The MLB All-Star break is nearly upon us, and of course, that means the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game are right around the corner. However, the All-Star break also brings one other contest to diehard baseball fans: the All-Star Futures Game.
Like the All-Star Game, the All-Star Futures Game features some of the brightest stars in baseball—only from the minor league level. A team of prospects representing the U.S. and a team of prospects representing other countries from around the world are selected by Baseball America and MLB to compete against each other and showcase all the talent the minor leagues have to offer.
No single major league organization is allowed to have more than two prospects on either team. This year, the Washington Nationals have just one representative, and naturally, it's a pitcher: A.J. Cole.
Cole was not the first Nats choice for the Futures Game. Originally, RHP Taylor Jordan of Double-A Harrisburg was scheduled to attend. However, Jordan was called up to the Nats when Dan Haren was placed on the DL with shoulder inflammation, and a replacement was needed. Cole, a RHP for Single-A Potomac, was the clear solution.
A 6'4", 180-pound righty from Winter Springs, Fla., Cole, 21, was rated by Baseball America (via James Wagner of the Washington Post) as the second best pitching prospect in the Nats' system after Lucas Giolito.
He returned to the Nats this past winter. After being acquired by Washington in 2010, he was traded away to Oakland for Gio Gonzalez before the start of the 2012 season. There, he floundered in the hitter-friendly California League, but now that's he's back in the Carolina League, he's starting to show his great potential.
Over 17 starts and 91.1 innings pitched, Cole has a 5-3 record and a 4.43 ERA. Those numbers may not be the most impressive, but his high number of strikeouts makes up for it: On the season, he's recorded 99 strikeouts. His pitching repertoire includes a high-90s fastball and a wipeout slider, and he's begun to incorporate his changeup more.
Obviously, the Futures Game is a unique opportunity for Cole to show off his best stuff. He may not have been the first choice, but he's definitely a good one.