Down on the Farm: Checking in on the Washington Nationals’ top-5 prospects

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May 23, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher A.J. Cole (69) throws to the Philadelphia Phillies during the game at Nationals Park. The Philadelphia Phillies won 8 – 1. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

No. 2: A.J. Cole

By now, A.J. Cole is a household name for the Washington Nationals and their fans. The right-hander is not only the team’s second best prospect, but he’s also considered one of the best young arms in all of baseball. And like Joe Ross, Cole has also gained some important big league experience this season.

Of course, it hasn’t been an easy or normal ride for him. The Nationals drafted Cole in 2010, only to trade him to the Athletics in 2012. The right-hander struggled mightily with the A’s that season, but he returned to his dominant form once the Nationals re-acquired him in 2013.

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.

While Cole was dominant in 2013, he was even better in last season. The right-hander started the year 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.

After dominating last season, however, Cole has struggled in 2015. The right-hander is 1-4 with a 3.91 ERA in 12 games with the Chiefs this season. Nevertheless, the Nationals have still called on Cole to fill in for injured pitchers at the big league level. The right-hander has thrown 9 1/3innings, allowing six earned runs and striking out nine batters.

Despite his struggles this season, Cole is still one of the most exciting young pitching prospects in the game and should play a big role in the future for the Nationals. For Cole, that future could start as early as 2016. Since Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann are both likely to leave via free agency after this season, Cole could earn a spot in the rotation out of Spring Training next year.

Next: No. 1: Lucas Giolito