Yesterday, the Pirates selected UCLA pitcher Gerrit Cole with the first overall selection in the MLB First-Year Player Draft, and from the outset, it seems as though they’ve missed on Cole the same way he has missed on his pitches this season.
Cole, a right-hander, has all of the tools to be a dominant pitcher. As I outlined in depth earlier this spring, he’s a power pitcher with a plus fastball that averages in the mid-90s and can touch 100, a nasty slider, and a great complimentary change up. The problem? He seemingly forgot how to use all of these pitches this season. His mechanics took a step back, most notably in his slider, which was often left floating over the plate and getting hit regularly. His head didn’t seem to be fully in the game either; he often seemed to just go out and try to throw as hard as he could, maybe hoping his name would scare batters. Simply put, we wasn’t even the best pitcher on his team this season, let alone in the best player available in the draft. That honor belongs to Trevor Bauer, who went third overall to the Diamondbacks.
It just seems to me that the Pirates had better options with the pick. Cole’s teammate Bauer was essentially the Roy Halladay of college baseball this season, dominating entire games while posting a 13-2 record with a 1.25 ERA. Cole, on the same team mind you, managed to go 6-8 with a 3.31 ERA while recording 84 less strikeouts in only 22 less innings of work. Virginia left-hander Danny Hultzen, who went number two overall to the Mariners, is the hottest pitcher in college baseball right now and is expected to cruise through the Mariners farm system. As it stands with Cole, best case scenario is that he signs right away and takes this summer to get his mechanics ironed out under professional coaching before he begins his ascent through the Pirates system.
And what about Anthony Rendon? As far as common logic goes, when in doubt, it’s generally the safer play to take the dominant hitter over the power pitcher. Dominant hitters like Rendon aren’t going to forget how to rake the ball any time soon; power pitchers like Cole can see their game go sour. Like Cole’s has this season. And let’s be honest, there wasn’t a dominant player in this draft that was clearly better than the rest — i.e., Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper — so that logic certainly comes into play here. Rendon would have been a wonderful part of the Pirates future. As I outlined here, he would have provided the flexibility to move Pedro Alvarez to first base, a move we all know is in the future no matter how steadfastly the team denies it.
I’m assuming the Pirates drafted Cole knowing full well what he’s capable of. It makes sense; he has an incredibly high ceiling. He can most definitely be the ace of a staff in just a few short years. But I’ve also heard these same things about Kris Benson and Bryan Bullington, two other pitchers the Pirates have taken first overall in the last 15 years. And both of them turned out to be busts. What worries me is that Hultzen and Bauer also have ace-like ability, and right now they’re performance is leaps and bounds ahead of where Cole’s is. Maybe they stayed away from Hultzen because of his alleged 13-million dollar price tag. Understandable I suppose, no amateur is worth that much money. But they had better invest heavily in some later picks with what they’ll save similar to the way they did with Stetson Allie last year.
All in all, I just don’t feel this was the best decision for the Pirates. I’m sorry, but taking a pitcher that went 6-8 this season and clearly has issues with mechanics is not a smart decision, especially when he’s represented by Scott Boras and you’re going to have to pay dearly for those issues. Maybe time will prove me wrong in a five to seven years — the talent is definitely there — but as it stands, I’m fairly confident that Cole will not turn out to be the best player to come out of this draft.