Another prospect with no health questions, righthanded pitcher A.J. Cole has been highly thought of ever since he was drafted. He was fourth on two lists, third on another, but eighth on the fourth, demonstrating that even without injuries, he generates a little bit of contention
The Nationals drafted Cole in the 4th round of the 2010 MLB Draft. He was considered a top prospect but a difficult sign heading into the draft, with a strong commitment to the University of Miami. His commitment allowed him to slip in the draft until the Nationals scooped him up and swayed him to go pro by offering him a fourth-round record $2 million bonus. He only pitched one inning the remainder of that season, a scoreless one in rookie ball. In 2011, he had a 4.04 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP in 89.0 IP at A-level Hagerstown. While on the surface, these stats may seem unimpressive, his peripheral stats remained good, including his 10.9 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. The following offseason, Cole was the centerpiece of a package to Oakland, along with Brad Peacock, Tommy Milone, and Derek Norris, for Gio Gonzalez. While Gonzalez thrived in D.C., Cole initially struggled with Oakland’s High A team, with a 7.82 ERA and 1.84 WHIP in eight starts (38.0 IP). After a demotion back to A-ball, he regained his form and dominated, with a 2.07 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 95.2 IP. His setback this year, while discouraging, has not significantly changed his path as a prospect, and as unimpressive as he was in High A, he made up for it the rest of the season. The Nationals reacquired him from Oakland in a three-team trade this past offseason when they sent Mike Morse to Seattle, who sent John Jaso to Oakland, who sent Cole and prospect Blake Treinen to Washington.
Verdict: Cole’s arrival in the majors was likely delayed by a year by his demotion this year, but his skills appear to be intact. He rebounded quickly in A after losing his mechanics in High A. He still has the potential to be a front-line starter, and as he returns to the staff that drafted him and knows him, he should restore his elite prospect stock with a good year in High A this year.