Gerrit Cole wasn’t the best pitcher in the country this year. He wasn’t even the best pitcher on his team (that distinction belongs to third overall selection Trevor Bauer). But the Pirates selected Cole with the first overall pick in spite of his good-but-not-great numbers because they see him as a future impact starter in the Major Leagues.
"If we were focused on taking the player who performed the best this year, there might have been other options," GM Neal Huntington said on a conference call after selecting Cole. "Our focus is selecting the player that we believe is going to be the best for the organization two, four, six, eight, ten years from now.”
Cole posted a 3.31 ERA with 9.4 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 for UCLA last year. Those numbers are good and Cole insists he’s capable of more.
“Obviously it wasn’t up to my standards, but you try not to think about it,” he said. “I didn’t really let it get to me or affect me very much. I just control what I can control and let the teams do the evaluation.”
The Pirates' top amateur talent evaluator, scouting director Greg Smith, was impressed with the way the right-hander battled through tough spots this season, so Pittsburgh selected a pitcher with its top pick for the second consecutive season (the Pirates selected high schooler Jameson Taillon last year). Smith and Huntington considered taking high school and college position players first overall before deciding that they wanted more pitching.
“You can never have too much of it. It’s the most valuable commodity in our game,” Huntington said. “We haven’t consciously gone out to stockpile arms. We play by the integrity of the [draft] board.”
Of course, Cole isn’t Pirates property just yet. The 20-year-old Scott Boras client already turned down first round money once, when he went to UCLA instead of signing with the Yankees in 2008. No first overall pick is ever cheap, but Huntington says he expects to work out a deal by the August 15th signing deadline.
“Signability is an issue with every player that comes off the board in the first round,” he said. “We’re going to work hard. We’re going to fight to find a common ground that makes sense for both sides.”