WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Gerrit Cole has impressive credentials, which is why the Astros traded for right-hander in January. A former first-round pick, Cole won 19 games in 2015 and can throw in the upper 90s with his fastball.
Cole is a finished product whose best days are probably still ahead of him. At 27, he's not a project by any means. Sure, pitching coach Brent Strom will work his magic, but the Astros brought Cole into the fold to be a force with fellow 2017 Opening Day starters Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel from the get-go.
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"Gerrit Cole is pretty damn good," manager A.J. Hinch said. "He's been an effective big league pitcher. Did he give up a few home runs last year? Yeah. Did he have a slightly down season compared to his standards? Yes. That doesn't mean he can't be a top elite pitcher in the American League just given his stuff, his makeup and his ability to pitch."
Cole, the Pirates' first-round Draft pick in 2011 out of UCLA, has gone 19-22 with a 4.12 ERA over 54 starts from 206-17 after winning 19 games in '15. He finished 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA in 33 starts last year for the Pirates, allowing 55 walks and 31 homers while striking out 196 batters in 203 innings.
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In January, the Astros bolstered their rotation when they sent pitchers Joe Musgrove and Michael Feliz, infielder Colin Moran and Minor League outfielder Jason Martin to the Pirates for Cole.
Cole will immediately benefit from his environment, which includes a clubhouse full of guys who have won a World Series and want another title. It includes one of the best pitchers of his generation in Verlander, whose locker at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches is only a few feet away. It includes veteran catcher Brian McCann, whose work with the pitching staff last year prompted pitcher Lance McCullers to anoint him as team's most valuable player.
"I'm just excited to be at a place where we have a lot of good players and we have a team mentality and it seems everybody is trying to win and seeing themselves out for the greater good for the team," Cole said. "That's all you can ask for a player."
Any adjustments the Astros make figure to start with pitch usage. Last year, Cole threw 12.2 percent curveballs and 17.2 percent sliders, but he mostly fed off his 96-mph fastball. Hinch said some adjustments can be made.
"He's got upper 90s in his back pocket when needs it. He's got a good slider, he's got a good changeup," Hinch said. "He knows how to pitch. He can elevate, he can crossfire. Getting a good game plan in front of him is going to be really key for him. Is there going to be a tweak in usage? Maybe, if we need it. Make no mistake, there's not an overhaul going on. He's pretty good from the time he steps on campus, and we'll try to tweak him like we do with every player."