Born: September 8, 1990
Height: 6′ 4″
Weight: 220
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Drafted: 1st Round, 1st Overall, 2011
How Acquired: Draft
College: UCLA
Agent: Scott Boras


Cole and Matt Purke went into the 2011 season as the most highly, draft-eligible regarded pitchers, although most observers ranked them both behind Anthony Rendon.  Purke’s stuff dropped off significantly, leaving Rendon and Cole as the presumptive top talents for much of the season, but both had disappointing years.  In the end, the Pirates decided to take Cole over Rendon and Virginia lefty Danny Hultzen.

Cole was also drafted in the first round by the Yankees in 2008, but preferred to attend UCLA.Cole by all accounts had the best stuff of any available pitcher.  He throws a low-90s two-seam and mid-90s four-seam fastball.  The latter reaches the upper-90s and late in the season was reaching triple digits on occasion, even in the late innings.  He has two other pitches, an upper-80s slider and a change, that are both regarded as plus pitches.  He has a strong frame and a delivery that scouts regard as clean, according to Baseball America.  Cole generally throws strikes, but weak command within the strike zone led to him getting hit hard in some games during the 2011 season.  He finished with the highest ERA of any of UCLA’s regular pitchers and his peripheral numbers for the most part were also below the team average.  This was not a new development:  he also had the highest ERA among the team’s regular pitchers in 2010.  Pirates GM Neal Huntington, however, likes big pitchers with power arms.

The Pirates’ selection of Cole was a significant gamble.  His command was obviously more of a work in progress than would normally be expected from a pitcher from a major college taken first overall, and he may not reach the majors as quickly as would generally be expected.  The fact that he’s represented by Scott Boras added to the gamble, but he signed as expected at the last moment . . . or at least MLB delayed the announcement until midnight on August 15.  In a very large surprise, Cole signed a minor league contract, although the bonus was a team record $8M.

A+:  5-1-0, 2.55 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 67.0 IP, 2.8 BB/9, 9.3 K/9
AA:  3-6-0, 2.90 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 59.0 IP, 3.5 BB/9, 9.2 K/9
AAA:  1-0-0, 4.50 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 6.0 IP, 1.5 BB/9, 10.5 K/9

The Pirates started Cole off at Bradenton and he had minimal difficulty there.  He moved up to Altoona at mid-season and had a little more trouble, mainly in the form of running up pitch counts a little too quickly.  His stuff was as expected, with a fastball sitting in the mid-90s and occasionally reaching 100, and a plus slider and change.  The main issue will continue to be his command, but he clearly made progress on it in 2012.  The Pirates moved him up to Indianapolis at the end of the season, no doubt to give him a chance to pitch in the International League playoffs.  His one regular season start got off to a shaky start, as the first three hitters he faced ended up scoring, but he settled down and pitched very well after that.  In his one playoff start, though, he got severely bombed.

AAA:  5-3-0, 2.91 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 68.0 IP, 3.7 BB/9, 6.2 K/9
MLB:  10-7-0, 3.22 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 117.1 IP, 2.1 BB/9, 7.7 K/9

Cole opened in AAA and seemed to spend much of his time there searching for a pitching profile.  Initially, he seemed to be trying to strike hitters out and ran into trouble with high pitch counts, leading to early exits.  He overcame that problem and pitched very effectively, except with low K rates.  He made enough progress that the Pirates called him up on June 11 and he made his first major league start that day.  He was reasonably effective from the start, but with a very low K rate (4.1 K/9 in his first four starts, all of which he won) that caused considerable consternation among some fans.  Cole’s performance gradually evolved — his K rate increased and, initially he started giving up more hits.  According to press accounts, he started using his four-seam fastball more and his two-seamer less, and started relying more on his curve than his slider.  According to Pfx, he didn’t throw a curve, but instead threw a slider and cutter.  My guess is that Pfx is having classification problems, and is identifying Cole’s curve as a slider and his slider as a cutter.  Everything he throws is harder than most pitchers, with his fastball averaging 95-96 and occasionally reaching 100.  Among all starters with 100+ IP, he had the highest average velocity except for Nathan Eovaldi.

Things seemed to come together for Cole in September.  In five starts, he went 4-0, 1.69, with a 1.06 WHIP and 11.0 K/9.  (Hopefully, that last number will quiet the panic over Cole’s K rate.)  For the season, Cole had a good groundball rate of 49.1%.  His xFIP (3.14) was nearly identical to his ERA, so there’s nothing fluky about his season.  He didn’t allow many extra-base hits, holding hitters to a .336 slugging average and .083 ISO.  Cole continued his success in the playoffs, allowing only three runs and five hits in 11 innings against the NL’s best offensive team.  Cole even hit respectably, batting .206 and driving in five runs, which equalled the total of all the team’s other pitchers.  The Pirates were cautious with Cole.  They didn’t impose an innings limit, as the Nationals famously (or infamously, depending on your point of view) did with Stephen Strasburg.  They did, however, limit his pitch counts; he reached 100 only once, and then only 101.  Significantly, in 19 starts he never failed to go five innings.

AAA:  3-1-0, 2.01 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 22.1 IP, 2.0 BB/9, 6.4 K/9
MLB:  11-5-0, 3.65 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 138.0 IP, 2.6 BB/9, 9.0 K/9

Cole had a mildly disappointing season, due in part to health problems.  He went on the disabled list in early June with shoulder fatigue.  At that point, his velocity was slipping to the low-90s at times, especially in the middle innings.  (Despite this, his average fastball velocity changed little from the previous year.)  He returned at the end of the month, only to go on the DL again a week and a half later with right lat soreness.  After a fairly long rehab, he rejoined the Pirates’ rotation in late August.  Cole finished the season strongly:  in his last three starts, over 21 innings, he allowed just five runs on 14 hits and two walks, and fanned 27.  On the season, hitters batted 248/314/379 against him, up a little from the 253/302/336 of 2013.  Left handed hitters had a .729 OPS against him, right-handed hitters .659.  The advanced stats suggest Cole may have been a little better in his first two seasons than the more traditional stats suggest.  His BABIPs of .308 and .311 were a little on the high side, and his xFIP of 3.14 in 2013 and 3.25 in 2014 was lower than his ERA in both cases.  Cole continued to put up more of a fight at the plate than the rest of the team’s pitching staff, hitting .174 with his first career HR.

The Pirates will again hope to see Cole step forward as a legitimate ace in 2015.  It’s not improbable; Justin Verlander, for instance, didn’t post an xFIP below 4.17 until his fourth full year.  He’s already probably better than some Pirates’ fans give him credit for; in 41 career starts, he’s pitched fewer than five innings just once (four innings) and fewer than six just ten times.

2014: $512,500
Major league minimum
Signing Bonus:  $8,000,000
MiLB Debut: 2012
MLB Debut: 6/11/13
MiLB FA Eligible:  2017
MLB FA Eligible: 2019
Rule 5 Eligible:  N/A
Added to 40-Man: 6/11/13
Options Remaining: 3
MLB Service Time: 1.111
June 5, 2008: Drafted by the New York Yankees in the 1st round, 28th overall pick.
June 6, 2011: Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1st round, 1st overall pick; signed on August 15.
June 11, 2013: Contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.