Don’t believe Gerrit Cole when he says velocity isn’t important. The 22-year-old right-hander has a fastball that reaches triple digits and his slider is as hard as many heaters. His ability to overpower hitters is what makes him one of the top pitching prospects in the game.
The 6-foot-4 flamethrower is on the fast track to Pittsburgh. Drafted first overall in 2011, out of UCLA, he pitched at three levels last season and struck out more than a batter per inning while logging an impressive 2.80 ERA. His next stop is the Pirates starting rotation, where he projects to be the ace of the staff for years to come.
Cole talked about his game when the Double-A Altoona Curve visited Portland late in the 2012 season.
David Laurila: How would describe your approach?
Gerrit Cole: I try to get early contact and keep it on the ground. I like to keep the ball down as much as I can. Strikeouts are something that just happen. You don’t go for strikeouts, because your pitch count gets too high. When you do get that opportunity, you have to put them away with whatever is working that day.
That’s the approach I’ve always had to have. I’ve got to keep my pitch count down. If you want to go deep into ballgames, you have to stay under that 100 mark.
DL: What is your repertoire?
GC: Fast, change, curve, slider. I probably throw 60% to 65% fastballs — both a two-seam and a four-seam. There’s not much of a difference in velocity between the two, so I mostly throw the two-seam when I need a ground ball. My four is probably straighter than the two. It’s what I’ll use when I want go out of the zone with a fastball.
DL: How important is velocity to your game?
GC: It’s not important. Everyone can catch up to a fastball once you’ve showed it to them enough times. I pretty much learned that when I was back in school and guys started gearing up for it. You have to keep hitters off-balance and command both sides of the plate. There’s a purpose to each pitch.
DL: What is your best off-speed pitch?
GC: Probably my changeup. I kind of grip it like a circle change, but loosely. It’s a two-seam circle and I try to arm-speed it as best I can.
DL: What’s the biggest difference between your curveball and your slider?
GC: Mostly velocity. My slider is in the upper-80s and my curveball is in the lower-80s. As far as the break, my curveball is a little more vertical. It’s bigger.
DL: What is the key to throwing a good slider?
GC: Not trying to do too much with it. It’s just like with any other pitch; you have to trust it. If you keep your fingers on top, you’ll be all right.
When I’m not throwing well, my pitches are a little flatter. That usually comes from going too fast out of my delivery — for whatever reason — or even going too slow. Basically, not nailing your delivery can cause some flatness.
DL: Do individual hitters influence your pitch selection?
GC: I try not to focus on who’s hitting. I just try to throw my game out there. Obviously, you’re watching the hitters and trying to read foul balls. You let the hitter tell you what he’s trying to do. At the same time, I focus more on myself than I do the guy at the plate. If I’m making my pitches, I’m going to get outs more often than not.