Nats’ top prospects - No. 4: A.J. Cole

One of the other big signings coming out of the 2010 draft is Oviedo, Fla., right-handed pitcher A.J. Cole. The Nationals gave the 18-year-old (he turns 19 Wednesday) a $2 million signing bonus, reportedly the highest ever given a fourth-round selection.

The 6-foot-5 Cole pitched one inning for Single-A Vermont last summer, and then spent a great deal of time honing his skills at fall instructional league in Viera, Fla.

Aaron Fitt of Baseball America ranked Cole as the No. 4 overall prospect in the Nationals organization because of his existing velocity and his potential to throw even harder.

“That is the high upside guy in this group,” Fitt said. “Out of all the pitchers in their system, that is the one you can envision being toward the front of the rotation kind of a starter because he has premium arm strength. Another guy who can run the fastball up into the mid-90s, maybe touch a little bit more than that.”

Fitt says Cole needs to fine-tune his breaking pitches as pretty much all pitchers do, but he likes what he sees.

“He has got a good feel for his curveball,” Fitt said. “At times, it has been a wipeout pitch. He has got to be more consistent with it. But Cole has got every ingredient you are looking for in a pitcher.”

Overall, Fitt feels Cole is the type of prospect teams take a chance on because he already has the basic tools to be a dominant pitcher and time is on his side.

“There is more risk for him because he is a young kid and he hasn’t played pro ball yet,” Fitt said. “But the upside is very tantalizing.”

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