Name: Gerrit Cole
Why He’s This High: Cole was the #1 pick in the 2011 draft, and while I did rank two players from that class above him on this list, he was certainly a justifiable first pick–thus, he ends up quite high on the list.
If you’ve been following my list, you probably know by now that I tend to be quite conservative in ranking recent draftees and short-season players. I have no such qualms about shoving Cole high up the list, as he’s a big-college-tested hurler (UCLA) who could open 2012 in the upper minors. He posted a 16/4 K/BB in 15 Arizona Fall League innings to open his pro career, which speaks to his polish.
Of course, polish isn’t what got Cole selected first overall–stuff is. He’s a big righthander who touched 100 mph in the short stints in the AFL and should sit in the 94-96 range as a pro starter. His wide build suggests durability, and his mechanics strike a nice balance between funk and cleanliness. He also throws a plus changeup and has a solid breaking ball.
Why He’s This Low: Put simply, Cole hasn’t been tested much against professional competition, and given the high attrition rates for pitching prospects, that’s enough to slide him past the more proven Matt Moore/Julio Teheran types on my list. His ceiling is right there with that of almost any pitching prospect, and his floor is higher than, say, Dylan Bundy or Archie Bradley (the two top high school arms from the 2011 draft), but to me, he’s got to verify that his stuff works against Double-A hitters and that he can handle a professional workload. Of course, there’s not much reason to doubt that, but it happened to Aaron Crow (who was regarded in a similar vein a couple of years back), and the slight doubt pushes him out of the top half-dozen minor league arms.
Conclusions: If you rank entirely on ceiling, Cole’s in the conversation for best non-Moore pitching prospect in the game. With Moore set to graduate to the majors in 2012, a strong season could put Cole in the discussion for baseball’s top pitching prospect, as it would be tough to remain apprehensive about a player with this sort of upside and immediate success in the upper minors. While 2011′s draft class lacked the one huge star of the past two drafts, Cole certainly looks like a player who will be a big part of the Pirates organization for years to come.
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