With the team coming off a series victory against the Chicago Cubs, but having struggled against the playoff-contending Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds earlier in the week, Cole's start could be an early clue at whether the Pirates will truly remain in contention or if they'll return to the murky depths like the monster in a Roger Corman film, only to return for a sequel the next season.
While you must be getting excited about Cole's start, perhaps hyperventilating while in line at the bank and freaking everyone out, I encourage you to relax, do some breathing exercises and visualize success. This not only will keep your blood pressure down, but also if The Secret is any guide, perhaps you, on your couch, can influence some minor change. Like not hyperventilating at the bank anymore.
At 6 feet 4 inches and 220 pounds, the 22-year-old Cole is a veritable checklist of things you want in a pitching prospect. He's young, he's large, he's got the chiseled jaw of an action hero. His fastball can reach the upper-90s; he has a wipe-out slider; and with years to go until he can rent a car, there's still room for improvement. It's why Baseball America ranked him as the 7th best prospect coming into the season and Baseball Prospectus had him as its third best. Cole also benefited from good timing, getting hot as Wandy Rodriguez and Jeanmar Gomez went down with injury, posting a 0.90 WHIP in May to lead AAA, and giving GM Neal Huntington a good reason to call the prospect up.
That's not to say there's isn't room for caution and, even with all your visualization techniques in practice, why you shouldn't expect him to come up and dominate right away. Despite his great stuff, Cole's command can get loose at times and he's yet to strike out more than five batters in an outing this year, averaging only only 6.22 strikeouts per nine innings. That's far below the 9.2 mark Matt Harvey had when he was in AAA or the 10.3 that Strasburg retired while with Syracuse in 2010, two examples of highly regarded pitchers who were called up and took to razing lineups across the league. Perhaps Cole has been working on refining his changeup or maybe, like an Einstein of the baseball diamond, he needs the greater challenge that only the major leagues can provide.
Still, it'd be nice to see him strike out more batters than the Padres' Eric Stults (6.28 this year, never ranked by Baseball America).
Even if Cole comes up and isn't ready to front the rotation, Pirates fans shouldn't abandon all hope. Adam Wainwright, on the shortlist for the NL Cy Young, pitched out of the bullpen his rookie year. Clay Buchholz, his 2007 no-hitter aside, has seemingly alternated good years and bad before dominating the American League to the tune of a 9-0 record with a 1.71 ERA at the age of 28. Cliff Lee was 30 before he firmly established himself as an elite major-league starter.
While the Pirates are in need of power pitchers and Cole offering the team their best chance at a bona-fide ace since Doug Drabek (at least until Jameson Taillon is ready to challenge him for the role), it's time to be patient. That's hard to do when you've been waiting 20 years for a playoff berth, but even Greg Maddux wasn't a finished product when he entered the league, going 6-14 with a 5.61 ERA in his first full season. So just breathe in and out, in and out, and visualize success. And, remember, pitchers, like good barbecue, take time.
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