Alex Cobb was selected by the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the fourth round of the 2006 First-Year draft. Cobb, a standout quarterback and baseball player at Vero Beach High School, originally signed with Clemson University as a junior. The right-hander turned in an impressive senior performance, though, flashing a fastball in the 88-91 range, a solid breaking pitch and a decent splitter. He then received a large enough signing bonus to forgo pitching in the Atlantic Coast Conference, going 5-3 with a 1.08 ERA while matching his school record with 139 strikeouts to earn second-team All-State honors as a senior.
Once an agreement was reached with Tampa Bay at the end of July, Cobb reported to rookie-level Princeton to get his feet wet. He made only six appearances in his professional debut, posting a 5.00 ERA and 1.33 WHIP while striking out eight in only nine innings pitched. Mostly working out of the bullpen—one start—he touched 92 on the radar gun in a few appearances, mostly sitting in the high-80s.
Cobb, who still does not have a plus pitch at this time, then spent the 2007 season in the New York Penn League. At 19 years, old, he made an impressive debut—albeit in a pitchers’ park—by posting a 3.54 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in 16 games started. In 81.1 innings pitched overall, he allowed 32 earned runs on 78 hits while registering a 62-to-31 K/W ratio and leading his team in innings pitched and strikeouts. Although he did fade down the stretch a bit, it was an encouraging campaign that ended with him winning Renegades’ Pitcher of the Year—though did not attract a lot of attention from Baseball America or other prospect publications because of his stuff.
Going into 2008, Cobb had a real chance to establish himself as a legitimate pitching prospect in the organization. Although he is still sitting in the low-90s with his fastball and his other offerings can still use some work, he has lived up to the challenge by improving his command. While he is now only 7-7 for the disappointing Columbus Catfish—who won the South Atlantic League Championship last fall—he has been one of the better starting pitchers on the circuit. He even received an invitation to the league All-Star game following a torrid start in which he allowed fewer than two runs in nine of his first 11 outings. The right-hander is missing bats more to the tune of an 81-to-28 K/W ratio, having posted a 3.34 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 21 starts overall.
However, Cobb has already exceeded his career-high in innings pitched from ’07, when he suffered from fatigue down the stretch at Hudson Valley. Is a repeat of this happening? Well, in his past 10 outings after a solid first half, he is 1-4 with a 4.78 ERA in 52.2 innings pitched. Still, his K/W ratio during that span is 36-to-10. The numbers are also inflated from one of the worst outing of his career in the minors on July 26, when he gave up nine earned runs while failing to make it out of the fourth inning. He posted a 2.07 ERA before the All-Star break—hence the invite—but the number has jumped up to 6.48 in the second half, making an interesting case study here. Will he be able to remain effective throughout the remainder of the year?
To his credit, Cobb did bounce back nicely on Friday night, striking out a season-best nine while scattering three hits and allowing one earned runs in 5.2 innings of work. He will look to build off that and carry the success over into his next start.
Also worth mentioning, Cobb has been much better at Columbus’ home field, Golden Park, where he is 5-2 with a 2.56 ERA, .208 opponents’ average and 41-to-9 K/W ratio. On the road, though, he is 2-5 with a 4.27 ERA.
Despite the recent struggles and the aforementioned information, Cobb remains among league leaders in a few pitching categories, continues to anchor the Columbus pitching staff and has had a nice run in the Sally League. He is fifth in WHIP (1.08), 10th in innings pitched (116), though he is not in the top 20 in strikeouts.
Cobb has garnered some attention with his strong showing in the first-half, and has a good chance to crack the league top prospect list if he can string together a few quality outings the rest of the way. While he does not project as a future front-end—or perhaps middle-of-the-rotation—starter, he has a chance to surprise along the way, possibly turning into a capable performer in the majors. He is still only 20, has a bit of development left and potentially could add a few extra ticks on his heater, which could change things. Still, though, he will have to continue to get hitters out, miss bats and put up zeros to do make a steady rise, as Andy Sonnanstine did before him, up the Tampa Bay farm system.
It is easy to get lost in the Rays’ system, but he is a name to keep an eye on and might even be considered a top pitching prospect in another organization. Keep an eye on him.