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Oakland Athletics

Pleskoff Scouting Report: Jharel Cotton

Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Jharel Cotton throws to the Texas Rangers during the first inning of a baseball game Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
  • TEAM: Oakland Athletics
  • AGE: 25
  • POSITION: Pitcher
  • BATS: Right
  • THROWS: Right
  • HEIGHT: 5-foot-11
  • WEIGHT: 195 lbs.
  • ACQUIRED: The Los Angeles Dodgers selected Cotton in the 20th round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft out of East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. The New York Mets previously selected Cotton in the 2011 draft. They chose him in the 28th round out of Miami-Dade College in Miami, Florida. He did not sign with the Mets and went on to play baseball at Eastern Carolina University. The Dodgers traded Cotton, along with pitchers Grant Holmes and Frankie Montas, to the Oakland Athletics in August 2016 in exchange for pitcher Rich Hill and outfielder Josh Reddick.

*****

STRENGTHS

Cotton has a very complete repertoire that includes a four-seam fastball that he can vary between 90-95 miles per hour, a two-seam sinking fastball that sits between 92 and 93 miles per hour and excellent secondary pitches.

In my observations of Cotton, it is his changeup that is a difference-maker in his arsenal. It is a polished and effective pitch that is used very effectively in tandem with his fastball. With a velocity that sits at 79 miles per hour, the changeup can buckle knees and alter both the balance and the eye level of the hitter.

Less effective, but still with quality enough to be used at the major-league level, his curveball and slider/cutter are deceptive pitches that provide the hitter with two additional pitches to think about during an at bat.

With increasing command and control as he gains experience, Cotton can throw any pitch in his repertoire for a strike at any point in the count. He repeats his release point regardless of the pitch he is throwing. That increases his deception and gives the hitter no advantage with his multiple-pitch repertoire.

Cotton gets plenty of swings and misses and can finish off a hitter with any one of his pitches, but especially his changeup. Last season, his combined 155 strikeouts led the Pacific Coast League.

In his brief major-league debut, Cotton was effective against both right and left-handed hitters. Neither hit very well against him, with righties hitting at an average of .217 in 60 plate appearances and lefties at only .146 in 52 trips to the plate.

WEAKNESSES

Cotton is a high-effort pitcher with a relatively high release point. His mechanics aren’t the smoothest given the intensity and energy he puts in his deliver, but he gets results. Long, hot, humid summers could take a toll on him in parks that are more humid outside of Oakland.

NARRATIVE

Cotton grew up in the US Virgin Islands but came to Virginia and graduated from Menchville High School in Newport News, Virginia.

He attended Miami Dade College. The Mets chose him in the June 2011 draft but he decided he could probably improve his baseball future with more seasoning at East Carolina University. The move paid off, as he was chosen by the Dodgers and signed a professional contract.

In the midst of his fifth season with the Dodgers, the team traded him to Oakland in a deal that may end up helping both clubs.

The Athletics promoted Cotton to the major-league club, where he started his first game September 7, 2016. He faced the Los Angeles Angels and went 6.1 innings, yielding two hits and one run. The run was a solo home run by CJ Cron in the seventh inning. He walked two and struck out three.

Oakland Athletics pitcher Jharel Cotton works against the Los Angeles Angels in the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Oakland Athletics pitcher Jharel Cotton works against the Los Angeles Angels in the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Cotton started five games for the parent club last year and left an excellent impression. He yielded only 20 hits in 29.1 innings pitched. He finished the season with a 2.15 ERA and a 0.81 WHIP. He averaged 7.1 strikeouts per nine innings to only 1.2 walks per nine, showing good command and control of his repertoire.

Short in stature for a pitcher in today’s game, Cotton is well-proportioned and athletic. He has a quick arm and gets velocity that belies his size.

My first looks at Cotton came in the 2015 Arizona Fall League. He started five games and threw to a 3.77 ERA. His delivery was even more aggressive then and he had bouts of wildness. His lack of control and his inability to command his pitches led to eight walks in 14.1 innings. His ability to miss bats was evident, however, as he struck out 17.

The Jharel Cotton I have been watching this spring in Oakland’s camp has been much more refined, confident and effective on the mound. He has better control and command of his pitches a year after his Fall League experience.

THE FUTURE FOR COTTON

It appears that if the regular season were to begin today, Cotton would clearly have a role in the starting rotation. He may even be the third or fourth starter. He will get the ball on a regular basis. Because of the recent injury to ace Sonny Gray, Cotton may even be elevated a notch in the starting pitching depth chart, giving him the third slot. Cotton and Kendall Graveman, along with Sean Manaea, could form the nucleus of the rotation that starts the season for Oakland. All were obtained in trades.

Cotton has improved as he has gained experience and maturity. He is a solid starter with good mound presence and the ability to succeed. His delivery remains a bit aggressive and with high effort, but he overcomes that with a solid and deep repertoire.

CONCLUSIONS

Cotton continues to improve his command and control as a credible right-handed starting pitcher in the Oakland Athletics organization.

Using a wide variety of pitches, his fastball/changeup combination forms the core of his repertoire. He won’t hesitate to mix in a slider/cutter type pitch and a nice curveball that still needs a bit of development. Hitters have difficulty predicting what pitch is coming next.

Using a rather high release point, Cotton’s frame isn’t one that lends itself to him pitching downhill. Rather, he gets good extension on his high-energy, but consistent release.

SCOUTING GRADE FOR COTTON: Improving right-handed starter with a deep array of pitches that can deceive the hitter.

SCOUTING GRADE FOR COTTON: 55- An above-average and reliable major-league starting pitcher with a projectable future of success.

Follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff

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