Gerrit Cole Faces USC

Gerrit Cole has been getting a lot of press lately, with many respected publications and scouts now ranking him as the No. 1 draft prospect ahead of Anthony Rendon of Rice. With Cole now being a very real possibility for the Bucs at first overall in the amateur draft, I wanted to get a first-hand look and see what all of the buzz was about. Three major disclaimers. First, I am not a scout. Second, I watched this game online. And third, all velocity readings came from announcers whenever they decided to report them (I recorded every velocity reading in the inning it was reported).

UCLA played USC last night to open the Pac 10 schedule. Cole began the first inning throwing his two-seam fastball at 93 mph, and it is a very heavy pitch. I believe I saw at least three in the first and the sink on the pitch leads me to believe that he could get by on just a two-seamer. His four-seamer was hitting 95 mph and got him into trouble when he elevated one to USC’s shortstop, who pulled it over the fence in left field. The homer was solidly struck and the shortstop, James Roberts, looks like a player to keep an eye on.

After the first inning I didn’t see much of the two-seamer, as Cole relied more on the four-seamer, which sat at 95-97, touching 99 MPH twice in the second. The pitch has some movement tailing away from lefties and running into righties. Cole held his velocity late in the game hitting 96 mph after throwing 100 pitches. He threw just over 115 pitches in the game.

Overall, it's easy to see why there is so much hype. Cole throws the ball effortlessly. The ball explodes out of his hand. I really couldn’t tell how hard the pitch was thrown until I heard the pop of the mitt and the announcer would come back with something like: "Whoa! That pitch just hit 99 mph!" Cole is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, but he looks bigger on the mound. He has a wide frame and powerful legs; he just has the appearance of a workhorse.

Cole threw a very good changeup, to my eyes, maintaining his arm speed when throwing it. It ranged from 85-88 but mostly 85. It had a lot of movement and just dove down and away from left-handed hitters. It seemed to generate a swing and miss whenever someone swung at it. If the changeup is not a plus pitch now I think it certainly will be down the road. Cole also threw a wicked curveball that is a plus pitch, in my opinion, but he did have trouble commanding it. The curveball had a lot of bite and I saw one strikeout registered with a USC hitter swinging over the top of it. However, most of the curves I witnessed were thrown for balls, with one of them being a wild pitch.

Cole really struggled last night …well, he struggled for Gerrit Cole. It took him a lot of pitches to get through 6 2/3 innings, and there were four balls hit really hard. Actually, most of the damage done was by Roberts and the slugging first baseman Ricky Oropesa, who is a top draft prospect in his own right. Everyone else seemed overmatched. Oropesa hit Cole hard in every at bat hitting an absolute bomb off him to right-center in the fifth. As hard as Cole was throwing, those two were able to get the bat around on him. I know Cole has been compared to Stephen Strasburg recently, but I don’t recall anyone squaring up on Strasburg like that in college last year, though I only got to see him throw twice.

Anyway, Cole did not have his best command last night. He fell behind several batters and pitched into five full counts, by my observation. It was very reminiscent of the last time I saw him throw in the College World Series against South Carolina. That said, Cole’s stuff was even more impressive yesterday than it was last year, and as bad as his command was he still battled limiting the damage to four earned runs to get the win. I was actually glad to see him in a game like this, because it showed me he is not the type of pitcher who is going to get rattled and fall apart. There was a moment in the first when he looked agitated after he got squeezed on a full-count ball four and instantly threw the ball down the line on a pickoff attempt (which the first baseman missed), but he got things together and got out of the inning with limited damage. (Cole also has a very good pickoff move, for what it’s worth.)

Cole’s mechanics seemed very fluid, and he repeats his delivery really well. I don’t see any red flags in the delivery. The only concern for me is how UCLA uses him as they get deep into the season. I was very pleased that Cole was pulled in the seventh, because it looked to me like he was laboring a bit, and he had thrown enough pitches given his lack of command. However, I think Cole being pulled had more to do with Oropesa being up and UCLA having a lefty in the pen than it did with any type of pitch limitation. I should point out that even though Cole’s command wasn’t at its best he only walked three batters (with one hit by pitch), and he did strike out seven batters in 6 2/3.

I don’t know that I saw the next Stephen Strasburg last night but I watched an excellent college pitcher who had been dominant up to that game. I think a David Price comp is probably fairer than one to Strasburg but I do think Cole looks like a frontline starter and potential Cy Young candidate if he remains injury free. To my untrained eye, he has a plus two-seamer, a plus-plus four-seamer, a plus curve and a potential plus changeup. The guy is a beast and I can see why everyone is so excited.

This post is not an endorsement by me for Cole to be selected first by the Bucs. I really like Anthony Rendon and think he too is a future All-Star. But if Cole is selected by the Pirates, things will be very exciting when he and Jameson Taillon anchor the staff in Pittsburgh.

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