A 4th-round pick out of the University of Arkansas in last year’s MLB Draft, Eric Cole‘s 2019 season so far has been an ice-cold start followed by a red-hot run. And he’s still running.
The 22-year-old switch-hitter got his start in rookie-level Burlington in 2018, where his traditional stats and peripherals showed true promise. Over 42 games, Cole swatted 14 XBH and drove in 25 runs on frequent contact and good pitch recognition (.281/.353/.389, .742 OPS, wRC+ 100). Not a blistering performance, but he demonstrated an advanced approach for his first pro season. Now 75 games into the season with Lexington, Cole’s power has slowly been on the uptick (.261/.336/.394, .731 OPS, 22 XBH), while his strikeouts and walks have maintained 2018’s pace (0.63 BB/K in 2018, 0.61 in 2019). He was nearly a 1:1 on BB/K for the month of June (22 BB, 24 K).
On the contrary, Cole started awfully slowly in April, managing only a .614 OPS in 96 PA, and May was no better (.613 OPS in 106 PA). However, June was a new month and a seemingly-new Cole at the plate; his .326/.453/.474 slash-line was centered on a nine-game streak (June 10th-21st) in which he went 16-34 (.471 BA, 1.274 OPS) with four doubles, a triple and a homer, driving in six. He’s cooled off since then, batting .308 (.798 OPS) in eleven games, though with only one XBH, a solo homer on July 1st at Asheville.
Cole has an exaggerated load at the plate with a high back elbow, and while he shifts his weight fully onto his back leg he remains almost perfectly upright; there’s no swaying or imbalance in his load. Cole has a natural uppercut to his swing, which is somewhat more pronounced from the right-hander’s box than the left. He keeps his hands inside the pitch consistently, and while he’s pulled a lot of sharp liners into right for singles (26.2% line-drive pct.), he has also shown all-fields extra-base pop. Overall, his spray percentages have him dead-even (36.8% pull, 36.8% oppo). While there are a few moving parts in his load and swing, Cole has made it work well so far. His numbers are far better from the left side, though his at-bats vs. lefties have been limited (.281 BA vs. RHP as LHB in 228 AB, .200 vs. LHP as RHB in 60 AB). His left-handed swing does appear more geared toward level, line-drive shots; he shows quick hands and a short bat-to-ball path when he’s locked in.
Cole will catch what he gets to, and is able to cover any of the three outfield spots easily, though he is best-suited in either left or center. He’s got the speed to cover center, but a fringy arm may relegate him to left as he advances. He takes direct routes to the ball, outrunning the occasional, less-than-ideal read.
Most of his extra-base hits will be legged out, but Cole’s got an awful lot of “leg”, so to speak, grading out “plus” on his home-to-first times from either side of the plate. That speed isn’t reflected in his stolen base totals, just yet, but steals ought to become another weapon in his arsenal as he becomes more accustomed to the pro game.
A player with a skill set like Cole’s can climb the ladder on the strength of speed and defense. His likely floor would be as a bench/platoon outfielder who gets occasional starts vs. righties, but continuing to learn how to best use his speed on the bases would enhance his profile. If he can right the ship against LHPs, he could quickly take his game to the next level. Barring that, he may end up having to drop switch-hitting altogether, in the future. Maintaining his offensive momentum through July could earn him a late promotion to Wilmington.