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Sanbornton’s Cote rolls with the changes of life in the minor leagues

Sanbornton’s Jordan Cote fires a pitch during a recent start for the Staten Island Yankees. After starting the season with Charleston (a Class A full-season team), the 21-year-old was sent down to Staten Island (a Class A short-season team), where he is trying to develop as a starting pitcher. Photo by Robert M. Pimpsner / Pinstripe Prospects

Sanbornton’s Jordan Cote fires a pitch during a recent start for the Staten Island Yankees. After starting the season with Charleston (a Class A full-season team), the 21-year-old was sent down to Staten Island (a Class A short-season team), where he is trying to develop as a starting pitcher. Photo by Robert M. Pimpsner / Pinstripe Prospects

LOWELL, Mass. – Jordan Cote was hoping for rain.

“There’s like a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms, so you never know,” Cote said as he waited to pick up some food Tuesday afternoon at a Chili’s in Staten Island, N.Y.

The thunderstorms never materialized, so Cote made his scheduled start for the Staten Island Yankees on Tuesday night. If the rain had come, Cote’s start would have been pushed back and he would have pitched in front of family and friends just a few miles from the border of his home state on Wednesday night as the Yankees began a three-game series in Lowell, Mass.

The 21-year-old from Sanbornton will still get to catch up with his parents, grandparents and girlfriend in Lowell, he just won’t get to pitch for them. Instead, he had to settle for a post-start conditioning run along the Merrimack River and some light bullpen work at LeLacheur Park.

“It’s awesome to be back here in New England,” Cote said after his bullpen session on Wednesday. “I just put up a picture on

Instagram of the trail I ran on out back here. It runs right along the Merrimack and through the UMass-Lowell campus. It was pretty cool back there.”

That’s been the theme of Cote’s 2014 season – how to stay focused and positive when things don’t go your way.

The 2011 third-round draft pick began the year with Class A Charleston after spending the last two seasons dominating the rookie leagues in Florida (0.98 ERA in six games in 2012, 1.05 ERA in eight games in 2013). Cote had some bright moments coming out of the bullpen for Charleston, but after 12 appearances he had a 5.32 ERA and was sent down to Staten Island, which plays in the Class A Short Season New York-Penn League.

“That’s something we all go through, really. If you haven’t got moved down, you probably haven’t been playing for long enough,” said Staten Island pitching coach Tim Norton, who pitched in the Yankees farm system for five years. “It’s a tough spot for all of us, but that’s our job to keep ’em motivated, keep ’em focused and keep ’em moving forward and get ’em right back up there. And Jordan is doing well. He’s a good kid, he’s taken it well and he keeps working.”

“I was pretty excited about coming to Staten Island, to be honest with you. I wasn’t getting a lot of innings in Charleston and I didn’t acclimate to the bullpen life really well,” said Cote, who had always been a starter. “Coming into games in the middle is tough, especially as a long reliever. It’s never a close game. So it was just mopping up a game or cleaning up innings. I kind of talked to (the front office) and that was their plan the whole time. They just wanted me to get more innings in and then send me to Staten Island to start.”

It seemed like a shrewd plan after Cote’s first start for Staten Island on June 16 when he allowed four hits and one earned run over four innings before reaching his pitch limit (like all low-level minor leaguers, Cote is on a strict pitch count). But the plan unraveled after that.

Cote was knocked around in his next two starts, giving up a combined 11 hits and 10 runs in 6.2 innings. He said he didn’t have a feel for any of his pitches and that he was trying to be too fine with his location. Norton talked about the mechanical changes they were making with Cote’s delivery and how that probably affected Cote during the rough patch.

“It’s tough going out there and giving up seven runs in a game. That’s something I’m not really used to,” Cote said. “You can start asking yourself, ‘Is this really where I should be? Am I good enough to pitch here?’ ”

Cote battled those negative thoughts with some help from Chris Passarella, one of New York’s mental conditioning coaches. Cote had worked with Passarella before and the two bonded through their mutual love of golf. They talked about the mental similarities between throwing a pitch and swinging a club. And when Cote was struggling last month, he called on Passarella regularly for words of wisdom.

The mental and mechanical adjustments started paying off on July 2 in Aberdeen, Md. Cote wound up surrendering seven hits and four runs over four innings, but he threw the ball better and felt more comfortable than he had in his previous two starts.

It was a repeat performance on Tuesday. He cruised through the first four innings without giving up a run before finding trouble in the fifth. A couple of ground balls snuck through the infield, he made a throwing error on a bunt, the bullpen didn’t pick him up and Cote wound up surrendering seven hits and four runs, three earned, over four innings in an eventual 9-2 loss.

“He had it rolling pretty good there, it was an easy four innings,” Norton said. “He was definitely battling for a few outings before that, but he really put it together (Tuesday) night. It’s unfortunate how it panned out in the end for him, but he keeps progressing.”

Norton first saw Cote pitch in 2012 and said he’s seen dramatic improvement since then. The pitching coach talked about Cote’s refined mechanics and the new movement on his fastball. He likes that Cote can throw four pitches (fastball, changeup, curveball and slider), the command he shows with his fastball, his composure on the mound and the potential he has to increase his velocity (currently in the low 90s) thanks to his 6-foot-5, 215-pound build.

Norton, who is from Rhode Island, also stressed that Cote still has a “fresh arm” because he only pitched limited innings growing up in New Hampshire.

“He’s still a young kid, really. He’s just 21. He should be a junior in college where guys are fighting just to get drafted, so he’s ahead of the game,” Norton said. “He might feel like he’s at a standstill right now, a little bit like all of our guys do, but he’s right on pace. He just needs to stick with it like he has been.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at tosullivan@cmonitor.com or 369-3341 or on Twittter @timosullivan20.)

Related

Jordan Cote, by the numbers

Friday, July 11, 2014

Jordan Cote’s stats with Single-A Staten Island: 0-1 record 7.71 ERA 5 appearances (4 starts) 18.2 innings pitched 29 hits allowed 20 runs (16 earned) 14 strikeouts 4 walks … 0

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