It’s Gerrit Cole day in Pittsburgh. For those Bucs fans and prospect porn addicts who had hoped this would be some sort of grandiose affair, sorry to disappoint you. The 2011 first overall pick’s Major League debut has a rather ordinary feeling about it as the hour draws nearer.
Cole’s arrival in Pittsburgh is a timely one, though. With Wandy Rodriguez‘s health status currently up in the air, and Cole having already been held down long enough to ensure he’s under team control for an extra year, it’s an opportune moment to run out the franchise’s top prospect. As far as Super Two status is concerned, the 22-year old would accrue a tick over two years of service at the completion of the 2015 season if he were to remain with the club moving forward. At this point, though, it won’t matter much if he can step in and help the 37-26 Pirates.
Cole may have arrived earlier, had it not been for the fact that he hasn’t exactly dominated at Triple-A this season. He’s been good (5-3, 2.91 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 47 K, 68 IP), but he hasn’t piled up the strikeout totals or held hitters in check quite to the degree that his raw stuff suggests he’s capable of. This isn’t Stephen Strasburg getting the call in 2010 after embarrassing batters at both Double-A and Triple-A. Hopefully, for the Pirates and their fans, it’s not disappointing like Cole’s former UCLA teammate Trevor Bauer‘s flop of call-up last season either.
For the Pirates, Cole’s debut is unlike any of the pitchers whom they have selected in the first round over the past ten years. Cole was perhaps the most highly sought after talent of his draft class, and Neal Huntington and co. selected him as such. Dave Littlefield and his cost-eschewing selection of Bryan Bullington in 2002 be damned.
Cole’s overpowering repertoire may have been a bit of letdown in terms of his underwhelming strikeout totals, but it’s a nasty arsenal nonetheless. His fastball can touch 98 mph, while he features both a slider and curveball, and a change up to boot. He’s arriving on the heels of three consecutive excellent starts with Indianapolis, in which he’s surrendered just two earned runs and eight hits over 20 innings of work. We’ll know in a few hours if his stuff translates at the big league level. He’ll face Tim Lincecum and the World Series champion San Francisco Giants, so it’s into the fire we go.
Will Gerrit Cole match the magnificent debuts of former first overall picks like Strasburg and David Price? Or will Gerrit Cole be Bryan Bullington/Sean Burnett/John Van Benschoten/Brad Lincoln and the likes of so many failed Pirates picks? The former would be a tall task, but not one that we can say with certainty that Cole’s is incapable of. The latter would be a painful reminder for fans of franchise that have suffered long enough.
As a Pirates fan, I’m pulling for something historic. I’ll take ordinary, though. Ordinary still offers room for optimism.