Name: Cole Irvin
This is my fourth capsule this year and, so far, I have gone with all college bats. I am avoiding the preps until I get more video and reports. For a lot of prep guys, the season still has not started. I know in my neck of the woods, there haven’t even been any college games played yet.
For this entry, I made a concerted effort to find a pitcher who I had not talked about and was not someone who had generated a lot of preseason talk or was listed on big boards. I have been avoiding the big names early for a few reasons. The first reason being I want to get coverage for players who have not been talked about. Fans often ask me for players they should look for and these capsules are a great way to get information out there. The second reason is, for the bigger name players, I often want to wait and see how they perform once they get into conference play, when the schedule for most gets much harder.
Cole Irvin has been on the radar dating back to high school. In 2012, he was a 29th-round pick by the Toronto Blue Jays. His scouting reports from back then look like a paint by numbers report of exactly what you expect to see of an athletic lefty who sits in the low 90’s, with advanced feel for his off-speed pitches.
Irvin went to Oregon and did well as a freshman, although his strikeout rate was lower than one would hope. Unfortunately for him, he then missed his entire sophomore year thanks to Tommy John surgery. He came back as a redshirt sophomore the next year and struggled with his command, which is often an issue post Tommy John surgery. Still, there was enough talent there for Pirates to draft him in the 32nd-round to get a chance to talk to him. For those who don’t know why teams draft unsignable guys, it is because it is the only way they can directly communicate with the players. It grants them a window to get to know a player.
This year, Irvin has teamed with another talented lefty coming off Tommy John surgery, Matt Krook, to give Oregon a formidable one-two punch at the front of their rotation. It is early, but the numbers show Irvin to be one of the top pitchers in the country. In three starts, he has gone 22 innings. In those outings, he has allowed two earned runs and walked just two batters, while striking out 27. In terms of the important rate data, again, it is very early and this is the definition of a small sample size. Irvin has a 13.5 strikeout-to-walk rate, while averaging 11.05 strikeouts a game.
Just a year ago, Irvin was struggling with his command and his stuff was not quite as sharp, and now we are seeing a guy whose command seems to be fully back. This is very much in-line with the typical recovery for pitchers who have had Tommy John.
Dating back to 2012, I have been following Irvin as a pitcher and my expected outcome has stayed the same. I see a player whose outcome is more than likely a backend starter, with the potential to be a bit more, or the downside of a reliever.
There is a lot to like with Irvin, starting with the fact he is left-handed. His fastball is more a low 90’s pitch, but plays up thanks to control and some deception. Hitters have a hard time picking up on a healthy Irvin’s fastball, even though it is not overpowering. His change-up is his best pitch, and the one pitch that I think has a good chance to be plus. He has shown a slider and a curve, both of which are show-me pitches. If one can develop into an average pitch, he should work as a starter. If not, then the bullpen is in his future.
So what are the issues with Irvin? The first issue is, thanks to his injury, Irvin is a bit older. He is the same age as most seniors because of the missed 2014 season. Another thing that will be a knock is that his stuff is not overpowering or exciting. Often teams want to go for upside or a sure-bet early and Irvin is neither of those things. He is a fairly safe player, but not one of the 10-20 safest bets in this draft. There will also be some concerns about injury. While we tend to think that everything is fine post-Tommy John, we have seen higher injury rates, especially as players age.
I decided, once again, to use the great Baseball-Reference player index to help find a comp for Irvin. I went looking for a left-handed pitcher between 6’3” and 6’5” who showed good control by walking less than three batters per nine. I also went looking for pitchers who didn’t strike out more than eight per nine, which went hand-in-hand with good, but not great stuff. The lack of a real out-pitch will block Irvin from big strikeout totals. When I then limited the data to his exact height of 6’4”, there were a pair of former Braves who stood as the best comps -- Mike Minor and Alex Wood. I then thought about build and overall stuff and found Minor to be the best bet. Minor, outside of 2013, has been a useful, slightly above-replacement level, back-end left-handed starter for his career. This is exactly what I feel most comfortable projecting for Irvin.
Irvin has been fantastic this year, but his draft ceiling is likely the second round. I will be curious to see if his age causes him to be treated like a senior sign or if he manages to play well enough to increase his value during this year.