In 2008, young high school pitcher Gerrit Cole was drafted by the team of his dreams, the New York Yankees. Cole turned down the opportunity, and the guaranteed millions of dollars, opting instead to attend UCLA.
In fact, Cole never even gave the Yankees a chance to make a financial offer.
Together with his father, Mark, Gerrit charted various pathways to his future. They painstakingly pored over the positives and the negatives, charting career comparisons and compiling financial analyses before ultimately deciding that attending college was the best possible decision to ensure Gerrit posterity.
Once the decision was made, there was no looking back.
The Yankees were aware of this decision before they took a chance and selected him 28th in the first round of the 2008 draft. But the Coles refused to entertain any proposals.
"We didn't need to hear an offer," his father would say. "It would just be giving them the wrong impression..."
Cole went on to have a stellar collegiate career with UCLA . Upon entering the 2011 MLB draft, he had clearly established himself as an elite pitcher.
And he was watched every step of the way.
During his junior season, there was one team who had at least one member of their scouting staff at every single ballgame he pitched, and by the time draft day arrived, their eyes were firmly set on making him a part of their future.
On Monday, June 6, 2011, the Pittsburgh Pirates chose RHP Gerrit Cole with their number one draft selection.
Let's take an in-depth look at the Cole, the person and the player, and a cornerstone of the future for the Pittsburgh Baseball Club...
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Gerrit Alan Cole was born in Newport Beach, California on September 8, 1990.
The New York Yankees thread throughout his life started at a young age. Mentioning this is important in understanding Cole's drive for success at a later age.
Gerrit's father, Mark, was a transplanted New Yorker, and Gerrit inherited his passion for the Yankees. Among his childhood heroes, he lists Mariano Rivera and Roger Clemens.
A young Cole, in full Yankee garb, was captured by Newark Star-Ledger photographer William Perlman at Game 6 of the 1991 World Series between the Yankees and the Diamondbacks.
Cole attended Orange Lutheran High School, where he was a three-year varsity letter winner. Cole logged ERAs of 1.21 as a junior and .046 as a senior. As he graduated, he had already earned major accolades (All-USA High School-First Team, 2008; EA Sports All-America Selection; Top high school prospect, Crosschecker; and fourth-best high school player by Baseball America, who also made him a second-team All-America Honoree in 2008).
Cole's credentials were impressive enough that he was drafted 28th in the first round of 2008—by the New York Yankees, the team he had dreamt about playing for as a child. From an emotional viewpoint, this made his decision to attend UCLA that much more difficult...
During his three years at UCLA, Cole established himself, as he immediately impressed with speed and power.
Cole made 14 starts as a freshman as he went 4-8 with a 3.49 ERA. He set a UCLA single-season freshman record for strikeouts with 104, was second in the PAC-10 in opposing batting average (.191), and gave up just 36 walks. UCLA scored just 14 runs in the games he started.
Cole was one of three freshmen to receive All-PAC-10 Honors. He garnered Freshman All-America honors from Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, and Second Team Freshman All-America from Ping!Baseball.
As a sophomore, Cole started 19 games, with an 11-4 record and a 3.37 ERA. He was the ace of the staff, ringing up 153 strikeouts in 123 innings, with 10 or more strikeouts in five games.
Cole earned second-team All-America Honors from Collegiate Baseball and Ping!Baseball and third team mention from Baseball America and NCBWA.
In his junior year, Cole started 16 games and went 6-8 with a 3.31 ERA. Cole allowed one run or fewer in seven of his starts, and carried back-to-back perfect games into the seventh innings of games against Nebraska and Georgia.
Cole received honorable mention All-PAC-10 Team.
USA Baseball Collegiate National Team
Cole was selected to play for the US Collegiate Team in both 2010 and 2011.
Cole excelled in the tournaments. In 2010, he went 4-0 with a 1.06 ERA as the National Team advanced to the championship game of the World Baseball Challenge. During the tournament, Cole helped to pitch a combined no-hitter as he held Guatemala scoreless through 5 2/3 innings, striking out 11 batters.
In 2011, Cole went 2-0 with an 0.72 ERA and struck out 23 in 25 innings in the tournament, though the USA lost the gold medal game to Cuba in the FISU World University Baseball Championships.
Cole was rated top prospect on the team both years he participated by Baseball America.
Pirates GM Neal Huntington
The Pittsburgh Pirates followed Gerrit Cole every step of his Junior season, with a team scout or staff member attending every game Cole pitched in.
Day by day, they would become more certain that Cole had all of the tools to be a successful major league pitcher.
The Pirates held the number one draft choice in 2011, their fourth number one selection in team history. The previous ones have yielded dubious results.
In 1986 the Bucs made 3B Jeff King their first pick. King wound up having a decent, 11 year career with the Pirates and the Kansas City Royals.
In 1996 the Pirates chose Kris Benson number one in the draft. Benson was beset by injuries, but still managed to make a living in the big leagues. He went 70-75 over nine seasons, playing for five different teams.
Their third number one pick was a disaster. In 2002, the Pirates selected Brian Bullington with the first overall pick. Bullington never found his footing and wound up winning only one game in the majors. He now plays professional ball in Japan.
As the 2011 draft day approached, the entire baseball world knew that this was perhaps the most important selection of the Neal Huntington era. Pirates management and scouts huddled and, after evaluating their options, decided that Gerrit Cole would be the selection.
On Monday, June 6th, it became official: Gerrit Cole was a Pittsburgh Pirate.
As Huntington would later say, "We felt he'd have the biggest impact for us of anybody on the board."
"To be selected first overall is just a tremendous honor," said Cole. "Everybody dreams of it...but I don't know if anyone ever thinks they're going to go number one overall."
Later that evening, Cole received a congratulatory text from the New York Yankees scouting director Damon Oppenheimer.
The Pirates reached a deal with Cole in the waning minutes of the August 15 deadline for draft signings.
His $8 million contract is the largest-ever major league signing bonus, negotiated by his agent, Scott Boros, who said "We feel Gerrit is going to be in the majors in a year."
With Gerrit Cole officially on board, the Pirates must now evaluate where he stands and provide a plan for his development.
Early indications are that Cole reaching the majors in a year might not happen. Cole has a few tendencies that need to be addressed before any promotion to the big leagues.
Cole has a three-pitch repertoire: a fastball, a slider, and a breaking pitch.
Cole's pitches have been clocked as follows:
His two-seam fastball goes generally around 92-94 MPH; his four-seam fastball clocks in from 94 to 98, and occasionally reaches 100 MPH.
His slider has been clocked at 88-90.
His change-up also clocks at 88-90.
At 6'4", 220 pounds, Cole has a sturdy frame and his pitching motion is somewhat quirky.
Upon observing Cole, it's immediately clear that he has superior power and generates incredible momentum.
Cole starts his windup a la Roger Clemens, with his glove held in front of his face, squarely facing his opponent. He turns and coils, rearing back with a semi-sidearm motion, then uncoils and releases the ball with his raised leg extended outward and still behind him, using a long, powerful stride forward to generate superior momentum.
At release, his shoulders are briefly squared toward the plate, and then the whip momentum of his arm carries his upper body through while his raised leg swing finishes up and out.
Cole has often been compared to Washington Nationals sensation Stephen Strasburg.
Reports from his college days reflect his penchant for throwing the ball solidly over the plate—perhaps too solidly. Cole needs to learn to work his pitches around the perimeters of the strike zone more effectively.
Other reports cite the similar speeds of his slider and change-up. Cole needs to master greater variation in the velocities of these pitches, or the best hitters will learn to time him.
If Cole can command these two things, he may very well be in a Pirates uniform by next September. If not, don't expect the Pirates to rush him.
"There's definitely going to be some sort of learning curve, but there was a learning curve going into college as well," offered Cole.
"Fastball command, slider command—it's not so much about pitching in the zone. It's being able to pitch out of the zone effectively to get hitters out at the major league level."
Cole professes he's ready to learn and be patient as far as his development.
"You've got to leave it up to the team, the club—obviously Neal and those guys know what they're doing. It's going to be their decision."
Pirates GM Neal Huntington and the Pirates must decide what's best for Cole's development.
After his signing, he headed to Bradenton and Pirate City along with others from his draft class, including number two pick Josh Bell.
Said Huntington: "We've got to get him into baseball shape, and in this particular case, back into pitching shape."
Huntington also has not ruled out Cole participating in the Arizona Fall League, and the valuable training and experience it would provide.
Ultimately, it's Cole who will determine when he will reach the major leagues.
"His ability to make adjustments is going to be important," said Huntington. " He will show us by how he handles himself off and on the field."
Cole is happy to be a Pirate, stating "I was pretty sure that the Pirates is where I wanted to start my career. It was where I wanted to be."
As for the Pirates, the feeling is mutual.
For a small market team, the most efficient financial return is made by investing at the front of the careers of blossoming prospects. The reward is control of quality players for the first several years as they emerge as stars.
Cole's journey to the majors may be brief enough that the Pirates can enjoy the fruits for five years or so.
Yet if Cole fulfills his destiny, the day may come when he out-prices his mentors once he reaches free agency.
And he would likely do so under the watchful eyes of those New York Yankees, who may get that second chance to fulfill a young man's biggest dream.