How will Cole handle the New York? I asked a couple of his former teammates who have some New York roots of their own.
“I think he’s perfect for New York,” said Neil Walker, who played with Cole for three years in Pittsburgh from 2013-15, and played in New York for the Mets and Yankees from 2016-18. “That environment is not going to shake him. He’s the type of guy that if he’s healthy, he’s going to be a game changer. That move has changed the landscape of the AL significantly in my opinion.”
Although the personalities aren’t quite the same, Walker thinks Cole easily steps into the shoes of CC Sabathia, who came to New York in 2009 and immediately established himself as a leader on the field and off.
“I think he’s going to fit in so well in New York and in that clubhouse. As stoic as he appears on the surface, he really is light-hearted and really enjoys the chemistry of the locker room setting. And he only makes the guys around him better. You get a guy like CC who was so integral, I think he’s going to seamlessly jump in there and be one of the rocks in that rotation and in that locker room. I don’t think you’ll see him being super vocal. I’m sure he’s going to feel his way around a little bit. But naturally he’s a leader. He’s kind of like Gardy (Brett Gardner), leading by example.”
As a pitcher, it seems the word “electric” was invented to describe Cole’s high 90’s fastball and his exploding slider. Francisco Cervelli, who caught Cole in Pittsburgh from 2015-17 and came up with the Yankees in 2008, puts Cole in rarified air.
“Best arm I’ve ever seen in my life,” Cervelli said flatly. “It’s crazy the way he competes. And the tools, he has the best tools I’ve ever seen.”
Cervelli thought Cole was good when he featured two-seamers as a younger pitcher with the Pirates, but the transition he made in Houston, to junk the two-seamer and attack hitters using higher velocity fastballs with pinpoint accuracy, took it all to another level. He had a good four-seam fastball back then too, but nothing like it is now.
“He was young, but the tools were there (in Pittsburgh),” Cervelli said. “Everybody knew this guy was going to be good. What I really like about him is he’s not afraid. He’s more mature now, and has more power in his arm. When you can throw 99 in the strike zone you don’t need too many two-seamers. Now he knows how to control that pitch.”
And Cole’s fastball reminds Cervelli of a guy New Yorkers know well.
“You know deGrom’s fastball, how it rises a little bit, looks like it’s never going to hit the ground?” Cervelli asks. “He’s got a similar fastball.”
We have all seen what Cole can do. Now it’s about watching it unfold on the biggest stage.