Nationals draft preview: UCLA righty Gerrit Cole

The Nationals have picks No.6, No. 23 and No. 34 to begin Monday’s First-Year Player Draft and, according to Baseball America’s updated mock draft, could get the most highly touted pitcher in college baseball in 2011.

This year’s draft appears to be top heavy, strewn with power pitchers with collegiate experience in big time programs, such as Virginia left-hander Danny Hultzen, who will most likely be taken at No. 3 by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

A pair of UCLA right-handers could be available to the No. 6 position for the Nationals.

One of those pitchers is right-hander Gerrit Cole.

According to Baseball America’s scouting report, “Cole had one of the best arms in the 2008 draft, when the Yankees drafted him in the first round, but he opted to attend UCLA. This spring, he has consistently shown the best pure stuff of any pitcher in the draft.”

Jim Callis, executive editor for Baseball America, says Cole’s fastball has been clocked at 94 to 97 mph and tops out at 99 mph. He also has shown a 92 to 93 miles per hour two-seamer.

“Cole has got the best stuff in the draft. He has got a fastball that has got life and can hit triple digits. He has a slider and changeup that are plus-plus at times. (But) he is not real consistent with the command of his stuff or the quality of his secondary stuff.”

Callis said some prognosticators have mentioned another southern California pitcher from San Diego that Nationals fans are pretty familiar with when speaking about Cole.

“There were some people comparing him, saying that he was this close to Stephen Strasburg,” Callis said. “I don’t think that is really fair because Strasburg was a lot more consistent with his stuff than Cole was.

“Cole has had a number of outings this year where has given up four or five runs. I still think he has a chance to go No. 1 but he can fall as low as No. 5 just because he hasn’t been consistent.

“The funny thing is right-hander Trevor Bauer is on the same team,” Callis continued. “Bauer’s stuff is not Cole’s stuff, but it is pretty good.”

There are almost a half-dozen Pac-10 pitchers slotted to go in the top 32 of the draft. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo saw all these pitchers in person at the Pac-10 baseball tournament and commented this week on the power he witnessed from collegiate pitchers this year. Cole and Bauer would seem to fit that bill.

Tomorrow we will preview Bauer. Stay logged in for previews for the Nationals all the way through draft day on Monday. Also check in to Sports Radio 106.7 The Fan Sunday at 2:30 p.m. for my complete interview with Callis on the Nationals’ draft preview.

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