Seven years later, the Yankees were ready to test his loyalty. A standout right-hander from Orange Lutheran High School in Orange, Calif., Cole became the Yankees' first-round selection and the 28th overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.
The 17-year-old Cole has been clocked in the high-90s with his fastball and, though he is weighing an offer to attend UCLA as a college freshman, will seriously consider signing a professional contract with the Yankees.
"I've always admired the Yankees -- obviously, they're my favorite team," Cole said. "I guess you can weigh it in somewhat, but we're just going to have to think it out as a family and use the help of our advisers and make a decision that's right for me."
Cole may need to look no further than that piece of pinstriped paper, which he carried to the last two games of the Yankees' World Series run in Arizona in 2001. The sign -- which was captured by a photographer for the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger -- was actually created by other fans and left behind for Cole to wield.
"That family left early, so when we went back the last two games, we held up the sign for them," Cole said. "I still have the sign in my room. We got a lot of peanuts thrown at us at the stadium."
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, Cole went 8-2 with a 0.47 ERA as a senior at Orange Lutheran this year, striking out 121 batters in 75 innings, allowing 13 runs (five earned) and walking eight.
"Gerrit has a big, strong, projectable body with a high ceiling," said Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees' vice president of amateur scouting. "He throws a power fastball with sink in the 94-98 [mph] range and has also developed a good changeup. He's a competitor every time he takes the mound, and he pitches with a lot of confidence."
Cole, who is represented by the Scott Boras agency, said that his aggressive approach on the mound has yielded much of his success at the preps level. He points to the San Diego Padres' Jake Peavy as a role model for the mind-set he attempts to use.
"I like to play into statistics and realize that only 30 percent of the time guys are going to get hits off of a fastball down the middle," Cole said. "I definitely like to attack hitters with my best stuff, and if I get beat, you win some and you lose some. You've still got to attack and have an aggressive mentality, because that's the best way to succeed on the mound."
Lauded as one of the best high school arms to come out of Southern California since Phil Hughes was the Yankees' first-round selection in the 2004 Draft, Cole said he grew up near where Hughes wowed scouts while pitching at Foothills High School in Santa Ana, Calif. Cole would have also attended Foothills High had he not gone to private school.
"I went to some of Phil's games when he pitched at Foothills, since it's right down the street," Cole said. "I'd either go there after my Little League games or my dad would just take us down. I've seen him pitch and he's had an amazing career so far."
Yankees' top five selections
|28.||RHP||Gerrit Cole||Orange Lutheran HS (Calif.)|
|44.||LHP||Jeremy Bleich||Stanford U|
|75.||RHP||Joseph Bittle||U of Mississippi|
|106.||2B||David Adams||U of Virginia|
|140.||SS||Corban Joseph||Franklin HS (Tenn.)|
|Complete Yankees Draft results >|
Cole is expected to incorporate mechanical tweaks once he begins the next phase of his career, and he could see his future development come as either a starter or as a closer. He was ranked by Baseball America as the ninth-best pitcher in the First-Year Player Draft and the 17th-best prospect overall.
"I realize that I'm a good pitcher now, and I realize at my level now I'm pretty dominant," Cole said. "The comparison to guys in the Major Leagues, I don't think it's even close. That's why you've got the Minor Leagues and college. You can get better and improve on many different levels. I hope I will make it to the Major Leagues, but it's definitely going to take some work."
Though Boras' representation has played a factor for some smaller-market teams not inclined to extend large contracts to prospects, New York has not been shy about pursuing Boras clients in recent years; first-round picks Ian Kennedy (2006) and Andrew Brackman ('07) were also contracted with Boras.
With their Compensation Round A pick at No. 44, the Yankees selected junior left-hander Jeremy Bleich from Stanford University. Also a Boras client and a product of Metairie, La., Bleich was drafted for the first time after being limited to five games in 2008 at Stanford, battling left elbow tendinitis from March through mid-May.
The 6-foot-2 and 185-pound southpaw was 2-2 with a 1.09 ERA, allowing four earned runs in 33 innings and striking out 26 while holding opponents to a .189 batting average. He closed out the season with a stretch of 14 2/3 scoreless innings.
The Yankees were provided with the compensation pick to select Bleich after losing right-hander Luis Vizcaino to the Colorado Rockies via free agency this past offseason.
"We were really pleased with both of our first two selections," Oppenheimer said.
The Yankees were represented by Tino Martinez at the Draft, held at The Milk House at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Earlier on Thursday, the Yankees made a symbolic pick when they selected Emilio Navarro in the Negro Leagues draft as part of the ceremony to commemorate the historic league.
At 102, Navarro is the oldest-living professional baseball player and was the first Puerto Rican to play in the Negro Leagues. Known by the distinctive nickname "Millito," he played shortstop and second base for the Cuban Stars in the Eastern Colored League from 1928-29.
In the first round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, the Yankees selected Brackman from North Carolina State, signing him to a four-year Major League contract in August. Brackman is slated to miss all of the 2008 season as he recovers from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.
Here is a look at the Yankees' selections on Day 1 of Thursday's First-Year Player Draft:
Round 1: Gerrit Cole, RHP, Orange Lutheran High School, Orange, Calif. Cole tops out in the high-90s and sits in the mid-90s with his fastball, and he could project as either a starter or a reliever when he begins his professional career. He was 8-2 with a 0.46 ERA as a high school senior.
Compensation Round A: Jeremy Bleich, LHP, Stanford University: Bleich was 2-2 with a 1.09 ERA in five games for Stanford as a junior. He also played with the USA Junior National team in 2005 and earned Cape Cod League All-Star honors while playing for the Wareham Gatemen in 2006.
Round 2: Scott Bittle, RHP, University of Mississippi: Bittle was 7-1 with a 1.78 ERA and eight saves coming out of the bullpen for Ole Miss in 2008. In 70 2/3 innings, he allowed 35 hits and 15 runs (14 earned), walking 30 and striking out 130. A product of Texarkana, Texas, Bittle also lettered two years at Northeast Texas Community College and was named an All-Conference selection.
Round 3: David Adams, 2B, University of Virginia: Adams is a hard-nosed type who has drawn comparisons to Jeff Kent as an offensive player who is steady defensively. Adams hit .286 (66-for-231) with six home runs and 51 RBIs in 61 games for the Cavaliers in 2008. He was taken by the Detroit Tigers in 2005.
Round 4: Corban Joseph, SS, Franklin (Tenn.) High School: The left-handed-hitting Joseph has a slick glove and is a Kentucky signee. He hit .510 this season with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs at Franklin, striking out five times in 135 at-bats.
Round 5: Christopher Smith, LF, Centennial (Calif.) High School: Smith is a product of the MLB Academy program out of Compton, Calif., where he refined his tools and was selected as the RBI Player of the Year. He hit .708 with 12 home runs and 43 RBIs in 72 at-bats this year for Centennial. A well-rounded athlete, Smith also played quarterback and point guard in football and basketball, respectively.
Round 6: Brett Marshall, RHP, Ross Sterling (Tex.) High School: Marshall has increased his velocity from 87-88 mph a year ago to 96 mph this year, and he also features a plus slider and a changeup. He's relatively new to pitching, but with two plus pitches, he represents an interesting pick for New York.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.