On 33 days this past season, Gerrit Cole was a master on the mound.
Every other day of the season, he was a mastermind in the dugout.
The Yankees ace finally took home his first career Cy Young this week, a unanimous decision and a well-deserved honor for a dominant season — the kind the team hoped for when it signed Cole to the largest contract ever for a pitcher.
But the Yankees didn’t just get Cole’s best every five or six days. They also got a veteran voice to help guide some of their younger pitchers through the season.
“I feel like just every single day he brought it and helped the team out a lot as far as contributing a lot to the pitching staff,” Clarke Schmidt told Sports+ late during the final week of the season. “He’s like a third pitching coach. It’s good to have a guy like that in your clubhouse. Obviously, he’s probably the biggest bulldog in baseball with how many innings he eats up.”
Cole’s durability (including a league-best 209 innings) cannot be overstated, especially in an era where pitcher injuries are on the rise.
But the influence he has on the rest of the pitching staff — though he will also chop it up with hitters and talk about what he is seeing from opposing pitchers — is also integral and should pay dividends in the years ahead.
Schmidt has had the benefit of counting Cole as a mentor over the past few years as he broke into the big leagues. When Schmidt’s season got off to a rocky start this year, Cole continued to be in his corner and help him through it.
“It’s indescribable being able to have that second opinion on stuff,” Schmidt said. “A guy who can always put a little bit of input on something that might give you a different perspective, especially from somebody who’s been there and done it for so long. He’s been in this game for 10-plus years, but it still feels like he’s pretty young and early on in his career. It’s always great to have a guy like that. This Cy Young, it’s kind of one of the things he’s been trying to tackle. To be able to see that come to fruition has been really cool.”
On the days he was not toeing the rubber, Cole was active in the dugout. Often he’d be standing between manager Aaron Boone and pitching coach Matt Blake, offering his thoughts if needed. When the Yankees were batting, he often would be engaged with the pitcher, perhaps reviewing something on an iPad or going over pitch sequences.
“It’s helpful for me to have someone who’s in the thick of it every day,” Blake said. “Obviously, he’s doing it at a high level. He’s got a different set of eyes on what he’s seeing with guys that he relates to because he’s out there competing, too. We’re always trying to find ways to connect with our guys. Sometimes it’s one little thing that someone says that can unlock them. I think it’s just trying to find that balance of when the right time is to get involved. But he’s been great for us.”
As Michael King made the transition from a reliever back to a starter late in the season, he soaked up all of the insight he could get from Cole. King knew how to carve up a lineup one time through out of the bullpen, but he had to approach things differently as a starter.
“The main thing I’m getting from him is reading how a hitter was in the first at-bat to see what I should do the second at-bat,” King said. “As a starter in the minor leagues, I was able to do that. In the big leagues, I just said I’m gonna throw my best stuff and I wouldn’t have to throw it again because I was only going to face them once. It’s not like I’m saving things when I’m out there, but Gerrit’s using my repertoire to my advantage and saying, ‘You did this to this guy and saw this, go to this.’ Obviously, I’m going to listen to him.
“Now in the back of my mind when I’m facing George Springer a third time and [Cole] played with him in Houston and he’s watched all of these games this year and watched now what I’m doing to him this year, he tells me one thing, I’m gonna do it. Luckily, I’ve executed and had success with it. So it’s been fun to pick his brain, but also fun to know you have a Cy Young winner that’s going over your entire game and giving you good feedback, whether it’s mid-game or in between outings.”
Even Ben Rortvedt was able to benefit from Cole, receiving a degree (really a crash course) in catching an ace.
Aside from the all practical baseball advice, though, there is this: During his conference call Wednesday night after winning the Cy Young, Cole already was talking in detail about areas in which he wanted to improve next year (better command of his offspeed pitches).
At last week’s GM meetings, Brian Cashman recalled meeting with Cole at a Greenwich, Conn., coffee shop for two hours last offseason on ways the Yankees could get better.
“The thing about Gerrit Cole, which is spectacular, he’s like the smartest player I’ve ever come across,” Cashman said. “He’s already knee-deep into finding ways to be better, when how much better can you be than what he just did? But that’s how he’s wired.”
And if your Cy Young-winning, $324 million veteran is spending every waking day trying to get better? That sends a strong message to the rest of the clubhouse, young and old, that perhaps they should be following suit.
“I think he’s a consummate professional,” Blake said. “He’s here every night helping the other guys work through their stuff. He’s out there getting his work in on a daily basis. He’s one of the most prepared guys in the league.”
Great, dad, can we eat now?
Cole lit up the most this season whenever his son, Caden, was around the ballpark. The 3-year-old was often decked out in Yankees gear and a few times was seated by the dugout to get a visit from his dad when his outing finished.
So naturally, Wednesday was a big day for Caden.
“Caden is very fired up and looking forward to going to dinner,” Cole said on the Cy Young conference call. “He is hungry currently. But he’s been ecstatic all day. He’s been playing with his brother really well today, too; they’re not fighting, so it’s been a great day — knock on wood — so far.
“It’s a beautiful thing to be able to celebrate things like this with your kids. The family moments and the love that we have for one another is unlike anything else. It just elevates it for sure and makes it that much more worthwhile.”
Home and the plate
James Rowson has his work cut out for him as the new Yankees hitting coach: trying to get Giancarlo Stanton back on track and finding a way to help their young players break through in their major league development, just to name a few priorities.
But while Rowson, introduced on Tuesday, was ready to dive into relationship-building and breaking down video of his new hitters, the Mount Vernon native who went to high school in The Bronx also took a moment to appreciate coming full circle.
“Just growing up in this city, man, if you would have told me that, years ago when I was playing in Mount Vernon Little League, that I was going to end up being the hitting coach for the New York Yankees, I would have said, ‘I’ll sign up for that every day of the week,’” Rowson said. “So to be at this point and have an opportunity to do this for my hometown team, it means everything. So I’m really excited.
“But you know what’s more exciting than that is I know it’ll be a lot more exciting when you win in New York, and that’s the goal. I’m here, we got the job and now it’s [time] to get to work and do my part to help us win, and that’s the mindset.”
There’s gold in them thar minor leagues
Anthony Volpe isn’t the only Gold Glover the Yankees had in their system this season.
T.J. Rumfield was named the minor league first base Gold Glove winner this week after spending most of the year at Double-A Somerset.
Across 78 games in the field (including two at High-A Hudson Valley), Rumfield recorded 598 total chances and piled up 562 putouts and 34 assists, good for a .997 fielding percentage.
A 12th-round pick of the Phillies in 2021 out of Virginia Tech, the Yankees acquired Rumfield in November 2021 as part of a trade that sent right-hander Nick Nelson to Philadelphia.