MLB’s 25 Most Improved Players Prospects for 2016 Momentum

#19. Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates

2015 WAR: 4.5
2014 WAR: 1.2
WAR Improvement: 3.3

This breakout feels entirely legitimate.

Gerrit Cole’s strikeout and walk numbers were by no means out of line with his career trends, only showing the natural improvement of a 25-year-old still gaining comfort in the big leagues. He didn’t leave an unsustainable number of players on base, induced plenty of ground balls and started forcing more soft contact than ever before.

His fastball is to thank. Ideally, Cole has spent this entire offseason figuring out what went wrong with a curveball that was an above-average pitch during each of his first two go-rounds. But even though his off-speed pitches weren’t all up to par in 2015, his fastball was one of the best in baseball.

Rather than working the edges of the plate, Cole has a non-traditional style. He often pounds the upper portion of the zone with plenty of movement and an average velocity of 95.5 mph that beats out everyone but Garrett Richards and Yordano Ventura. The result of that speed, deceptive action and ability to keep his catcher from moving the mitt is the No. 2 fastball value in the league, leaving him narrowly behind Clayton Kershaw and ahead of all other pitchers by a sizable margin.

When one pitch is that strong, and you throw it over two-thirds of the time, you’re going to dominate plenty of hitters. And that heater isn’t going away anytime soon.