Originally written on Pirates Prospects  |  Last updated 10/21/11
Mlb-all-star-home-run

Cole can be the Pirates 1st true ace of the new millenium

Tim has recently unveiled the cover for the upcoming 2012 Prospects Guide Book and the motif is 4 side-by-side pictures of Stetson Allie, Luis Heredia, Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole.  Each of them is on an Ace playing card of a different suit, implying that the Pirates have 4 potential aces in the system.

Whether each of those players reaches the majors and succeeds as a starter is another topic entirely.  The point is that the Pirates have 4 players in their system whose ceilings are that of a #1 pitcher.  It is the rarest of commodities — a true ace.

I went through the season logs on Baseball Reference for the Pirates from 2000-2011 to see who has made the most starts for the Pirates over that time period, but I narrowed the criteria to ONLY players drafted and brought through the Pirates’ system.  Here’s the top 5 pitchers, their strikeouts/9 innings, and their fastball velocities using Pitch F/X data from Fangraphs:

1. Paul Maholm, 185 starts, 5.5 K/9, 87-89 mph fastball

2. Zach Duke, 159 starts, 4.7 K/9, 87-89 mph fastball

3. Ian Snell, 110 starts, 7.5 K/9, 92-93 mph fastball

4. Kris Benson, 95 starts, 6.4 K/9, 91-93 mph fastball

5. Jimmy Anderson, 85 starts, 3.8 K/9, 86-88 mph fastball

That’s a rather chilling list that shows the Pirates have not cultivated a top-level pitcher, let alone an ace, from their system in a very long time.  Of those 5 pitchers above, only Benson was of the caliber and hype potential of any of The Four Aces (especially Cole, his most analagous comparison).  Ian Snell is the only one to have a strikeout at 7.5 K/9 or above, which would not be typical of a #1 pitcher who is expected to be right around (if not above) 9.0 K/9 IP.

There’s an old saying that goes “In order to make bricks you need clay”, which means that to produce something positive you first need the right raw materials.  There’s more to a great pitcher than just a blazing fastball, as an ace will have 3 to 4 plus pitches in his arsenal.  However, it is much harder to be an ace WITHOUT a great fastball.  Of course there are exceptions to every rule — Cliff Lee is the current one right now — but the fastball sets everything up from that point.  It’s the pitch thrown the majority of the time by a pitcher and the one they go to when the need to make a pitch in a crucial situation.  The truly great rack up their strikeouts with their fastball simply being faster than hitters can react, especially if their command allows them to place it where he wants it to go.

That’s why Gerrit Cole’s most recent Arizona Fall League start was encouraging for me.  His fastball reached or exceeded 100 mph at least 7 times.  His plus changeup (the equalizer that a pitcher needs to combat opposite-handers) sat 88-89 mph.  Think about that one for a second.  His CHANGEUP was equal in speed to 3 of those 5 pitchers’ fastballs shown above.

Jameson Taillon was sitting 94-96 with his fastball this year as a 19 year old.  Heredia was 92-94 as a 16 year old.  Allie, who has thrown high 90′s in his high school career, toned it down to 93-95 this year as a 20 year old starter.

Will all four of these pitchers become starters for the major-league team and thrive as #1 starters?  Most likely not.  The sobering fact of attrition for pitchers is that if 1 of these 4 is a true ace we should be thrilled.  If another one is a mid-rotation starter that would be great.  If a 3rd is a high-leverage reliever, that would be a windfall.

But it is encouraging to visualize a day when the Pirates put someone on the mound that will give hitters pause before digging their spikes in and to not be able to sit solely on the fastball.


GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Report: Pierre-Paul could miss training camp, start of season

Report: Spurs sign David West

Report: Marc Gasol signs five-year deal with Grizzlies

Manu Ginobili announces he will return next season

Robinson Cano dealing with stomach ailment all season

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Tony Romo on Dez Bryant's contract: 'I think it will work out'

Dwayne Bowe: I’m here to fill Josh Gordon’s shoes

Report: DeAndre Jordan was tired of Chris Paul's antics

Marcus Smart eager to show full skill set with injury behind him

Geno Smith: Brandon Marshall is 'a quarterback's best friend'

Report: NFL executive questions hype around Sam Bradford

Russell Wilson abstaining from sex with girlfriend Ciara

Coach K on meeting Beyonce for first time: 'I felt like 13'

Three-star TE Michael Irvin Jr. commits to Miami

Bryce Harper skipping HR Derby because of dad's injury

Braves the most interesting team to watch at the deadline?

Video shows FSU QB De'Andre Johnson punching woman

Is James Harden dating Khloe Kardashian?

Odell Beckham Jr. poses for nude version of 'The Catch'

Dwyane Wade: I'll retire 'when I can no longer play'

How Matt Ryan became “Matty Ice”

The long road of an NBA second-round pick

Jameis Winston visits Miami teen in hospital with condition

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Bryce Harper to skip Home Run Derby

Video shows De'Andre Johnson punching woman

Odell Beckham Jr. poses for nude version of 'The Catch'

Report: Giants pull offer to Pierre-Paul

Report: Jordan was tired of Chris Paul

2015 All-Star starters announced

JPP injured in fireworks mishap?

Odell Beckham doesn't want to be known for 'the catch'

Russell Wilson 'would definitely consider' playing for Mariners

Solo, Rapinoe among USWNT stars up for World Cup awards

LBS on Sports Jeopardy! Here's how how it went

College football's 35 most patriotic helmets

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.