Last June, the Pittsburgh Pirates received a booster shot that they may reap the benefits from for years to come. That insurance was the debut of the first pick in the 2011 amateur draft, starting pitcher Gerrit Cole.
Cole made his presence known immediately last season, taking a shutout into the seventh inning against the Giants in his major league debut on June 11 of last year. With his presence in the rotation, Pittsburgh clinched its first playoff birth in twenty years.
In 19 games, Cole tallied a record of 10-7 with a 3.22 ERA. He also showed his effectiveness in getting batters to swing and miss, striking out 100 batters in 117.1 innings pitched.
So, the question that all Pirates fans want to know the answer to presents itself: What should we expect from Gerrit Cole in his first full season with the Pirates?
At only 23 years of age, Gerrit Cole looked like one of the most mature pitchers in baseball last year, staying calm and collected on the mound. He even earned a win in the National League Divisional Series against the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals.
Now, there will always be the discussion of the infamous "sophomore slump" for players like Cole who break into the scene at such a young age.
However, with the high-caliber pitches he has in his arsenal and his ability to use them effectively, there should be no doubt that Cole will pick up right where he left off last season.
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This report from FanGraphs shows how well Cole mixes his pitches, which send batters back to the dugout shaking their heads.
In his arsenal, he has a blazing fastball which reached 96.1 miles per hour in the divisional series last season. According to the same report on FanGraphs, that was the highest registered speed on a pitch thrown by a pitcher with at least 110 innings pitched in 2013.
Given the amount of aces and power pitchers in the MLB, it is pretty remarkable that he owned the fastest pitch that late into the season.
After losing veteran starting pitcher A.J. Burnett to the Phillies in free agency, the Pirates have put Cole in the number two slot behind Francisco Liriano in the starting rotation. According to the team depth chart on MLB.com, the Pirates will round out their rotation with Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke and either Edinson Volquez or Wandy Rodriguez. Those four pitchers combined for only 32 wins in 2013, so the Pirates will be hoping for production from Cole.
Due to the confidence he carries himself with on the mound and his ability to get batters out with any of his pitches, there is no reason to believe that Cole won't have an even better season in 2014.
In 2014, Cole will look to contribute to Pittsburgh's second straight playoff birth, but this may also be the season he breaks out as an individual. Barring any sort of major injury, Cole has the potential to collect more than one Cy Young Award in his career.
That may seem like a bold statement to make about a pitcher who hasn't pitched a full season yet, but he is simply that overpowering. In fact, don't be surprised if he is in the running for the National League Cy Young Award as early as this season.
The future is bright for the Pirates, and Gerrit Cole will be in the center of the mix for years to come. He can do it all, and he will continue to prove that in 2014.
*Statistics Courtesy of FanGraph, BaseballReference and MLB.com