Baseball America unveiled their Northwest League Top 20 list this morning, and the lone Vancouver Canadians player nominated was r
ight-handed pitcher Taylor Cole, narrowly making his way onto the list at No. 20. A 29th round pick by the Blue Jays in 2011, the 23-year-old Cole repeated with Vancouver this past season in what has been an interesting baseball career for him so far, to say the least.
After opting to play college ball instead of signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2007, Cole turned down the Arizona Diamondbacks the following year in 2008 to embark on a two-year Mormon mission in Toronto, stepping away from baseball entirely.
“Serving the mission was a very difficult time, but I know that it was the right thing to do for me at that time in my life,” Cole told JaysProspects in a January interview.
After returning to baseball while attending BYU in 2011, Cole finally made his pro debut with Vancouver later that year; his stats implying fatigue was an issue. After logging 93 1/3 innings for BYU, Cole tossed 33 2/3 frames for the Canadians, giving up 35 hits and issuing 17 walks en route to a 5.88 ERA/4.74 FIP.
His return to Vancouver this past season, however, was quite different. Knowing what to expect and having his first pro season under his belt, Cole was the ace of Vancouver’s staff from start to finish. He once again issued 17 walks and gave up close to 35 hits, but this time around it was in twice as many innings, as the right-hander limited opposing hitters to a mere .161 clip in 66 1/3 frames.
With the C’s fighting for a playoff berth, Cole was magnificent in his final 10 starts—he didn’t give up a run in eight of them—and capped the regular season off in style by tossing 7 2/3 hitless innings in his final outing. After closing the season with a dazzling 0.81 ERA/2.42 FIP, the Las Vegas native was named the team’s best pitcher of the year, sharing the award with teammate Javier Avendano.
Without being able to read too much into short-season stats, though, what changed with Cole this season over last?
“His off-speed pitches, they are phenomenal—they’re good to go,” Canadians pitching coach Jim Czajkowski told me in August. “Maybe his slider needs a little tweaking here and there, but everyone’s slider needs tweaking. His changeup is dead on right now, it’s a pitch that he really trusts and he’s going to be a good one, I think.
“If you really think about it, a guy who takes off two years from not even picking up a baseball to get to where he’s at now is a phenomenal story.”
After hitting mid-90s with his fastball after high school, Cole sat 88-91 with the offering this season, so his velocity will be the main thing to keep an eye on in 2013. He has a clean delivery and throws strikes, and should he regain any velocity it will make both his changeup and slider play up. Baseball America notes that Cole allowed just six extra-base hits all season and that his feel for pitching could make him a No. 5 starter in the big leagues.
Baseball America’s next league top 20 list concerning the Blue Jays will come on Tuesday, October 2, when they profile the Class-A Midwest League, where some Lansing Lugnuts are sure to be named. You can find the full top 20 schedule here.