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A.J. Cole #98 – 2013 Top 100

Written By on 4th March, 2013

#98 A.J. Cole (Starting Pitcher[R])

Washington Nationals

20 27 27 133.2 138 14 8.96 1.95 3.70 3.38

Date of Birth: January 5th, 1992 (Age 21)
Origin: 4th Round Pick(#116 overall) in 2010 out of Oviedo HS (FL)
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 180

Mike Schwartze:  The Nationals traded A.J. Cole to the Oakland Athletics prior to the 2012 season as a part of a deal that sent Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals. After just one season in the Athletics’ organization, Cole was then traded back to the Nationals this offseason in the three team deal that sent Michael Morse to the Mariners.  The A’s started Cole off at High-A last year where he was hammered; he was then demoted to Low-A Burlington where things went much better for him. Overall, 2012 was a bit of a disappointment for Cole and his prospect stock took a bit of a hit.

With that being said, Cole still as a high ceiling with front of the rotation potential. He has a mid 90s fastball that he commands well, and it could increase a few ticks in velocity if he fills out a bit more. His changeup and curveball are promising and he’s getting a better feel for them but they’ll take time to develop. Cole should open 2013 with High-A Potomac in the Carolina league and it will be very interesting to see how he handles upper levels of the minors this year.

Conor Dowley: Cole definitely took a solid shot to his prospect status last year, but let’s be a little honest here: he was never going to do well in the California League. His secondary pitches are good, but he still leans on his fastball to get him out of jams. In the thin air of the Cal League, fastballs get chewed up and spit out with the sunflower seeds, and that’s exactly what happened to Cole when he was there. The Carolina League will be a much better fit for him, and don’t be surprised if he performs at very impressive levels and forces his way up the ladder sooner rather than later.

I’ve always been impressed with Cole, but impressed isn’t necessarily the same thing as “wowed”. He’s one of those pitchers who does a lot of things well, but doesn’t necessarily do anything great. The fastball is a very good pitch, but has very little movement, and not enough velocity to get away with that. His secondaries are nice, but inconsistent; that neither flash as more than average on a regular basis is concerning to me.

I get why some project him as a #2 type of pitcher, I just don’t think he’s going to get all that close to it. I do think, however, that his stuff could play nicely as a high-quality setup man with an outside shot of being a closer some day.  I’d still rather give him every opportunity to stick as a quality starter before making that conversion, however, simply because starters are so much more valuable than all but the most elite relievers.

Fantasy Outlook by David Wiers:
When reviewing Cole’s numbers, certain adjustments for the league and park effects have to be considered. While Cole certainly dominated in his first (and second) trip around Low-A in the Midwest League, he suffered tremendously at the hands of the Cal League and it’s inflated offensive environment. Spread between two separate seasons totaling almost 200 innings, Cole has cruised through Low-A with tons of strikeouts and few walks or homers.

The California league was a brutal showing, as Cole’s HR/9 rate nearly tripled. His walk rate was solid, but his .411 BABIP and near comical 52.2% strand rate proved too much to overcome. Given that Cole is a very fly ball oriented pitcher — having never recorded even a 45% ground ball rate at any level — seeing his ERA and FIP skyrocket when those fly balls started to clear the fence isn’t a surprise.

It is a shame that the Athletics acted so quickly to send Cole back to the Nationals, as the Oakland Coliseum would suit his skillset much more so than Nationals Park. Before we put the cart ahead of the horse, however, Cole needs to prove his worth at the higher levels of the minors and show that his Cal League performance was just a league and small sample size illusion, and not cause for further concern. His talent is still easy to see, but at some point his projection has to turn into production.

Cole is now entering his age-21 season and this season should prove to be a critical junction for his career. Cole has the tools to remain a top 100 prospect not just on this site, but also BA and MLB ratings. His strikeout rate dropped significantly in his stint in High-A, but his BB/K ratio was still above 3.0. Feel comfortable hanging your hat on Cole this season, but acknowledge the limitations as well as his strong suits. That pre-2012 shine is beginning to rub off just a touch.

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