The Nationals were pleased to be able to reacquire right-handed starter A.J. Cole prior to last season in another trade involving the Oakland A's. This was the deal involving power-hitter Michael Morse and the Seattle Mariners.
Cole struggled during his time with the Athletics at the high Single-A level, then gained some consistency with Oakland's low Single-A team.
But Cole really got going in his second go-round with the Nationals. He not only flourished at the Single-A level this time, but was promoted in late July to Double-A Harrisburg where he pitched even better.
Cole ended up 10-5 with a 3.60 ERA in 25 combined starts and 142 2/3 innings. He struck out 151 batters and walked just 33. In seven Harrisburg starts, he yielded only 11 total earned runs for a 2.18 ERA.
The 6-foot-4, 180 lbs., Cole is listed as Baseball America's No. 2 Nats prospect.
National writer Aaron Fitt said Cole made marked improvements in 2013. It all begins with the fastball, which hits up to 98 mph.
"He was especially good after the promotion to Double-A," Fitt said. "He wasn't really as dominant in High-A. He has got a great arm. The fastball, of course, is his bread and butter. It is a really good fastball and he utilizes it. It has a little bit of life to it, really good velocity and I think he can command it. It is a nice profile, a guy with good arm strength, a fastball and he can pitch predominantly off the fastball with lesser secondary stuff.
"He has secondary stuff, but his calling card is going to be the heat. I think he has a chance to have a good breaking ball and changeup also. I think he can have three pitches here. He will need to fine-tune the secondary stuff a little bit, but the fastball is what you really like about this guy."
Fitt is not concerned about Cole's big frame filling out. After all, Cole is still only 22 years old, having just celebrated a birthday on Jan. 5.
"As he matures, that will happen," Fitt said. "He needs to get stronger, certainly. But he is still a pretty young guy. I think that is something that he needs to do, but it will happen naturally."
It is a good thing the Nationals were able to get Cole and his firepower back in their system, with the trade losses of prospects like Alex Meyer and Robbie Ray. Cole is expected to make a nice move forward again this season, which I expect will begin from Day 1 in Harrisburg.