Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo talked last week about one of the possible reasons why right-hander A.J. Cole struggled in his initiation to the Oakland A's organization last season.
The high altitude and high-octane California League has gotten to many a great starting pitcher over the years. Rizzo scouted that league extensively while with the Arizona Diamondbacks and knows from experience.
Potomac Nationals pitching coach Chris Michalak knows Cole very well and believes there might have been something else at play. Cole started 0-7 with a 7.82 ERA for high Single-A Stockton and might have been trying too hard to impress his new bosses, anxious to show he was worth being included in the the trade that sent left-hander Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals.
Michalak recalls when he was working his way through the minors, trying to do well with each team, he had a tendency to overthrow at times to try to impress his manager and team. Michalak was originally signed by the Reds in 2005, and bounced around a couple of organizations, including the Blue Jays, as he tried to make it to the majors.
"I felt that a lot of times and I can personally attest to this," Michalak remembered. "I played for so many organizations in my career. I was never traded like he was, but a lot of times you go to an organization and you try to impress, or you try to do too much, instead of doing what you are capable of doing."
"You see that a lot when a player tries to validate a trade. I don't know if that was the case or not; it could have been. He pitched well in the second half of the season and the stuff was there. I have seen that before in other players."
After moving to low Single-A Burlington, Cole got going, netting a 6-3 record with a 2.07 ERA in 19 starts. He tossed 102 strikeouts to only 19 walks. In his last 10 games, Cole went 2-2 with a 1.75 ERA, notching 50 strikeouts to just 10 walks.
"He is a good young prospect," Michalak said. "Any time you can have an arm like that in the organization, obviously that is a plus for us."
Michalak said Cole has a repertoire that could help him to move quickly up the chain. Rizzo said Cole would inherit the spot lost when Alex Meyer was traded to Minnesota for Denard Span.
"He has got an above-average fastball," Michalak said of Cole. "He has a breaking ball that is kind of like a slider, curve mix. His change-up developed very nicely in Hagerstown at the end of 2011. He has got three quality pitches."
Cole just turned 21. He has already spent two full seasons in the minors, but only 48 total games with 133 2/3 innings last season. He still has top-of-the-line stuff and he is back with the Nationals at a young age.