TAMPA—Cole Ayers and his father, Michael, have always been protective of his right arm—which on Tuesday at East Coast Pro excited evaluators thanks to a low 90s fastball and a sharp, hard-breaking curve.
Ayers didn’t start throwing a curveball until his freshman year of high school. He didn’t throw anything that would put any unnecessary torque on his arm, and he still doesn’t. So instead of a curveball or a slider, Ayers developed a knuckle-change to keep batters off of his fastball.
“My knuckles just kind of go through the ball and I flick the fingers and it just tumbles like a curveball,” Ayers said after his outing, which was a three inning stint with four strikeouts. “So no stress on the elbow or arm. My dad pitched in the minors and he wanted to save my arm.”
The elder Ayers—a southpaw, not a righthander like his 6-foot-2 son—pitched with the Pirates organization for five seasons from 1996-2001, making it all the way up to Triple-A. With his experience in the game, and his concern of elbow injuries with his son, Michael helped lay the groundwork for what is now a devastating spike curve from his son.
Ayers, an Ohio native committed to Kentucky, flashed the pitch first in the seventh inning to the second batter he faced: Logan Cerny. He started the at-bat with an 84 mph curve for a strike, and after Cerny fouled off a 92 mph fastball, Ayers came back with an 85 mph curve on the inner half of the plate. Strike three.
The pitch has sharp, biting, downward movement and, at it’s best, has 5-6 mph separating it from his four-seam fastball. Ayers also throws a two-seam fastball and a changeup, but wasn’t happy with the former’s command and didn’t get a feel for the latter until his final frame. Ayers cited the knuckle-change that he used to throw as something that has helped him gain a feel for the spike curve he throws today, as their grips are similar.
“I don't come around the ball as much,” Ayers said about his curve. “I just try and stay on top to get it to come down, get it 12-6 or 1-7 (shape).”
His grip and, combined with a high, three-quarter arm slot and fast arm allows him to get that hard downward movement regularly, and the pitch was likely his most consistent offering on the day. It was also his most effective out pitch, as he used it to finish off three of his four strikeouts. While it was most effective down in the zone to either side, he also used it effectively on the inner half to righties, jamming them up, and on the backdoor against lefthanded hitters.
With a live arm and an exciting curve, Ayers will be one of many exciting 2018 prep pitchers to continue to watch this draft cycle, especially if he continues to refine his changeup—which generated swings and misses late—and his fastball command. He threw his fastball 90-91 in the first inning and touched 92, and his last pitch of the game was an 89 mph fastball down in the zone to get Hunter Barco looking for his fourth and final strikeout.
After showing some of what he could do on the mound Wednesday, Ayers is going to take a breather, keep his arm rested and prepare for Perfect Game’s WWBA World Championship in October.
“After East Coast Pro I'm going to slow it down a little bit, I don't know where else I plan to go,” he said. “Slow it down, keep my arm in shape and get ready for Jupiter.”