Jul 14, 2013; Flushing , NY, USA; USA pitcherA.J. Cole
throws a pitch during the 2013 All Star Futures Game at Citi Field. USA defeated World 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
One of the benefits of the offseason is that it gives us the opportunity to reflect on last season and look forward to next year and beyond – a future that will undoubtedly be shaped not only by the team’s current big league stars, but also by the youngsters that are working their way up the minor league ladder.
Over the next several weeks, we will be counting down the Nationals’ top-10 prospects (as ranked by MLB.com) and breaking down what they have accomplished so far in their young professional careers. We will also predict if and when they will be ready to contribute at the big league level and where we expect to see them in 2015.
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Some of these names are well-known throughout the baseball world, while others are players that you may never have heard of before. Regardless of how prominent these players are in the ever-evolving world of the game’s rising stars, all of them will have an impact on the future of the Nationals and it’s important to monitor their progress as they continue on their path to the big leagues.
Earlier this week we continued our series with right-hander Erick Fedde and outfielder Michael Taylor, the team’s No. 4 and No. 3 prospects, respectively. Today we will continue our series with the Nationals’ No. 2 prospect, right-hander A.J. Cole.
The top two prospects on our list are not only the best pitchers in the Nationals’ farm system, but they also represent two of the games most exciting young pitching prospects. While Lucas Giolito – the team’s No. 1 prospect – is considered by many to be one of the most talented young players in baseball, there are just as many reasons to be excited about Cole.
The Nationals drafted Cole in the 4th round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft but traded him to the Athletics after the 2012 season in the deal that brought Gio Gonzalez to the nation’s capital.
“When he came back to us we did a few mechanical things with him to get him to a place where we felt we could maximize his skills,” Assistant GM Doug Harris said in a November 2013 MLB Network Radio interview.
When the Nationals traded Cole to Oakland, they knew they were giving up a premier pitching talent that had the potential to become a superstar at the big league level. For this reason, one of the best deals the Nationals have made in recent years is the Michael Morse trade – the trade that brought Cole back to the team that drafted him four years ago.
Cole probably benefited from the trade as much as the Nationals did, given how much he struggled in the Athletics’ farm system. After getting off to a good start with Oakland’s A-ball clubs, he struggled mightily in High-A Stockton, where he went 0-7 with a 7.82 ERA in 38 innings of work.
Once he returned to the Nationals, however, Cole once again became the dominant pitcher the team envisioned when they drafted him at just 18 years old in 2010.
Relying on a powerful fastball that often touches 98 mph, Cole went 6-3 with a 4.25 ERA while striking out 102 batters in 97 1/3 innings for High-A Potomac in 2013. The right-hander was even better after being promoted to Double-A Harrisburg later that year, going 4-2 with a 2.18 ERA and 49 strike outs in 45 1/3 innings for the Senators.
Cole’s dominance earned him an appearance in last year’s Futures Game, and the young right-hander did not disappoint. In front of a packed Citi Field in New York, Cole retired the only two batters he faced and earned the save in Team USA’s 4-2 win. The right-hander was in shut-down mode on the biggest stage of his career thus far, throwing six of his 10 pitches for strikes.
While Cole was dominant in 2013, he was even better in 2014. the right-hander started the season at Harrisburg, where he went 6-3 with a 2.92 ERA in 14 games with the Senators. After a great start to the season at Double-A, Cole earned a promotion to Triple-a Syracuse, where he went 7-0 with a 3.43 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 11 starts.
At just 22 years old, Cole has the potential to develop into a top-of-the-rotation starter at the big league level. With the Nationals’ rotation likely set for 2015, the right-hander will probably start the season back at Syracuse. But if he continues to shine at Triple-A, there’s no reason to believe we won’t see Cole on the mound at Nationals Park sometime next season.
Check back here later today as we wrap up our Washington Nationals Top-10 Prospects Countdown with the team’s No. 1 prospect, Lucas Giolito.