Clash of the Titans: Cole vs. Buxton … and other backfield observations


BRADENTON, Fla. – I was able to slip over to Pirate City on Friday for the 10 a.m. Pirates-Twins ‘B game’ prior to the main event over at McKechnie Field. But the main event for me was really over on the backfields. Yes, there were only a handful of scouts and fans behind chain-link fencing there. Yes, there are no grandstands or amenities at Pirate City. But this venue provided an intimate setting for the best one-on-one matchup of the spring to date.

That matchup was between the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft in Gerrit Cole vs. the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012, Byron Buxton.


You can watch Cole-Buxton at bat No. 2 for yourself as my caffeine-deprived fingers captured it via iPhone video:



Cole got the better of the Buxton on this day as he froze Buxton with a wicked curveball in the first inning for a strikeout and got Buxton to chase out of the zone on an 89 slider, seen above, for a second K.


Cole allowed three hits, including a wind-aided solo HR, over three innings of work. He walked one and struck out four. He topped out at 97 mph and sat 92-96. His fastball command was off but his curveball looked really sharp. And that’s a big deal. I liked the velocity separation last year he got from his curveball, which was unveiled in Sept., but questioned the break and shape. Well, the shape and break were both there Friday and that should excite the Pirates. Last year the curve was just a timing-disruption tool. This spring it looks like a true plus pitch to go along with the plus-plus fastball.


Other observations …

*Gregory Polanco hit in the No. 3 spot again in the B game and while he didn’t record a hit in the three plate appearances I watched he didn’t once swing out of the zone. He nearly homered to the opposite field – the ball landed just to the left of the foul pole – and he uncoiled and ripped a screaming line drive to right field. Polanco and Starling Marte are both rare baseball athletes. But it’s Polanco’s plate discipline and approach that sets him apart.


*Alen Hanson hasn’t gotten much buzz this camp but he barreled up a couple balls vs. the Twins, including a double to the left-center gap. He looks like he’s gotten stronger and he has surprising pop for a middle infielder. He’ll have a future home at second base or shortstop.


*Justin Wilson was between 88-94 with his fastball. Stolmy Pimentel hit 95 mph and got three groundballs in the last inning I watched. I can’t imagine Pimentel not making the team mostly due to being out of options.



*Wandy Rodriguez looked sharp again, getting a swing and miss from Joe Mauer and striking out Brian Dozier over a couple clean innings. Rodriguez said he feels good which is the biggest development in major league camp to date this spring, imo.


*Jason Grilli made his debut and threw a clean inning. It’s early but encouraging for the Pirates.


*Andrew McCutchen’s opposite-field power wasn’t the same in 2013 as it had been in 2012 but McCutchen launched an opposite-field HR against the Twins.