For all of his talent and potential, Cole Hamels has had a tough start to his professional career. Then again, he's used to adversity. As a young high school pitcher, he broke his pitching arm and was tossed on the scrap heap of potential superstars by many scouts. If the injury itself didn't scare them, there were rumors that Hamels' story of the injury occurring in a football game with friends wasn't the truth. The "word" was that it happened in a fight or under other mysterious circumstances. The whole incident didn't scare the Phillies, who made Hamels their first round pick - the 17th overall in the 2002 Draft.
Hamels has suffered injuries or had recurring elbow pain in each of his first two professional seasons. This past season, he was able to pitch just 16 innings at Clearwater. Just when it appeared that Hamels was on the mend, having pitched well in the Florida Instructional League, more trouble. Earlier this month, Hamels and four friends were in a Clearwater nightclub when trouble started. Reports on exacly what happened vary, but the end result was an injured left-hand for the young superstar-in-waiting. Hamels underwent surgery to put a pin in his prized left hand and it's likely that Hamels won't be pitching for the first month or possibly, six weeks of the season.
While many have portrayed Hamels as a "problem child" in the organization, his friend and roommate Zack Segovia says those characterizations are wrong. "I can say that knowing Cole, there is no way that he returned to the nightclub looking for a fight like the police reports supposedly say that he did. That's not Cole. He told me it's not true and I believe him completely," said Segovia in his on-line journal published on PhillyBaseballNews.com.
The bottom line is this; Cole Hamels needs a productive season. Perhaps as much for himself and his own peace of mind as he does to stop the naysayers in their tracks. When he returns from the injury, Hamels will likely be started back at Clearwater, but be at Reading by the end of the season. The future is still awaiting Cole Hamels and this needs to be the year that he truly arrives.
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Acquired: Drafted out of Rancho Bernardo High School (San Diego, CA) in the first round of the 2002 Draft.
Repertoire: Hamels has the full compliment of pitches and throws all of them well. His fastball seems to explode as it approaches the hitter and it's suddenly well away from where it appeared to be when the hitter started his swing. He has a curveball that has become better and better and that drops suddenly and quickly. His change-up has also gotten better as he has learned to disguise it better.
Pitching: When Cole Hamels is on the mound, you know that it is his game. He commands respect and has poise that just lets everybody know that he is in control. There is nothing timid about his mound presence and that's something that he has always had. Watching him pitch, you would think that he has been pitching in any conceivable pressure situation for years and years. There are veteran major leaguers who don't show the poise and mound presence that Hamels does.
Projection: When Hamels is healthy - and believe me, the Phillies won't rush him - he will likely start at Clearwater, where they can keep an eye on him for a while. He should move pretty quickly to Reading and it's not out of the question that he could even be at AAA Scranton by the end of the baseball season. If it were up to Hamels, he would also be pitching in Philadelphia come September. He believes he'll be back from his hand surgery quicker than most experts predict, but the Phillies may insist on holding him back. Down the road, Hamels will be a top of the rotation starter in the majors, as long as the injuries are all put aside.
ETA: Besides the injuries, Hamels signed late and missed out on starting his professional career in 2002. Without the signing delay and injuries, Hamels would be pushing for a spot in the Phillies rotation as you read this. Instead, his arrival is pushed back. Best case scenario would be for him to move from Clearwater to Reading to Scranton to Philly all by September. That's not likely. It's more likely that he could get healthy, move to Scranton by late in the year and by this time next season, be where Gavin Floyd is now. Actually, the Phillies would simply settle for a full, healthy season for Hamels at any level.
Comparison: Although he's a left-hander, Hamels has been compared to Kerry Wood of the Cubs. He definitely has top-of-the-rotation, dominating pitcher written all over him.