General manager Mike Rizzo told reporters during Rafael Soriano’s introductory press conference in the winter of 2013 that the signing a week earlier of first baseman Adam LaRoche freed the Nationals up to deal one year of control of Michael Morse to the Mariners in the three-team trade with Seattle and the Oakland A’s that went through on the night before Soriano’s official introduction. The deal netted the Nationals right-handers A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen and left-hander Ian Krol.
Cole, then 20, returned to the Nationals organization a year after the 2010 Nats’ fourth-round pick was dealt to the Athletics in the Gio Gonzalez deal. He was the key to the Morse deal, as Rizzo explained it.
“He was toughest part for me of the package for Gio,” Rizzo said. When the Nationals and Mariners couldn’t agree on a trade for Morse, the A’s got involved and Cole’s name came up.
“We couldn’t find the right deal to do it with Seattle straight-up,” Rizzo admitted. “So we identified another team that would have some interest in the players that we were talking about and we involved a third team to get the minor league prospect that we needed to complete the transaction.”
After the Nats selected Cole out of Oviedo High School in Oviedo, Fla., they signed him to a well-above-slot $2 million bonus to convince him to turn pro in spite of his commitment to Miami. When he was made available by the A’s after an up-and-down season between high Single-A and low Single-A in Oakland’s organization, Rizzo couldn’t find a reason not to make the trade.
“The right players had to be involved,” he explained, “or we wouldn’t have made the deal, and once the right players were involved and players that we really wanted for a talented player like Michael, I didn’t find any reason not to do the deal. So when A.J. became part of the deal and we got two other pieces, then that was the deal that I felt was the deal to pull the trigger on.”
Rizzo said the Nats would get Cole with their pitching people and get him back on track. “His developmental curve is on track, and we’re going to get him with our pitching people and kind of straighten out his delivery and I think that this guy will be a quick mover for us from this point forward. Stuff was great. He’s in great shape. He’s a big strong man now. And couple that with another couple of pieces that we got in the trade and we feel very fortunate to get the package that we did for one year of control of Michael Morse.”
Cole was 6-3 with a 4.25 ERA, 3.54 FIP, 23 walks (2.13 BB/9) and 102 strikeouts (9.43 K/9) in 18 starts and 97 1/3 innings pitched at high Single-A Potomac. With Double-A Harrisburg, the right-hander was 4-2 in seven starts with a 2.18 ERA, 2.56 FIP, 10 walks (1.99 BB/9) and 49 strikeouts (9.73 K/9) in 45 1/3 innings. He’s back at Double-A again this season, with a 2-0 record, a 1.80 ERA, 3.10 FIP, one walk (0.90 BB/9) and five strikeouts (4.50 K/9) in the first 10 innings of his fifth professional season.
Between the 2013-14 campaigns, Cole was named the No. 2 prospect in the organization by Baseball America and Major League Baseball, behind only 2012 first-round pick Lucas Giolito on both prospect lists.
Blake Treinen, 25, and one of the two pieces that came to the Nationals in the, made 20 of 22 starts in 2013 at Double-A, where the hard-throwing right-hander was 6-7 with a 3.64 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 33 walks (2.50 BB/9) and 86 strikeouts (6.52 K/9) in 118 2/3 innings.
Krol put up a 0.69 ERA in 26 innings at Double-A in 2013. Last June, he was called up to the majors where he had a 3.95 ERA in 27 1/3 innings before he was dealt to the Tigers in the Doug Fister trade this winter.
Treinen was a non-roster invitee to spring training and he stuck around long enough to impress first-year manager Matt Williams, becoming one of the two final candidates for the last spot in the opening day bullpen.
“He’s just an exceptional young man,” Williams said. The first-year skipper told the now-25-year-old right-hander as much when he informed Treinen he was being sent to Triple-A.
“We let him know that he is our next wave, if you will,” Williams explained. “And he proved everything he had to prove this spring to us. We’re all certainly pleasantly surprised with his progress and the way he threw the baseball.”
“His stuff plays,” Williams said. “His stuff plays at any point later in the game. It’s a bowling ball at 97 (mph). So that’s all good. Again, we have some depth certainly in the starting roles, so he may be able to help us in the bullpen.”
Treinen made one start for the Syracuse Chiefs before he was called up to the majors last week to help the Nationals in the bullpen.
Williams liked what he saw in Treinen’s major league debut last weekend, which saw him come out of the ‘pen to throw two scoreless against the Braves.
“He threw the ball hard,” Williams said. “Went right after them. So it was good.”
Treinen has made three appearances so far, giving up 10 hits, one run and two walks in 6 2/3 innings over which he has a 1.35 ERA and seven strikeouts. His 95.3 mph average fastball velocity after his first three outings is the eighth-highest average fastball velocity among National League relievers.
Patrick Reddington blogs about the Nationals for Federal Baseball and appears here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. Follow him on Twitter: @federalbaseball. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.