SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER - When I traveled to Indianapolis earlier this week to catch up with Gerrit Cole for today’s feature I was curious to learn, like a lot of folks, why Cole was posting an average strikeout rate.
Cole leaves Indianapolis for his first Major League start Tuesday having struck out just 6.2 batters per nine innings in Triple-A.
For a player with Stephen Strasburg-like stuff, we have not seen Strasburg-like strikeouts.
Don’t expect Strasburg or Kerry Wood-like strikeout numbers early from Cole … but the Ks will come, I think
Cole has a fastball that touched 98 mph multiple times Wednesday and once hit 99 – on his 88th pitch.
His breaking stuff had sharp, late break – he has both a slider and curve – and his changeup, might be his best pitch.
So where are the Ks?
Part of it is process, he doesn’t have Strasburg’s command … not yet, anyways.
Cole has focused on fastball command, it’s what the Pirates stress with their minor leaguers. The fastball, even a 95 mph fastball, is not often a swing-and-miss pitch and Cole has been throwing the pitch a lot, around 2/3 of his offerings were fastballs Wednesday. And if pitchers are not ahead in counts, batters are less likely to chase. Cole is also working on throwing more downhill as his fastball plane can get flat. Scouts have seen progress with his command and plane. When his fastball command becomes more consistent and he begins to work his changeup off the pitch more, Indianapolis pitching Tom Filer thinks we’ll see the strikeouts come,
Part of the lack of Ks is Cole’s preference for pitch efficiency. What is refreshing in this era of focus on strikeouts is Cole says he’s more interested in innings than Ks.
“I don’t go for strikeouts,” he said. “I know I can get them when I want to. But I know it’s really important to challenge guys in the zone and beat them in the zone. When you have a game where you throw 100 pitches in five innings and strike out 10, a lot of people that weren’t there write that up as a dominant outing. What is really dominating is (San Francisco pitcher) Matt Cain throwing a complete game with 100 pitches and giving up just two hits with two strikeouts.
“So many other things are more important than strikeouts, like the pace of the game and keeping your fielders ready. … You can’t think about what other people are writing about you — why haven’t I struck out a 100 million people yet? — you have to get that (stuff) out of your head.”
In visiting with Cole what struck me was that his head seems to be in a good place, a better place, than it was earlier in the spring.
He’s focused and studying what’s important. I thought this quote was encouraging and telling:
“When a lot of those power guys come up, Verlander and those guys, they are good at one thing,” Cole said. “What did they do that’s so consistent that allows them to overpower these guys? I don’t think anyone comes up looking like Greg Maddux. It’s interesting to see that, and a lot of times it’s command of the fastball. It’s not necessarily command on the black (of the plate) every pitch; it’s just throwing it the right way and challenging the guys. They are so consistent in their delivery. They throw the ball the same way every time.”
Strikeouts are important. They eliminate all chance, they are telling of dominance. I don’t think we’ll see a 14K debut like Strasburg’s but I think the strikeouts will come. They came for this guy. But what has to come first is fastball command and razor-sharp focus.
WRAPPING UP THE DRAFT
As I wrote on Friday, we can’t evaluate the outcome of drafts for several years but we can immediately judge the process.
I liked the Day 1 process a lot. The Pirates targeted upside and best available players. I think a solid approach to Day 2 solidified this as the best process draft under Neal Huntington and Greg Smith
The Pirates once again targeted upside with players like LSU outfielder/second baseman JaCoby Jones and prep shortstop Trae Arbet. Jones can really run – posting 4.1 second home-to-first times. He’s 6-3, 200. Keith Law said his swing requires rebuild but MLB.com said he has “first-round” athleticism. Hey, Billy Hamilton was once a third-round pick of the Reds. It’s worth a roll of the dice.
Pirates director of amateur scouting Joe DelliCarri said the Pirates will play Jones at multiple positions. Baseball America projects him to play second base.
The Pirates began addressing needs in the fifth round with Arbet, who is another plus athlete. Scouts are split on if Arbet can stick at short but the Pirates are believers.
“(Arbet) definitely has the tools for the position,” DelliCarri said.
Left-handed pitching was the deepest area in this draft at the Pirates took two early, including Sam Houston St. lefty Cody Dickson in the fourth. Dickson hasn’t had his results match his stuff (4.33 ERA) but a lefty who can touch 95 mph is an intriguing option.
“We are awfully excited to keep developing him,” DelliCarri said. “I think he has chance to have three quality major league pitches.”
I think the Pirates would have been wise to target a few more college seniors to save some dollars for early-round negotiations, college seniors have little leverage, but this is merely a quibble.
We have to wait on the outcome, but the process has given this class a chance to be special.