Last night’s opening game in the 2010 College World Series was supposed to be a showcase for UCLA ace Gerrit Cole, but South Carolina’s Blake Cooper stole the show.
Cooper, who earlier in the month was drafted in the 12th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks, struck out 10 Bruins over eight innings, while only surrendering three hits and one run. Meanwhile, the much more heralded Cole suffered one of his least impressive outings of the season by giving up 11 hits and six runs over seven innings.
The scouts watching, however, were likely more focused on the radar gun than the scoreboard. While Cooper was throwing in the high-80s, Cole was hitting mid-to-high 90s late into the ballgame. That fastball is why many project Cole to be a top-5 selection in next year’s amateur draft.
Most Yankee fans are probably already familiar with Cole because he was the team’s first round selection coming out of high school in 2008. Despite being a Yankee fan, not to mention a rumored signing bonus of over $3 million, Cole opted against signing with his favorite team so he could attend UCLA. As he toed the rubber in Omaha last night, that decision looked to be a very intelligent one, especially considering the much larger payday looming next June.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed in baseball. Cole’s risk is still a year away from paying off, which considering the precarious nature of pitching, is not insignificant. One only needs to look at the video of Joel Zumaya writhing in pain after throwing a pitch in yesterday’s game against the Twins to realize how suddenly a pitcher’s career can change.
Because of that fragility, another important statistic also worth noting from yesterday’s game is the pitch count of both starting pitchers. Despite being down six runs as early as the fifth inning, Cole was allowed to throw 127 pitches in his seven innings. Meanwhile, Cooper needed 136 pitches to get through his eight innings. What’s more, Cooper was pitching on only three days rest, giving him a nine-day pitch count of 301. A workload like that would be enough to give even the major’s most durable work horse a moment to pause. It’s almost unconscionable to think that a college program would ask an unsigned 12th round senior to literally shoulder such a burden. You can bet the Diamondbacks took notice.
Hopefully, Cooper does not suffer any ill effects from his College World Series efforts. Similarly, one hopes Cole’s junior season is injury free. Major college programs may be great havens of development for talented young arms, but it is important to remember that they are also playing to win ballgames, not just groom future big league aces. The risks taken with young arms are real, and the financial implications for the athletes can be significant. It may be sour grapes from a Yankees fan, but you have to wonder if UCLA is the best place for Cole to be.
Pitchers Who Have Thrown As Many as 136 Pitches Since 2005