Cole Sands: A Twins Pitching Prospect With Promise
Image courtesy of © Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY SportsThe Astros drafted Sands in the 22nd round of the 2015 draft but his heart seemed set on pitching for Florida State in his hometown. You have to look deeper at his college numbers to fully appreciate them. In his first four starts for the Seminoles, Sands posted a tremendous 1.84 ERA in 14 ⅔ innings. His next six starts were not as pearly. He allowed 15 runs in 19 innings (7.11 ERA). He finished the season with a respectable 4.13 ERA but walks were an issue and strikeouts were few and far between. Sands finished his freshman year with a less-than-stellar 1.52 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Sands flashed his formidable upside that summer in the Cape Cod League by striking out 18 in 14 innings. He allowed only seven hits and two runs (1.29 ERA). That wouldn’t exactly carry into his sophomore season at Florida State. His ERA jumped to 5.40 the following spring, but he boosted his strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.48), and his strikeouts (7.8) and walks (3.1) per nine rates were much improved. It was again a tale of multiple streaks for Sands. Here is how his sophomore season broke down:
First 7 starts: 3.38 ERA
Next 7 starts: 8.81 ERA
Last 4 starts: 3.52 ERA
Sands was a beast in the 2017 ACC Tournament, shutting down 15 straight Duke hitters and sending the 'Noles to the championship. He pitched three scoreless innings in the final and helped Florida State to Omaha. You can start to see the trend here. Sands has always had the ability, but struggled to consistently utilize his stuff in college.
His junior season was no different. He started 4-0, dazzling and dominating to a sterling 2.45 ERA with 31 punchies and only five walks in 22 innings. In the two appearances after that, he allowed 14 runs, more than double as many as his first four starts combined (6). Of course, he bounced back with two consecutive seven inning quality starts against a great Louisville team and a winning Georgia Tech club. He threw over 100 pitches six times, including five consecutive starts in March and April. When the Twins drafted him in the fifth round of that draft, they elected to rest his arm and save his pro debut for 2019.
And what a debut it was. Sands was excellent in his first start for Cedar Rapids, pitching five scoreless innings with eight strikeouts. In three starts from April 19th to May 5th, Sands produced a 1.05 ERA and struck out 16 in 17 innings. He stymied hitters with a mid-90s fastball and a well-commanded curveball. He pitched very well against lefties all year long, holding them to a .621 OPS. His splits suggest that his changeup is indeed a quality pitch, and he can use it to get lefties out consistently.
Sands made it to Fort Myers by June and further impressed there. He finished with a 2.25 ERA for the Miracle and opponents hit .199 off him. He struck out 53 and walked seven in 52 innings. The Twins sent him a message by moving him to Pensacola before the conclusion of the season. He struck out six in his lone four-inning start for the Blue Wahoos. He was likely set to spend much of the 2020 season in Pensacola’s rotation with quick ascension still in the cards.
Sands’ fastball command has certainly developed over the years. His strikeout-to-walk ratio has skyrocketed since joining the Twins organization. His walk rate fell below 2.0 per nine last year and his WHIP (1.027) was lower than any of his three seasons at Florida State. His ground-ball rate was just 40%, which would’ve ranked as the 15th lowest in MLB last year. If you look closely, you can see the Twins stamp on him. Throwing up in the zone, pushing for fastball velocity, walking fewer batters and supressing home runs are all points of focus for pitching coach Wes Johnson and company.
The Twins walked only 2.8 per nine last year, down from 3.6 in 2018. They struck out one batter per inning, an increase from 8.6 strikeouts per nine in 2018. They allowed an equal number of homers in 2019 as 2018 (198), but the league hit 1,191 more home runs.
Sands is an exciting young pitcher with plenty of upside. Maintaining his fastball command, upping his velocity, and further blossoming his curveball and changeup will be important moving forward. Furthermore, with a somewhat violent delivery, avoiding elbow and shoulder complications will be vital. Sands missed some time during his junior year with biceps tendonitis. Nevertheless, there is a shining glimmer of a front-of-the-rotation starter here in the budding right-hander.
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