Taylor Cole is having a breakout season for the Dunedin Blue Jays and, after briefly taking the lead for the most strikeouts in minor league baseball, people are starting to take notice. The 24-year-old has dominated High-A hitters this season and leads the Florida State League in FIP by a wide margin at 2.22.
Before you write him off for being on average nearly a full year older than his competition, and 2-3 years older than most of the league’s true prospects, as I admittedly was tempted to do, there’s something about Cole’s story that makes him unique.
Cole was drafted twice, once out of high school and once out of community college, but didn’t sign either time before the Blue Jays selected him out of BYU in the 29th round of the 2011 MLB Draft. However before he had attended BYU, Cole completed a mission with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Toronto.
So instead of refining his fastball command or working on his change, Cole found himself knocking on doors across the city of Toronto for two years. He said this about the experience during an interview with Carter Williams of Deseret News last month:
"“When you’re out on a mission, you don’t always see success right away,” he said. “You’re knocking on doors and doing a lot of stuff to find people to teach and you don’t always have those investigators. You have to be patient and see things happen as you go, eventually. You can’t control the movement in an organization in baseball. You can’t really control anything. You just have to be patient with yourself and the process.”"
I’m not sure if one of the doors he knocked on was the Rogers Centre but after a strong season at BYU the Blue Jays came calling and he agreed to sign for an undisclosed amount. He showed enough in Lansing to earn a promotion to Dunedin at the end of last season but overall with just 103 strikeouts in 137 innings, and throwing for the most part in the high 80’s there wasn’t too much to get excited about when it came to Cole’s 2013 campaign.
This year however has been much different. During an interview with Sam Dykstra of MiLB.com, he’s had to work to get his velocity back up and now normally sits between 90-93 MPH, touching 94 according to the stadium gun.
In the same article, Cole said he felt like he needed to find a way to separate himself from the crowd. He seems to have found it through regained velocity and an eye-popping strikeout/walk ratio.
"“I know it is the changeup that sets me apart, but now I feel that I have three strikeout pitches,” he said. “I was a power guy once, and I know it is still in there. Slowly and surely, it’s coming back.”"
The Florida State League is known to be a forgiving league for pitchers but the way he’s pounded the strike zone and missed bats at such a phenomenal rate means it should be interesting to see how he does when inevitably advanced to Double-A. The best from Cole may still be yet to come.
According to my calculations (and confirmed through Bluebird Banter’s organization depth chart), Cole will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft at the end of this season. That means in order to avoid being exposed, the Blue Jays would need to add him to the 40-man roster before the Rule 5, which is around November. Other notable players who require protection include Dalton Pompey, Andy Burns and John Stilson.
It seems like he just showed up but the Blue Jays will soon need to make a decision when it comes to Cole. And if he keeps pitching this well, it might end up being a rather easy (or possibly an excruciating difficult) one for the club.