Feb 28, 2014; Dunedin, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) pitches during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates Depending On Gerrit Cole's Continued Ascendance


It can be easy to forget amidst the excitement for Pittsburgh Pirates prospects Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco, but there’s another youngster with sky-high potential already assured of making the Opening Day roster.

Of course, the man I’m speaking of is right-handed starter Gerrit Cole. The 23-year-old Californian made his MLB debut last June and gradually gained effectiveness as the season went along, eventually earning enough trust to get two starts in the National League Division Series.

Cole was mostly a binary pitcher last year, relying primarily upon his fastball and curveball to flummox hitters, although like most Pirates pitchers he flashed a sinker to complement his four-seam heater. But make no mistake: raw velocity was what allowed Cole to step into the big leagues and thrive.

Not that living in the high 90s was the only reason Cole posted a 3.22 ERA while striking out 7.7 batters per nine, but that “plus” fastball will be his escape hatch in trouble spots for years to come. It’s what gives him his Cy Young ceiling.

However, to maximize his talent and avoid any fallback in his first full season with the Pirates, Cole has to continue to polish his repertoire. To his credit, he seems to understand that, as he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review‘s Travis Sawchik that one of his focuses this spring is to make his slider a swing-and-miss pitch.

If Cole can pull that off, giving him four quality pitches if you include the changeup, he could easily grab the No. 1 mantle that has fit A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano over the past two years.

With the former gone to Philadelphia and the latter likely headed for more money elsewhere in 2015, the Pirates would be thrilled if Cole can achieve the type of consistency that defines a true ace. In fact, if the Bucs are to contend for championships over the next few years, Cole’s continued ascendance is nearly mandatory.

Apologies to the anticipated emergence of fellow righty starter Taillon and outfielder Polanco, but No. 45′s progress will be the most important – and hopefully exciting – aspect of this Pirates season.

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