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August 20, 2008

Cole ready to make impact at UCLA

VOTE: What would you have done if you were Gerrit Cole?

California high schooler Gerrit Cole isn't your average 17-year-old. From the time he was a kid through his senior season at Orange Lutheran High School in southern California, Cole has been in a league of his own as a pitcher.

Everyone has noticed his accomplishments. UCLA coach John Savage was ecstatic when he originally signed Cole. But Savage knew there was a great chance Cole would be a high draft pick this summer and potentially sign a pro contract.

After Cole was drafted 28th in the first round by the New York Yankees in June, Savage remained cautiously optimistic that Cole still would decide to attend UCLA. Unlike many first-round picks, Cole didn't view signing a pro contract for millions as a given; instead, he viewed it as one of two viable options.

From the beginning of the draft process, Cole insisted that he was committed to the idea of attending college. And in the end, Cole was a man of his word.

"We decided not to veer off the road in my dream to be a college baseball player," he told Rivals.com. "Specifically, we made the decision about halfway through the draft period. It was important for me to stick to the plan."

"Starting in eighth grade and after watching the College World Series many times, I had always wanted to play college baseball. Even though a pro baseball opportunity came to me, my family and I decided to stick to the original plan."

The 27th pick one spot ahead of Cole was Miami reliever Carlos Gutierrez, who received a $1.29 million signing bonus from Minnesota. The 29th pick, junior college infielder Lonnie Chisenhall, received a $1.1 million signing bonus from Cleveland.

Cole's decision to not sign with the Yankees still puzzles many. His mother, Sharon, was born in New York. His dad, Mark, was raised in New York. Perhaps most interesting about the decision is that Cole grew up dreaming about playing for the Yankees, as he's an avid fan.

Despite the love of the Yankees and the pressure that often surrounds a first-round pick especially one of the free-spending Yankees the Coles kept coming back to the idea of Gerrit playing college baseball. They didn't see a need to put his blossoming baseball career on the fast track.

The Yankees figured that out around the draft deadline and respected the Cole's wishes and their son's decision.

"There was never really an official offer from the Yankees," Mark Cole says. "It never came to serious negotiations, and the Yankees were kind enough to respect Gerrit's wishes."

When Cole's decision became final late last week, the Bruins rejoiced. Cole, on the other hand, had already begun to prepare for his college career. He also had time to reflect on the draft and the lessons learned from it.

"The way MLB works is much different because of the different types of contracts you can sign. Teams also pick you for different reasons," he says. "It's an interesting process and I'm glad I learned a lot about it."

Cole now is focusing on his first fall at UCLA and what he can do to help the Bruins reach the CWS sooner rather than later.

The Bruins have a lot of talent on campus, including pitchers Gavin Brooks and Charles Brewer. Cole, though, has the talent to be a front-line ace from Day One.

"When I look at Gerrit Cole, I think about guys like Georgia's Josh Fields and Cal State Fullerton's Wes Roemer, guys that can dominate," Savage says. "He already has two plus pitches, and his changeup has really improved this summer. That really got everyone's attention."

Despite the accolades, Cole is taking nothing for granted.

"I want to work hard and improve on what I've already accomplished as a player. I also know that I'm starting fresh here at UCLA," Cole said. "Nothing I did in high school or the draft means anything at this point. I'm a freshman on this team and I need to work hard and earn a spot."

"Hopefully, I can earn a spot in the weekend rotation."

As fall workouts near, Cole's comfort level continues to increase. The thought of turning down his favorite team the Yankees is in the past after he went with his heart instead of his wallet on the decision to attend college.

"One of the biggest things I notice about Gerrit is how great of a teammate he will be," Savage said. "He's talked about Omaha and making this program one of the nation's elite. Not only is he developing as a player, he's doing the same as a person. He's now a big part of this program."

BASEBALL BITS

Perhaps no team was more pleased with the way the draft finished than Georgia. The Bulldogs had hoped to return ace pitcher Trevor Holder this fall, and that wish came true last Friday. The Bulldogs weren't done. Georgia also added five drafted signees to its roster this week. Third-round selections Chase Davidson and Zach Cone turned down pro contracts to head to Athens, while pitchers Michael Palazzone, Jeffrey Walters and Cecil Tanner also chose to attend college. Though the Bulldogs have some holes to fill, they enter fall workouts with a plethora of talent.

With IPFW recently hiring Bobby Pierce from Metro State, Texas-Pan American is the lone team without a head coach. Not much has been said about the UTPA search, but sources indicated a few weeks ago that former Tennessee coach and current Florida International assistant Rod Delmonico is in the mix for the opening. For now, Delmonico is in Italy doing some baseball work. So, if the Broncs are looking to hire him, they may have to wait another week or so. My sources have also indicated the Broncs have shown interest in VMI assistant Ryan Mau and Virginia Tech associate head coach Dave Turgeon. The Broncs need to make a decision.

New Texas Tech coach Dan Spencer has gotten acclimated to his new position with the Red Raiders. In a discussion I had with him this week, Spencer unveiled some notes from his team's 2009 schedule. The Red Raiders will host Southern Utah for a three-game set, will play New Mexico in mid-week action, will play a three-game set at Cal State Northridge, will play a single mid-week game against UC Riverside, and caps off their non-conference schedule with a trip to the Palm Springs, Calif., Tournament, which includes Oregon State, Gonzaga, UC Riverside and San Francisco.

Ole Miss right-handed pitcher Scott Bittle could do without the draft drama. Despite getting drafted in the second round by the New York Yankees, Bittle didn't sign, and is now back in school at Ole Miss. The information wars haven't stopped. Some published reports leading up to the draft deadline diagnosed Bittle with some sort of shoulder ailment. However, my sources close to the situation have indicated that Bittle is healthy and ready to pitch this fall. The righty is not expected to miss any time on the mound during fall workouts. In review, this situation has been crazy to say the least. Some insiders strongly claim Bittle is hurt, while other sources say he's healthy. Fall workouts likely will be the litmus test.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.