The Blue Jays have agreed to a minor league contract with right-hander A.J. Cole, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet reports (via Twitter).
Cole, 27, spent the 2019 campaign with the Indians, for whom he tallied 26 innings of 3.81 ERA ball with 10.4 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 1.38 HR/9 and a 30.8 percent ground-ball rate. Once regarded as one of the game’s top pitching prospects, Cole has yet to establish himself as a consistent MLB contributor but has demonstrated some intriguing traits since moving to the bullpen on a full-time basis in 2018.
Over his past 62 innings between the Indians and Yankees, Cole has worked to a 4.21 ERA with 11.3 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9. He’s still been far too homer-prone (1.89 per nine) and may always struggle a bit in that regard thanks to his extreme fly-ball tendencies (32.2 percent grounder rate), but Cole could also stand to benefit a bit if next year’s ball is a bit less charged. The 6’5″, 238-pound righty averaged 94.2 mph on his heater between his time with New York and Cleveland, and both his swinging-strike rate (15.1 percent) and opponents’ chase rate on pitches out of the strike zone (33.2 percent) were sources of intrigue as well. Beyond all that, Cole’s spin rate on his fastball skyrocketed in 2019 and wound up ranking in the 82nd percentile of MLB hitters, per Statcast.
Cole will have to earn a job in big league camp with the Jays next spring, but the thin nature of the Toronto pitching staff should give him a decent chance at doing so if he performs well in camp. He’s out of minor league options, so once the Jays select him to the MLB roster, he won’t be able to be sent back down without first being passed through waivers. Even if he did clear waivers, as a player who’s previously been outrighted (twice, in fact), Cole would be able to turn down the assignment in favor of free agency.