The Nationals plan to promote right-hander A.J. Cole to Class AAA Syracuse in the coming days, according to a person familiar with the situation, moving their one of their best prospects one level below the major leagues.
Cole’s move to Class AAA opens the possibility that he could join the Nationals late in the year, perhaps adding another power arm to their bullpen as a September call-up.
By consensus, experts rate Cole the No. 2 prospect in the Nationals’ system, behind only 19-year-old flamethrower Lucas Giolito. Prior to the season, Baseball Prospectus ranked Cole the 53rd-best prospect in baseball.
Cole, 22, is 6-3 with a 2.92 ERA over 14 starts this season at Class AA Harrisburg, with 61 strikeouts and just 15 walks in 71 innings. Cole reached Harrisburg late last season, and with 21 starts under his belt at Class AA, the Nationals feel he is ready for a new challenge.
The Nationals drafted Cole in the fourth round of the 2010 draft and pulled him away from a strong commitment to the University of Miami with a $2 million signing bonus. They traded Cole to Oakland in December 2011 as the centerpiece to the trade that landed Gio Gonzalez. In January 2013, the Nationals re-acquired him – along with Blake Treinen and Ian Krol, who was later used to acquired Doug Fister – when they sent Michael Morse to Seattle in a three-team trade.
Last year, Cole improved his stock with a strong start at Class A Potomac and a scoreless save at the Futures Game over the all-star break.
In Syracuse, Cole will join a dominant team. The Chiefs own the best record in all of Class AAA at 48-30. Since May 1, their 37-16 record in the best in baseball at any level.