Being a first-round draft pick in the sport of baseball puts a ton of pressure on a kid, sometimes one that is just coming out of high school and completely skipping the route of going to college, making it tough for that important step of development to occur. But for Gerrit Cole, going first overall meant that he had to live up to even more pressure and expectations, starting all the way back in 2011.
Drafted from UCLA, Cole went to the lowly Pirates eight years ago in a move that was not super controversial but represented a level of importance that the entire Pittsburgh organization was placing on the shoulders of Cole. A standout pitcher in school, the Pac-12 hurler was destined for the MLB and to hopefully make a big-time impact when he got there.
Rising through the ranks of the minor leagues and biding his time along the way, Cole’s development reached its fruition only two years later, as he made his first appearance in 2013. Starting 19 games and pitching 117.1 innings in his first taste of the MLB, Cole seemed destined to be that dude to help get the Pirates out of the cellar, where they had been consistently biding their time in the National League Central division.
Being a part of the Pirates organization for five whole seasons was a great opportunity for Cole to develop his stuff for a struggling team that knew they could count on Cole every fifth day. However, playing for a team that was year in, year out last in their division meant that a trade could eventually come down the line, which is exactly what happened on January 14 of 2018.
The Houston Astros, a former NL Central foe of the Buccos, came calling about Cole’s services, and they made a move, sending four prospects, headlined by pitchers Joe Musgrove and Michael Feliz, to the Pirates in return for Cole’s services. The 2018 season represented an arbitration year for Cole, as this was the final year of his arbitration eligibility before becoming an unrestricted free agent, so it was also a prove-it scenario with a contender.
Not only did Cole put up some of the best numbers in his entire career, he did it while helping lead the Astros to the playoffs, one year removed from their World Series championship. While the Astros fell short in 2018, Cole was an integral part in how far they got, which is why he was brought back to Houston for the 2019 season, signing a one year, $13.25 million deal to avoid arbitration.
In 2018 alone, Cole’s numbers really jumped off the page, as his 15 wins, only five losses and a 2.88 ERA are only rivaled by his sparkling 2015 campaign with Pittsburgh, when he put up a sparkling 19-8 record across a career-high 208 innings, sporting a minuscule 2.60 ERA.
The Astros, who were set up very well with the quartet of Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Justin Verlander, and Cole, lost Morton after the 2018 season when he signed a two-year agreement to help lead the Tampa Bay Rays starting rotation. For Keuchel, he was left unsigned after the 2018 season after declining his qualifying offer, and just recently signed a deal with the Atlanta Braves, joining closer Craig Kimbrel as two marquee free agents who were left unsigned until around halfway through the season.
With both Keuchel and Morton out of the picture, the rotation belongs to Cole and Verlander now, and Cole’s stats have lived up to that billing too. So far in his 2019 season, Cole is on track for setting a new career high in games started, strikeouts and innings pitched, although with the type of lead that the Astros have currently in the AL West, they may be able to give Cole a few starts off to save his arm for the playoffs.
Verlander seems to be a fine wine for Houston, and even though that type of alcohol normally does not mix well with hot, dry weather, the former Tiger keeps putting up career years on his way to lead this team to the playoffs yet again.
Up for his first big payday this winter, Cole should command top-dollar offers from teams who are looking to improve their starting rotations with a guy with a little over five years of service time in the majors on his arm. Houston should absolutely be looking to re-invest in Cole and keep him in the Lone Star state, but if money talks to Cole more than re-upping with a familiar roster, then his legacy as an Astros will live on if he decided to take his talents elsewhere.
For the time being, however, the Astros have a much more important task at hand, which involves solidifying their lead in their division, adding key pieces at the trade deadline to help bolster their roster, and hope that the injury bug stays in the AL East and does not decide to travel west as the season moves past its halfway mark.
If there was to be a knock on the Houston team, it would be centralized around their lack of depth pieces that are starting caliber, but with how Cole and Verlander are pitching, their abilities to help mask any faults of this time has kept them in first for what has basically been the entire season.
Currently sitting seven games ahead of their closest competition, which is the Oakland Athletics, the Astros seem to have one of the cushiest seats out of all of the AL and NL division leaders at this point. While the combination of the Athletics, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners do next to nothing in terms of scaring Houston into a big move or two, they should at least expand upon their roster in a way that bolsters their weak spots.
An area that this team does not need to focus on is their top-end rotation depth, as Cole is helping lead this team back to the playoffs, looking to make 2017 not the only time this team wins a World Series before 2020 hits.