Name: A.J. Cole
Notable 2011 Stats: 4.04 ERA, 2.53 FIP, 6 HRA, 24 BB, 108 K, and 37% GB% in 89 IP with Hagerstown (A)
Why He’s This High: Cole completely shut down the South Atlantic League, striking out 108 batters in 89 innings while allowing just 24 walks. He did all that despite being 19 for the entirety of the 2011 season–he doesn’t turn 20 until next month.
Now, dominating the Low-A level as a 19-year-old doesn’t necessarily guarantee a spot this high on lists–for example, yesterday’s prospect (Arizona’s David Holmberg) isn’t seen as a top 100 guy by nearly anybody but me, and he’s more advanced than Cole. But Cole is a lot easier for everyone to like, because he has almost everything you’d look for in a young pitcher.
Cole already sits in the low 90′s regularly, and his lean, athletic 6’4″ frame isn’t filled out yet; when he grows into his body more, he could sit around 93 mph, touching 96. He gets great leverage and some deception from a herky-jerky yet mechanically sound delivery that features a long stride to the plate. His curveball already flashes plus, and his changeup is also developing nicely; all three of his offerings play up due to his good command.
Why He’s This Low: The issues here are all the issues you’d expect with a 19-year-old with just one year of experience (aside from throwing one inning in 2010). Cole’s obviously a long way from the majors, and by the time he gets there, he’s going to have to have proven he can throw a lot more than 89 innings in a season without wearing down. Like most young pitchers, his secondary pitches need more consistency, as well.
Those issues all seem within Cole’s power to correct; the one question with him is the long ball. He allowed just six homers in 2011, but his flyball rate was fairly high. He does tend to pitch up in the zone with his fastball, and it’s a fairly straight pitch, so he may never be much of a groundball hurler. But, if everything else comes together for him, that’s a minor nitpick.
Conclusions: Cole has the upside to be one of the top seven or eight pitching prospects in baseball, and if he works 120 high-quality innings in High-A in 2012, he’ll be very close to that sort of ranking. There’s a ton of things to like about this young, projectable, athletic, and surprisingly polished righthander, who joins Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Brad Peacock, and Tom Milone in an enviable group of excellent young hurlers in the Washington organization.
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