Prospect Cole learning from watching talented rotation

Young Nats righty likely to start '15 at Triple-A

Prospect Cole learning from watching talented rotation

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- A.J. Cole is coming off arguably the best season of his young career. In 2014, he went a combined 13-3 with a 3.16 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A and struck out 111 in 134 innings.

The 22-year-old right-hander would likely be pushing for a spot in the Major League rotation with most teams, however, the Nationals are not most teams. Washington has a plethora of starting pitching with six proven Major League starters, leaving Cole likely destined to begin the season in Triple-A.

"It's actually kind of cool because you have such a great staff here," Cole said after his start Thursday. "What you see up here for the pitching, they're all great. You're always able to learn from them. … They've all been somewhere. They've all accomplished stuff. Just being able to watch and how they go about the game, it's just great to watch."

Cole, the team's No. 3 prospect according to MLB.com, received the start Thursday in place of Stephen Strasburg, who had an ingrown toenail removed this week. The Nationals preferred he throw his innings at their Minor League camp in Viera, Fla.

Though from the moment Cole began warming up in the bullpen, he knew he did not have his best stuff.

He needed 25 pitches to get through the first inning, one of which was deposited over the fence in right field by Curtis Granderson. The Mets tagged him for one run on four hits and he walked a pair before his day was done after 1 2/3 innings. He threw 47 pitches, 27 for strikes.

"You know you're always going to have those days," Cole said, "where you just have to work through with what you have and fight through everything."

Cole acknowledged that he can at times be a bit hard on himself. Nationals manager Matt Williams said he was happy with the way Cole pitched himself out of trouble, while the righty left the start disappointed in himself.

"That speaks to desire, though, the fact that he wants to be good," Williams said. "And he prides himself on being good. I'm impressed with the way he got out of the [first] inning, in a jam there. … He's going to find himself in that position at some point during his career again and if you have the tools to get out of it, it's great."

Williams said earlier in spring that he can see Cole's body beginning to catch up to his 6-foot-5-inch frame. Cole throws a fastball that can reach the upper 90s, and is working on developing his breaking ball.

One of the best things for him is that there are plenty of talented pitchers from whom he can learn.

"You can just kind of watch and learn just by watching what they do," Cole said. "And then you can actually go and try that and see if that works for you."

• Strasburg threw around 50 pitches in three innings during his start in Minor League camp Thursday, facing a couple of Major League players, including Bryce Harper.

"I don't expect any issues going forward," Williams said.

Jamal Collier is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.