The Nationals are elated to get right-hander A.J. Cole back in a trade with the Oakland A's. After trading away the top prospect to the A's in the package for left-hander Gio Gonzalez, the Nats re-acquired Cole in a trade that sent Michael Morse to the Seattle Mariners.
Cole struggled at high Single-A Stockton, going 0-7 with a 7.82 ERA in eight starts in the hitter-friendly California League. After going down to low Single-A Burlington, Cole rebounded to go 6-3 with a 2.07 ERA in 19 starts. He had 102 strikeouts with Burlington and just 19 walks, contrasting that with the 10 walks in eight games for Stockton.
"I know he did worse over there," said Double-A Harrisburg pitching coach Paul Menhart. "It almost looked like he took a step backwards. It will be interesting to see what kind of adjustments he made over there and if they differ from our philosophy. When you trade a player, you always wish the best for him and you don't want him struggle by any means."
The Nationals have sent off some of their rich pitching talent in trades over the past few seasons - guys like Cole, Danny Rosenbaum, Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock and Alex Meyer. Menhart said it is never easy to say goodbye to these talented prospects, but it is always a possibility when the big league club is trying to strengthen its roster for a playoff run.
"You always preach to the player that you are playing for 30 teams when you go out on that field," Menhart said. "The goal is hopefully with us."
Baseball America still looks very highly upon Cole and what he can do. The publication had Cole as No. 3 among the A's top 10 prospects.
Baseball America national writer Aaron Fitt said Cole would instantly be the No. 4 prospect on their Nats list now that he is back with the D.C. club.
"It is unusual to see a team reacquire a traded-away prospect," Fitt said. "But the kid has a great arm with a 94-97 mph fastball, a power breaking ball that is a little slurvy. This pitch has a nice downward rotation and has got a chance to be a plus pitch. His change-up has come along nicely too. There is a lot to like about this guy."
The Nationals staff is thrilled to get Cole and his mid-90s stuff back and for the chance to work with him again and break down what happened to him at the beginning of last season.
"I am very excited to get A.J. back," Menhart said. "I always think everybody can be fixed. He could have been distraught over being traded and lost it for a number of reasons. Something could have affected him. Another coach might have said something to him that changed things mechanically. But I do know he was really good when we traded him."
Cole is still only 21. Now he's back on the east coast, closer to his native Florida and has an opportunity to again show the Nationals what he can do on the hill.
"They know his makeup," Fitt said of the Nationals' experience with Cole. "When you make a trade, you never know until he is in your system. They believe that he can do it."