Pirates hope top-pick Cole becomes big league ace
It didn’t matter to the Pittsburgh Pirates that Gerrit Cole was
not the ace of his college team’s staff.
To them, the hard-throwing right-hander from UCLA will develop
into a major league ace – something the franchise hasn’t
consistently had for years.
Despite Cole having his worst statistical season of his three
years at UCLA, Pittsburgh selected him with the first pick of the
baseball draft Monday night, adding another power arm to a system
that’s been infused with a much-needed jolt during the last 12
”Scouting is about projection,” Pirates general manager Neal
Huntington said. ”It’s about looking into the future and
understanding what we believe a player will be in two, four, six,
eight, 10 years from now. The performance this year goes into it,
but ultimately he’s a big, strong right-hander with quality stuff
and quality competitiveness.
Cole was a freshman All-American at UCLA after not signing with
the Yankees, who took him 28th overall out of high school in 2008.
He went 6-8 with a 3.31 ERA this year, but his stuff was too good
for the Pirates to pass up.
”He was the guy we believe can make the biggest impact in our
organization,” Huntington said.
Former Pittsburgh general manager Dave Littlefield said after
the first round of the draft in 2002 that No. 1 overall pick Bryan
Bullington projected out to be ”a No. 3 starter” in the major
Cole – by the numbers, at least – was the No. 3 starter for UCLA
this season. Teammate Trevor Bauer had a far superior statistical
season (13-2, 1.25 ERA, 203 strikeouts, .154 batting average
against) and went third to Arizona. Freshman right-hander Adam
Plutko also had a better ERA and batting average against than
But when you consistently throw into the upper-90s – nudging 100
and rarely dropping below 95, even in the later innings of starts –
that type of potential excites teams.
”Looking at Gerrit, he has the physical size and tools,”
Pirates scouting director Greg Smith said. ”But not only do you
need to have the weapons, you have to be able to harness that
moving forward. Gerrit has the mentality, the makeup, the
competitiveness, a lot of the ingredients that make up a quality
starting pitcher down the road.”
Cole called Bauer after his teammate was drafted, and the two
congratulated each other. Bauer likely improved his draft stock
based on his numbers; with Cole, it was more about the raw skills
and a delivery that is thought to lead to durability.
”Obviously, this year wasn’t up to my standards, but I tried to
not think about it,” Cole said. ”I just control what I can
control and let the teams do their evaluation.”
This is the fourth time in 25 years the Pirates selected No. 1
overall. The results from their previous three attempts ranged from
the mediocre – third baseman Jeff King in 1986 and pitcher Kris
Benson 10 years later – to the full-out bust (Bullington).
In the months leading to the draft, there was no clear-cut No. 1
overall pick, with Cole, Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon was
considered a potential No. 1 pick, as were University of Virginia
left-hander Danny Hultzen and Kansas high school outfielder Bubba
Starling all being mentioned.
”We walked through a handful of players in all four quadrants
of the board,” Huntington said, referring to college and high
school pitching and position players. ”And at the end of the day,
our guys felt very strongly about Gerrit, and that’s the direction
Pittsburgh is mired in a North American major professional
sports record 18 consecutive losing seasons and without a Cy Young
winner since 1990. This is the fourth draft under the regime of
team president Frank Coonelly, Huntington and the Nutting family as
the team’s majority owner.
Breaking with its history to that point, Pittsburgh has been a
big spender lately in the draft. Cole is represented by Scott
Boras. When the Pirates drafted Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro
Alvarez second overall in 2008, negotiations got contentious, with
Boras and Coonelly exchanging verbal barbs.
”Signability is an issue with every player that comes off the
board in the first round,” Huntington said. ”We’re going to work
hard and we’re going to fight to find a common ground that makes
sense for both sides. We believe at the end of the day we’ll get a
Last season, the Pirates gave No. 2 overall pick Jameson Taillon
a $6.5 million bonus and fellow right-hander Stetson Allie, their
second-round pick. They also paid $2.6 million to secure
16-year-old Mexican right-hander Luis Heredia last summer.
”I’m going to let Pittsburgh and their guys do their
evaluations,” Cole said. ”Obviously, you want the business side
of things go as smoothly as possible, but I understand the business
side after having gone through it once already, so I feel like I’m
”We have to take care of business throughout the summer, and it
will probably eventually take care of itself.”