Starting pitcher Gerrit Cole of the UCLA Bruins pitches against the South Carolina Gamecocks during Game 1 of the men's NCAA College Baseball World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Gerrit Cole was one of the top talents in the draft, but a lot of Pirates fans are a little wary of the pick. Are they right to be?
The Pirates and college pitchers have gone together as well as peanut butter and jelly. Well, not jelly, really. More like peanut butter and a kid who is deathly allergic to peanut butter. You can see why they’re tempted -- peanut butter is delicious -- but it will kill them. Gerrit Cole, the player the Pittsburgh Pirates took first overall in the 2011 MLB draft, is a college pitcher
So you can kind of see why Pirates fans might be just a little upset that the team would pass on Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon, who is supposed to be one of the better college hitters to come around since, well, Pedro Alvarez. The thought of those two manning the corners for a decade or so made Pirates fans feel warm fuzzy.
Gerrit Cole is a college pitcher. You know, like Daniel Moskos.
Or Brad Lincoln.
Or John Van Benschoten, Clint Johnston, Jim Winn, and Mike Zimmerman.
There are only two college pitchers the Pirates have taken in the first round who have provided any kind of value -- Kris Benson and Paul Maholm. Benson had an ERA just a little below the league average while he was a Pirate. Maholm’s ERA has been just a little above the league average. Those are the success stories.
With the exception of Moskos, though, the pitchers the Pirates took in the early part of the first round were very, very highly touted pitching prospects. If the Pirates didn’t select them, another team certainly would have shortly after. Their lack of success doesn’t indicate a breakdown within the Pirates’ scouting -- everyone liked those pitchers to go high in the first round. Don’t blame the Pirates for loving pitchers that almost everyone else loved too. Neal Huntington has a different crew in place than the one that drafted and dedeveloped those pitchers. So you can’t blame them for the mess that was made of Bullington and Lincoln, or for the painfully slow development of Lincoln.
What Pirates fans can be upset with, though, is the idea of another college pitcher. The temptation of an arm like Cole’s is a strong one, but college pitchers picked in the first round come with a risk. They tend to make the majors, but rarely do they become stars. With a first-overall pick, you want a star. You want a pitcher who sneezes sliders that break six feet and tosses 100-mph fastballs with minimal effort. Highly touted college hitters are a bit surer to become stars.
But that’s looking at the first round overall. What about the cream of the crop, the #1 overall pitchers? A similar story. Mike Moore, Tim Belcher, Andy Benes, and Ben McDonald were solid pitchers for a while. David Price has a chance to be special. But college pitchers seem to be even worse when looked through the prism of the #1 overall pick.
Cole wasn’t a reach. He wasn’t an overdraft. Scouts love him. He lit up the stat sheet at UCLA. By any measure, he was one of the top amateur talents available. A lot of people were absolutely convinced that he was the top amateur talent. But don’t blame the Pirates fans for being a little wary, if not allergic, to a college pitcher. Ninth bitten, tenth shy.