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Nationals' prospect A.J. Cole: A "unique" talent you'll see in D.C. in the "near-future"

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Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo said this winter that A.J. Cole was a prospect, "... you're going to hear from in the very near-future in Washington." Whether it's this season or next, the 23-year-old right-hander is headed for the majors.

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Washington Nationals' General Manager Mike Rizzo dismissed any concerns about 2010 Nats' 4th Round pick A.J. Cole's rough season in the Oakland A's system upon reacquiring the right-hander in 2013, a year after he dealt him to the Athletics.

"His developmental curve is on track," Rizzo told reporters that winter, "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."

"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." -Matt Williams on A.J. Cole, Spring 2014

Back with the organization that drafted him, Cole posted 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 ⅓ IP for the High-A Potomac Nationals to start the 2013 season. He then moved up to the Double-A Harrisburg Senators, going (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 ⅓ IP.

Cole impressed then-first-year Nats' skipper Matt Williams when the former major league slugger got a close look at the righty last Spring.

"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."

Cole worked his way up from Double to Triple-A last season, reaching the Nationals' top affiliate after making 14 starts at Harrisburg in which he was (6-3) with a 2.92 ERA, 2.58 FIP, 15 walks (1.90 BB/9) and 61 Ks (7.73 K/9) in 71 IP.

The 6'4'' righty-hander made 11 starts for the Syracuse Chiefs to end his season, going (7-0) with a 3.43 ERA, a 4.48 FIP, 17 walks (2.43 BB/9) and 50 Ks (7.14 K/9) in 63 IP.

Nationals' Assistant GM and VP of Player Development and Pro Scouting Doug Harris was asked in an MLB Network Radio interview last month what changed for Cole upon returning to the Nats' system.

"We're no smarter than the next guy," Harris said, "but there were some things that we did with him mechanically before we traded him and we really got him back to that since we reacquired him and it allows him to stay in the strike zone a little more consistently and create a little depth with the breaking ball and the quality of the changeup."

Cole is in Spring Training with the Nationals again this year after Rizzo described him this winter as a, "... great starting prospect and a guy that you're going to hear from in the very near-future in Washington."

Williams was asked on Sunday for his early impressions of the now-23-year-old starter.

"He had a great live session today," Williams said. "He is, for me, growing into his body. A young player, he's tall, he's got great leverage and he's getting stronger, certainly, by the year. This year he came into Spring Training looking great. Of course we know about his fastball and his curveball. Depending on the day he can touch mid-to-high 90s with his fastball and a curveball with feel to go with it. That's unique in that he's got the feel and velocity at the same time. Certainly a very promising prospect for us and still very young, so we've got to make sure we progress him the right way and I know he wants to pitch and loves taking the ball, that's for sure."