A.J. Cole was the second-highest ranked right-hander in the Washington Nationals' system in 2011, behind only Brad Peacock according to Baseball America, when the Nats dealt both pitchers, left-hander Tommy Milone and catcher Derek Norris to the Oakland A's in exchange for Gio Gonzalez.
Cole was ranked the top right-hander in the Athletics' organization after the deal. A little over a year later, Cole was reacquired from the Athletics as one of three prospects (along with LHP Ian Krol and RHP Blake Treinen) who came to the Nats in the three-team trade that sent Michael Morse to Seattle and John Jaso to the A's.
Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo wrote off the struggles Cole experienced at High-A in Oakland's organization in 2012, and suggested that with a little work, the then-21-year-old would return to form.
"His developmental curve is on track," Rizzo said, "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."
With the organization that selected him in the 4th Round in 2010 once again, Cole bounced back in 2013, posting a 4.25 ERA and a 3.54 FIP with 23 walks (2.13 BB/9) and 102 Ks (9.43 K/9) in 97 1/3 IP at High-A Potomac before moving up to Double-A Harrisburg where the 6'4'' starter was (4-2) with a 2.18 ERA, 2.56 FIP, 10 walks (1.99 BB/9) and 49 Ks (9.73 K/9) in seven starts and 45 1/3 IP.
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When fellow Nats' prospect Taylor Jordan couldn't appear in the All-Star Futures Game last summer, Cole was chosen as his replacement, representing the Nationals in the prospect showcase in New York's Citi Field.
Baseball America ranked Cole as the second-best right-hander in the Nationals' organization this winter and the second overall prospect in the system, behind only 2012 1st Round pick Lucas Giolito. In late January, Cole was named as one of 18 non-roster invitees to major league camp with the Nationals.
New Nats' skipper Matt Williams was asked today what he's seen from the now-22-year-old right-hander in the first few bullpen sessions of the spring and the former major league infielder said he likes what he's seen.
"The ball just comes out of his hand really well," Williams told reporters. "It just does. He's a little crossfire. Which is good. He's got, for me, he's got the ultimate pitcher's body. It's long and then he gets out front and the ball explodes out of his hand. I like it."
Though Cole's a long shot to make the Opening Day roster, Williams said the right-hander is in a good position as the 2014 campaign gets underway.
"I think what we want to do is we want to continue to develop," he explained. "So, that takes on a lot of meanings. You look at last year and you say, 'Well, did anybody anticipate Taylor Jordan being here or Tanner Roark being here?' You know... you don't know. So what we want to do is make sure that they're ready in case something happens. We don't anticipate anything happening, but you don't know. So that's the process now of making sure. So, do I see him in the fifth spot? Don't know yet. I don't know yet. And that's just being perfectly honest. But I like his stuff, I really do."
Will Cole, like Jordan, Roark, Ian Krol or Nathan Karns last season, get a look at some point in 2014?
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