The deal is centered on the Mariners’ acquisition of outfielder/first baseman Mike Morse, with catcher John Jaso headed to the A’s and a trio of prospects to the Nationals.
Headlining the prospect package acquired by the A’s is right-hander A.J. Cole, who was originally drafted by the Nationals in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. The organization also acquired right-hander Blake Treinen and a player to be named later to complete to the trade.
A.J. Cole, rhp: Scouting Report and Projection
A 6’4”, 180-pound right-hander, Cole enjoyed an impressive full-season debut at Low-A Hagerstown in 2011, as he registered a 4.04 ERA with 108/28 K/BB in 89 innings. However, the Nationals ultimately traded him to the A's during the offseason, along with three other highly regarded prospects, in exchange for left-hander Gio Gonzalez.
Ranked by Prospect Pipeline as baseball’s No. 42 prospect headed into the 2012 season, his first with the A’s, Cole opened the year at High-A Stockton where he struggled—mightily. Over his first eight starts, the right-hander registered a 7.82 ERA with 31/10 K/BB and 60 hits allowed (seven home runs) in 38 innings. As a result, the 20-year-old was demoted to Low-A Burlington in the Midwest League.
However, his struggles ended there, as Cole righted the ship following the level change and registered a 2.07 ERA with 102/19 K/BB over 95.2 innings.
During his stint in the hitter-friendly California League, he was ripping open with his hips and front side, which, in turn, adversely affected his velocity, command and overall effectiveness. However, his mechanics were far more consistent upon returning to Low-A.
Although Cole is thin and wiry, his frame is incredibly projectable, and he should benefit from adding strength to both his core and lower half. Despite throwing from a three-quarters arm slot, the right-hander has showcased highly advanced command over the last three seasons. He’ll also struggle to repeat his mechanics at times, though it was less of a problem last season following the demotion.
Cole’s fastball typically sits in the low-to-mid 90s with some natural weight and late life, and he’s been known to scrape 96-97 mph. He complements the plus heater with a curveball that features tight rotation and a sharp. The shape of the pitch was inconsistent throughout the 2012 season, though that should be attributed to Cole’s experimentation with different grips.
The right-hander’s changeup was noticeably improved last season, as he showed a more advanced feel for the offering and utilized it against left-handed hitters last season at Low-A.
Because he’s still a raw and inconsistent pitching prospect, it may ultimately take Cole an additional season to reach the major leagues. While it’s doubtful that the 21-year-old will ever struggle again as he did at High-A to open the 2012 season, that’s not to say he’ll enjoy a smooth ascent to the major leagues.
Considering that Cole’s fastball is currently his only plus pitch, the refinement of his secondary pitches will be instrumental in his overall development. There’s no denying that his command is highly advanced relative to his age, however, it should also be challenged at higher levels.
Cole won’t rank as one of my top-50 prospects headed into the 2013 season; he’s still a no-doubt top-100 prospect, but his lack of success above Low-A has hurt his prospect stock—to an extent. Regardless, the right-hander’s frame, arm strength and projectable three-pitch mix all suggest a high ceiling as a Nos. 2 or 3 starter in the major leagues.
In my analysis of the A’s top-10 prospects last month, I ranked Cole as the organization’s No. 3 prospect behind right-hander Dan Straily and the team’s top prospect, shortstop Addison Russell.
After trading right-hander Alex Meyer to the Twins in exchange for Denard Span earlier in the offseason, Cole will open the 2013 season as the Nationals’ top pitching prospect. Overall, he now ranks as the team’s No. 3 prospect behind outfielder Brian Goodwin and third baseman Anthony Rendon, and ahead of right-hander Lucas Giolito.
Blake Treinen, rhp: Scouting Report and Projection
Selected in the seventh round of the 2011 draft out of South Dakota State, Treinen, 24, was a late bloomer who didn’t pitch a full collegiate season until his senior year. However, the right-hander caught the attention of scouts with his plus velocity during the spring, which, when combined with the relative freshness of his arm, propelled him into the top-10 rounds.
Working strictly as a reliever in 2011 during his professional debut, Treinen registered a 3.67 ERA with 29/7 K/BB in 27 innings for Low-A Burlington after a brief stay in the rookie-level Arizona League.
The A’s promoted him to High-A Stockton for his full-season debut in 2012, where the right-hander pitched most of the year in the team’s starting rotation. Overall, Treinen registered a 4.37 ERA with 92/23 K/BB in 103 innings, but also allowed 116 hits. Given the lack of mileage on his arm, the A’s monitored his workload closely, as he logged only 13 innings over the final three months of the season.
At 6’4”, 220 pounds, Treinen is a physical right-hander with a projectable frame. However, despite his size, both his mechanics and delivery are fluid and repeatable.
Working from a three-quarters arm slot, Treinen’s fastball typical sits in the 92-94 mph range with natural weight, and he’s been known to scrape the high-90s in shorter stints. His command of the pitch was especially impressive last season, as he used it to aggressively pound the lower-half of the strike zone and induce a plethora of groundball outs.
The right-hander’s slider, which he throws with velocity in the low-to-mid-80s and features a wipeout break, has the potential to be a second at least above-average offering at maturity. With minimal experience on the bump, his changeup was understandably raw last season and will likely remain a work-in-progress in 2013.
Considering that left-handed hitters batted .303 against him last season—he held righties to a .250 batting average—Treinen’s changeup will need to develop into at least a serviceable third pitch—especially if he intends to stick as a starter.
With two above-average-to-plus pitches under his belt, the right-hander has a fringy ceiling as a Nos. 4 or 5 starter in the major leagues. At the same time, Treinen’s two dominant pitches also profile favorably in the bullpen, where many believe he has a brighter future.
Already 24 years old, Treinen is technically behind the developmental curve. However, that may change during the upcoming season; an improved third pitch or move to the bullpen could see the right-hander begin to move quickly.
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