and he gets on the mound, he is a fiery guy. That’s what you want.” (ESPN)

Cole has shown that quality, and has proven himself along the way. He pitched in 12 games for the AAA Indianapolis Indians this season, going 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA, and 14 consecutive scoreless innings to end his time there.

He finally arrived at his destination Tuesday night. It was simply a matter of when it would happen, not if it would happen. He was called up to start Tuesday night for the Pittsburgh Pirates in his Major League Baseball debut. The real question was if Cole could live up to the massive expectations that have been set for him. He did just that in his debut.

Cole faced off against the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants. Cole struck out the first batter he faced on three straight pitches. He would carry a shutout into the seventh inning, where he gave up two earned runs and would end his night. He recorded two strikeouts, no walks, and no home runs. That would be an outstanding start for any pitcher in any game, let alone a pitcher’s first career start against the defending champions. Oh, he did one other thing as well, hitting a two-run single in his first major league at-bat—off none other than two-time CY Young award winner Tim Lincecum. It is a rare thing for a pitcher to have the same number of RBIs and runs allowed in a game. But then again, Gerrit Cole is a rare baseball player.

Beyond that, his fastball is a force to be reckoned with, and his pitch selection and accuracy are impressive for any major league pitcher. Through four innings, his pitch count was at an impressive 48 pitches, but what’s more impressive is that he’d thrown only nine balls the entire game to that point.

What lies ahead for this 22-year-old pitching machine is anybody’s guess. He must manage a delicate balancing act of hype, expectations, and the endurance needed to last at this level. One thing is certain: having now played at every level of baseball, Gerrit Cole has yet to fail at that balancing act.

Stats courtesy of Fangraphs and ESPN and ESPN Stats

Shaun Odell is a freelance writer, and is a contributing writer for Sports Jerks Network (xnsports.wpengine.com) and Roundball Direct (roundballdirect.com). He is a graduate of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and an avid Detroit sports fan. Follow Shaun on Twitter @spodell
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