Baseball: Ex-Sahuaro ace seeks fresh start at UNM

2013-07-14T00:00:00Z Baseball: Ex-Sahuaro ace seeks fresh start at UNMZack Rosenblatt Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 14, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Mark Chandler considers Jake Cole one of the most dominant pitchers he has ever coached - and he coaches local star Alex Verdugo.

"He was just a monster of a kid," Chandler, Sahuaro's head baseball coach, said of Cole.

And his senior year in 2010 was memorable - a 9-2 record, a 1.49 ERA with 79 strikeouts in 70 2/3 innings, with a .430 average at the plate to boot. He was Arizona's Class 4A Player of the Year and the Arizona Daily Star's Player of the Year.

It certainly helped that he was 6 feet 3 inches, 220 pounds and armed with a 94 mph fastball.

"At the high school level," Chandler said, "if you can get someone who throws 93-94, you're getting a vast majority of guys out. He had some performances his senior year that I just haven't seen high school pitchers do. He just absolutely dominated people."

Since then, Cole has been doubled up by injuries and inconsistency. As a result, he has crisscrossed the country looking for a chance: From the University of North Carolina to Pima College to his summer team, the Eau Claire (Wis.) Express. Next month, the right-hander will begin taking classes at the University of New Mexico, his third school in as many years.

Cole initially chose North Carolina, one of the country's top baseball programs, over professional baseball. The Texas Rangers selected him in 24th round of the 2010 amateur draft.

He chose the Tar Heels "because of their track record," Cole said.

In the fall of 2010, Cole arrived at UNC, employing the 94 mph fastball that caught UNC's eye in the first place.

Then he was throwing 92. Then 90. Then 88. It dropped all the way down to the 82-84 range.

The Tar Heels doctors told Cole that it was probably just "dead arm," a common ailment for pitchers, so he was told to take some time off. After winter break, it was back up to 89, but then it started falling back down again. So, he was redshirted.

He left UNC after the season, never throwing a single pitch for the Tar Heels.

"I felt like there wasn't anything they were doing to help me out," Cole said. "So I was just like, you know, there's no guarantees I'll ever play here because they bring in 16, 17 guys every year, top recruits, so my opportunities are going dwindle and dwindle because of this injury."

So Cole returned to Tucson and joined Pima's team, still unsure of what was wrong with his arm.

He threw 29 innings in his first year with the Aztecs before being shut down for the season, again, with the presumed "dead arm."

Finally, he drove up to Phoenix and got an MRI.

Sure enough, he was injured.

Doctors told Cole he had an impingement in his shoulder, an injury that occurs when smaller muscles in the shoulder are too weak and the larger ones are too strong. As a result, the shoulder socket comes up and causes a lack of motion, in turn decreasing the velocity on his pitches.

So for the rest of the season, he drove up to Phoenix three, sometimes four, times a week to rehab the injury.

Now, finally, he's healed, and excited for his first season at New Mexico.

"I would say I'm fully healed," Cole said. "It's just a matter of getting the arm strength back because it is a process. I was out pretty much two years."

Cole's quest

Here's a look at the path pitcher Jake Cole has taken over the last four years:

Sahuaro High School

• Year: 2010 (his senior year)

• The numbers: 9-2, 1.49 ERA, 79 strikeouts in 70.2 innings, .197 opponent batting average

• He said it: "He was a workhorse. He always got the job done for you. He's one of my favorite players I've had here in 10 years." - Sahuaro coach Mark Chandler

North Carolina

• Year: 2011

• The numbers: Did not play

• He said it: "When I went to North Carolina I was a thrower: I had a fastball, but I didn't have anything else. But when I got hurt, it forced me to learn how to throw other pitches." - Cole

Pima College

• Years: 2012-13

• The numbers: 5-3, 3.25 ERA, 67 strikeouts in 69.1 innings, three saves

• He said it: "He was back to his old self. He competed for us on the hill, and he did a great job. He was willing to do whatever we asked." - Pima coach Jason Hisey

Eau Claire Express

• Year: 2013

• The numbers: 1-2, 2.93 ERA, 24 strikeouts in 30.2 innings, two saves

• He said it: "I just wanted to do summer ball and experience that part of college baseball life before it was too late." - Cole

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