We continue our look at guys the Mets will be considering with the seventh overall pick in next month's draft. Today we'll look at prep righty A.J. Cole.
Previous profiles: Christian Colon
School: Oviedo H.S. (Orlando, FL)
Weight: 190 lbs.
What He Brings
There are two things that A.J. Cole has that you just can't teach: size and arm speed. Cole's primary asset is his projection. He has one of those tall, lanky frames that make scouts salivate. Long legs, long arms. He pairs that with maybe the quickest right arm in this draft; take a look at some of his draft videos, and you'll surely walk away impressed by the sheer speed with which he moves his arm through space. Right now, his velocity is average—maybe a shade above—his fastball coming in at a durable 90-94 mph—by durable I mean he can throw hard late into games—and can touch 96, but there's plenty of reason to hope that he'll add muscle and increase velocity. But even if he doesn't, he has enough power to work with to become at least an average major league starter.
And unlike some other high school pitchers, Cole's mechanics are mostly a positive. There's a little bit of length to his throwing motion (which I'll outline below), but he's still quick to the plate, and he takes a nice, healthy stride. As of right now, I don't see anything that suggests he'll have crippling issues with command, as I do with Jameson Taillon, for example. There's no need for a substantial overhaul, and that's a big plus when evaluating a young arm, because once you tinker with mechanics, you just don't know what the end result will look like. Velocity or command can just vanish.
As for offspeed pitches, Cole throws a slider and a changeup. The high-70s slider is his second-best pitch right now, and it can have some depth and tight rotation when it's on. As for the changeup, it wouldn't surprise me if it evolves into his best option as an out-pitch in the future. He shows a good feel for it, and he doesn't telegraph it by reducing his formidable arm speed.
What He Doesn't Bring
As of right now, he just doesn't have the monster breaking pitch that you typically associate with elite prep school prospects. The slider certainly has promise. He throws it at the right speed, he's got a good arm slot for it, and it's a tight offering when everything's going well. But he doesn't always snap it off right, and the result is an inconsistent pitch. Keith Law has suggested that he might be better off switching to a curve ball, and I don't necessarily disagree. But Cole has a three-quarters arm slot that isn't as well suited for a big-breaking curve—over-the-top is pretty much the only way to go for those—and I'll remind you what I said above about overhauling pitching mechanics: you just don't know what things will look like in the end. The arm slot might also impact his ability to develop a great change. Changeups often require a pitcher to get on top of the ball, and that's just easier to do when you're coming from over the top.
I also mentioned some length in Cole's arm motion, and it's almost entirely due to an "arm grab" when he brings the ball back. What's happening is Cole is twisting his forearm too early, pronating the elbow sooner than necessary and causing his arm to pause slightly. This is usually associated with Tommy John surgery. Now, Tommy John surgery isn't a huge deal, and it might not even be worth fixing. But it might also speed up his tempo and help his command a little too; I'm not really sure. No matter what, it's still a concern.
I have seen some scouts mention that Cole has had difficulty repeating his mechanics at time. I haven't seen that yet, and I don't see a whole lot to suggest it may be something that holds him back. But it's something to watch out for.
And one final point: some scouts have criticized Cole's demeanor on the mound. He doesn't really have the fiery energy they love. I'm not really concerned; some great pitchers are just quiet on the hill, and Cole might be one of those guys. Whether he's truly non-competitive or not is something that people who talk to him would know better than I. In any event, we aren't dealing with bad mound demeanor, so it's not really worth getting too worked up about.
Cole reminds me a little of 2009 draftee Shelby Miller. I really liked Miller's arm action and overall mechanics, but there were some worries about repeatability, and he just didn't quite have the same raw stuff as Jacob Turner who went several picks earlier. Cole is in a similar spot, though I don't like him quite as much as Miller. Cole is just a little more projection than results right now.
I actually really like Cole. There's some fantastic upside with him, and there's a certain degree of safety due to the more advanced feel for the changeup and the relative mechanical polish, although the lack of a ready breaking pitch adds some risk. I like the fact that even if he never reaches his projection, he still has enough to be a capable major league starter. But I'm just not sure he's a gamble I'm ready to take with the number seven, and most mocks I've seen have him now falling between 10 and 20. But I will say this: it wouldn't shock me to see him taken among the first ten picks. But it wouldn't shock me to see him take a little bit of a freefall out of the first round, either. I wouldn't be at all surprised if there are some really divergent opinions on Cole and he sinks like Tim Melville in 2008, down to the third round or so, where teams feel comfortable taking a signability risk (Cole is committed to Miami, so he has a perfectly reasonable alternative).
All in all, Cole's not my first pick with the seven. But he's not my last, either.