Two years after they drafted A.J. Cole out of Oviedo High School in Oviedo, Florida in the 4th Round of the 2010 Draft and gave him a well-above slot deal to get him to walk away from a commitment to the University of Miami, the Washington Nationals traded the right-hander to Oakland in the deal that brought Gio Gonzalez to the nation's capital.
A year later, after a less-than-impressive season in the A's system, the Nats reacquired the pitcher in the three-team deal that sent Michael Morse to the Mariners. Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo, who later admitted that including Cole was the toughest part of the Gonzalez trade, wasn't concerned about the numbers the pitcher put up in the California League in 2012. Cole was (0-7) in eight starts and 38.0 IP for the High-A Stockton Ports, with a 7.82 ERA, a 4.99 FIP, 10 walks (2.37 BB/9) and 31 Ks (7.34 K/9) for the A's affiliate.
With the Low-A Midwest League's Burlington Bees, Cole was (6-3) with a 2.07 ERA and 2.74 FIP in 19 starts with 19 walks (1.79 BB/9) and 102 Ks (9.60 K/9) in 95.2 IP.
The Nats' General Manager was comfortable bringing him back. "We scouted him quite a bit this season and believe me," Rizzo assured reporters after the deal, "I have a lot of experience with that California League and that California League has made a mockery of a lot of good starting pitchers. His stuff was fine. His delivery wandered a little bit throughout the season. He righted the ship when they sent him to the Midwest League and dominated that league as a 20-year-old, so we feel that he's on course."
"His developmental curve is on track" the Nats' 52-year-old GM and Vice President of Baseball Ops continued, "and we're going to get him with our pitching people and kind of straighten out his delivery and I think that this guy will be a quick mover for us from this point forward. Stuff was great. He's in great shape. He's a big strong man now."
The early returns are impressive. Through six starts for the High-A Potomac Nationals, Cole is (1-1) so far in 2013 with a 3.94 ERA, 2.45 FIP, six walks (1.69 BB/9) and 34 Ks (9.56 K/9) in 32.0 IP. This afternoon, the right-hander was named the Carolina League's Pitcher of the Week. From the P-Nats' website:
"[A.J. Cole] pitched six innings, striking out nine while surrendering only four hits, all singles, and walking none. He gave up no earned runs against Myrtle Beach to pick up his first win of the season."
The Nationals added the following via Twitter after the announcement:
#Nationals minor leaguer RHP A.J. Cole has been named Carolina League Pitcher of the Week (April 29th- May 5th).— Nationals PR (@NationalsPR) May 6, 2013
Cole fanned 9 while allowing 4 hits in 6.0 shutout innings on 5/3 vs. Myrtle Beach (TEX). It was his first win of 2013 for the @pnats42.— Nationals PR (@NationalsPR) May 6, 2013
Minor League Ball's John Sickels had ranked as the Nationals' 3rd best prospect in his 2013 rankings.
MLB.com's scouts had Cole 3rd in the Nats' organization, as the top pitcher.
ESPN.com's Keith Law included Cole in his Top 100 Prospects list this winter.
Baseball America had Cole ranked 3rd overall in the A's system before he dealt back to Washington.