Right-hander A.J. Cole makes his Nationals instructional league debut Friday and will throw one inning against Houston at the Astros complex in Florida.
It seems like just yesterday that Cole had to make a big decision: whether to start playing pro ball now or go to college.
The Nats presented a big contract. The University of Miami offered him a full ride baseball scholarship.
Cole says it was a pretty easy decision.
“It all came down to that I really wanted to just play baseball for a living,” says Cole.
“I love the game so much. I was made a really good offer and I really couldn’t turn that down. It couldn’t get any better than just playing baseball. And for the Nationals too, it is a great program.
“I have heard very good things about the farm system. I have seen so far it is really nice here. I made the decision I should have.”
The Oviedo high school product says working out in Viera is close to his home so he feels quite comfortable and is used to the hot weather.
The Nationals reportedly signed Cole for $2 million, which was the highest bonus ever for a fourth-round pick. Many prognosticators felt Cole was first round talent last season.
He also noticed how quickly pitchers like Drew Storen and even Stephen Strasburg made it to the big leagues and felt the Nationals offered him the chance that if he was good, he could be pitching in Southeast very soon.
“It did go into my thought about signing or not,” says Cole.
“When I was looking at teams you can tell which teams have good farm systems. I started seeing this team coming around. I heard good things about the Nats. I was pleased by going here.”
The 6’-5”, 190-pound pitcher breaks down his pitching repertoire and the one pitch he wants to refine as instructs get under way.
“I throw a two-seam fastball most of the time that sits around 92-94 MPH on average,” details Cole.
“I have a four-seam fastball that I use every once and awhile. I have a knuckle-curve that sits around 78 to 81 MPH.
“And then the changeup that is still developing, I am trying to get it under control. That is one of the things I am working on down here. That is what they want us to work is developing a really good changeup.”
Potomac pitching coach Paul Menhart, who worked diligently to improve Jordan Zimmermann’s changeup during rehab, arrives Sunday and will work with Cole on that pitch and others.
Along with his changeup, Cole would like to fine tune location on his fastball.
“At first, it wasn’t where I wanted it to go,” remembers Cole, who threw his first 90 MPH fastball at the end of his freshman year in high school.
“It was a little out of the zone. If I took two miles off my pitch I could hit my spots perfectly. Then, when I add the extra ‘umph’ into it and try to throw harder, it is not spot located. I am working on it and it is getting better.”
Cole says he grew up watching Braves pitcher John Smoltz and emulating his throwing motion, that helps all of his pitches.
“Somebody I followed for awhile was John Smoltz, because I saw myself as kind of like the same thrower,” says Cole.
“He has got an easy delivery, but he gets the pitches in there pretty hard. That is how I have been told I pitch. I have an easy delivery but am a hard thrower.”
Cole feels his easy delivery will help him maintain his pitching arm throughout each season.
“I think that will help a lot,” says Cole.
“There is not as much stress. I am not winding up and trying to throw as hard as I can. It is nice and easy for me so I think that will save my arm a lot.”