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Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon Are Great Pitching Prospects - But What's An 'Ace'?

Pirates Prospects writes about Pirates 2011 No. 1 overall draft pick Gerrit Cole's performance on Thursday in Arizona - where he repeatedly reached or topped 100 MPH - and the value of "aces" in general. The idea is that Cole could be one, along with fellow prospects Jameson Taillon, Luis Heredia and Stetson Allie.

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Whether each of those players reaches the majors and succeeds as a starter is another topic entirely. The point is that the Pirates have 4 players in their system whose ceilings are that of a #1 pitcher. It is the rarest of commodities — a true ace.

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Not that the Pirates don't have a bunch of good or very good pitching prospects, but the "true ace" label seems a little bit breathless to me. The article focuses on fastball velocity as the key marker of acedom. While that certainly helps, the fact is that it's just one part of a larger picture, and a whole lot of top major-league pitchers aren't flamethrowers. In addition to Cliff Lee, who the author mentions, Dan Haren has been throwing 91 MPH fastballs for years and having tons of success. Jered Weaver doesn't even throw that hard. James Shields is a 91 MPH guy. Doug Fister. Anibal Sanchez. Ian Kennedy.

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I don't mean to minimize the importance of a big fastball. It does really help. But lots of guys do just fine without A-plus fastballs. And, just as importantly, lots of guys with big fastballs don't end up doing anything. This is where someone like Stetson Allie comes in. Which is greater, the chance that someone like Allie actually learns to pitch and becomes an ace, or the chance that some pitcher with good-not-great velocity like Kyle McPherson does what it takes to make it to become one? Allie certainly has upside, but I'm not sure I'd gamble on him there.

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On substance, I share Pirates Prospects' view that guys like Cole and Taillon are excellent prospects. I would just frame things a bit differently. The Pirates need good pitching. They don't need "aces," because what constitutes an "ace" is actually pretty complicated.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.