Welcome Back, A.J. Cole

With the three-way trade of Michael Morse, 2010 4th Rd. pick A.J. Cole has returned to the Washington Nationals organization.

Cole, who had been dealt away 13 months ago in the trade for Gio Gonzalez, was acquired along with 24-year-old Blake Treinin and the ubiquitous “Player To Be Named Later” from Oakland for OF-1B Michael Morse, with Seattle sending Oakland C John Jaso to round out the deal.

Cole’s 2012 season was a rough one, getting pounded in his first eight starts for 60 hits including seven HR’s and seven losses for High-A Stockton before the A’s dropped him down to Low-A Beloit of the Midwest League. He rebounded to post a 6-3 record and a 2.07 ERA, which would have been league-best had he thrown more innings.

Scouts identified a tendency to fly open and leave his pitches up during his time with Stockton, but the better news for Nats fans is that his velocity, which had faded badly during his H.S. senior year, has returned and his control remains very good (1.8BB/9 for Beloit). His changeup has also reportedly improved, but his breaking ball — a slurve of sorts — remains a work in progress, which is not uncommon for A-ball prospects.

Given his age and praise, I’ve put Cole immediately onto the 2013 Watchlist.

Treinin is an unusual story, spending time but not pitching at the varsity level for Baker University and Arkansas before finally getting to pitch for South Dakota State in 2010, his junior year. He was drafted in 2010 by Florida in the 23rd round but had his contract voided when an MRI indicated damage. A strong senior season moved him up to the 7th Round, when Oakland took him and sent him to Low-A Burlington for 27 relief innings after a three-inning look-see in the Arizona League.

Treinin features a mid-90s fastball and what Sickels called “a workable slider” in his book last season. He also throws a change. As predicted by Sickels, the 24-year-old was given a shot at starting last summer and went 7-7 with a 4.37 ERA and a 1.350 WHIP with good peripherals (2.0BB/9IP, 8.0K/9IP). It’s too soon to tell what the Nats have planned for him, but a guess would be that if he starts, it’s Potomac; if he relieves, he might have a chance at Harrisburg.

Author: Luke Erickson

Since 2009, Luke Erickson has been chief writer, editor, and bottle-washer of NationalsProspects.com. Potomac is his home base as a season-ticket holder, but he has visited every affiliate north of Florida at least once, with multiple trips to Hagerstown and Harrisburg.

30 thoughts on “Welcome Back, A.J. Cole”

  1. I think it is safe to say that this trade negates the damage of losing the draft pick for signing Soriano. I hope that the PTBNL is not just a throwaway.


  2. It’s the first time that I had heard of Cole’s fading FB, during his senior year of H.S.

    Interesting that there was such a performance discrepancy between high A and low A. I guess in the world of baseball almost anything is possible!

  3. unless PTBNL is a good prospect, this is a poor deal. Cole is raw and Trienan just organizational fodder. I think Rizzo did Beast a favor. He’d have gotten more in return by waiting until spring training. Sigh. Span better be awesome or this year won’t fulfill the lofty expectations….

    1. John Sickels of minorleagueball.com, and indeed just about every commentator that I’ve seen, really liked the Nats’ end of this trade. But hey, your mileage clearly varies. I’m going with Sickels, et al.

  4. Does anybody know how PTBNL works? Is the player known to the trading teams, but just won’t be announced to the player/fans until some later time? OR, goes the “giving” team have to provide a list of X number of protected players, and the “receiving” team then can make their selection at some future date? Or, something else?

    Obviously a lot depends on how good that PTBNL turns out to be, but I suspect Cole is the biggest prospect we’re getting in this. Given those high-A and low-A weak 2012 results it is kind of surprising that BA had him ranked so high (as a prospect) for Oakland. But assuming the PTBNL is decent, then we got roughly what would have been expected, with at least two high-potential pitching prospects.

  5. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I’ve always understood PTBNL trades to be a list of acceptable players that the exchanging teams have agreed upon with a six-month deadline (usually it’s within a month), which gives the receiving team time to evaluate the pool. Sometimes the two teams will instead agree to a cash transaction to finalize the deal. While we may be hunched over our screens with a Seinfeldian “We have to know!” look on our faces, it wouldn’t surprise me if we don’t find out until March or April (i.e. after the minor-leaguers have shown up in ST).

  6. I expected some immediate LH bullpen help for Morse but I’ll gladly take Cole back. pass the butter cuz Rizzo is on a roll

  7. Now we’re talking!
    I’m guessing & hoping that Rizzo is thinking what us seamheads are thinking, that once A.J. gets back in to the loving arms (bad pun) of the Nats developmental staff he will prosper.
    Luke, you’re confusing anyone new to this site by calling him a 4th rounder. He was a “4th rounder”, a classic thumbing of the nose at Bud (Lite) Selig. I can’t wait to see him again & I’m sure Rizzo shares my ardor.

    Sure going to miss Morse, but happy with the return. I agree completely with Steve about Span.

    Great photo by the way!

  8. Might the PTBNL be one of Oakland 2012 draftees since I believe draftees can not be traded until the following years draft? Six months delay would cover the 2013 draft, I bewieve, and thus make a 2012 draftee available. Food for thought.
    Let’s Play Two!

  9. I like the trade. A.J. Cole is a prospect with a high ceiling, just the kind of player Rizzo wanted. The Nats weren’t going to get any elite pitching prospect such as Paxton or Hulsten(sp? I’m too lazy to look it up) so they got the next best, one who might turn out to be every bit as good in the long run. Treinin, apparently, is potentially better than a throw in as well.

  10. I think a lot of Cole’s ’12 stuggles may have just been bad luck, his BABIP-Against was whopping .403. Also, his FIP was 2.5 pts below is ERA (though a 4.99 FIP isn’t good). His k/9 were down from 9ish to 7.5 so that’s not great, but his BB/9 was steady.

    Once demoted to low A last year he was outstanding again (9.6 k/9, .291 BABIP, 2.07 ERA, 2.74 FIP) and at 20 he’s not especially “old” for that level…

    1. Here’s how BA put it: “Cole’s Cal League problems came because he opened up too quickly in his delivery, dragged his arm and over-rotated, and left pitches up in the strike zone.”

      In more layman’s terms, he had a hard time keeping the ball down. While I may be hitting the wrong square on the mat, this reminds me far too much of Robbie Ray, which may make sense when you consider that the two had the same pitching coach in ’11 (and was Ray’s in ’12).

  11. AJ Cole in A managed to throw more than a 4 to 1 ratio strikes to balls as a starter in A ball in 2012. Whereas in A+. It was just above 2 to 1 ratio strikes to ball. Decided difference in control that could be explained by his “flying open” reported by scouts.

    He had over 4 to 1 strikes to balls in Hagerstown the previous year.

  12. Rizzo mentioned that the California league that Cole pitched in has a habit of ‘eating’ pitchers.

    Luke, anybody, help me with understanding why this league is tough on pitchers??

    1. Read last year that the Cal League & the PCL (AAA) were ‘off the charts’ hitters leagues.
      Be glad we don’t have any teams in either; pretty hard to evaluate your talent. Hitters or pitchers.

    2. Sun baked, hard packed infields and sometimes outfields where the ball tends to run, take weird or Baltimore chop type bounces.

  13. Texas league has same problem. You need to break down power numbers in PCL because of a number of parks are mile high! Line drives work everywhere but moon shots are helped big time.

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