The Washington Times - September 18, 2008, 12:34AM

By JAY LeBLANC
September 18, 2008

Cole Rohrbough was the last draft-and-follow player signed by the Atlanta Braves before MLB instituted a signing deadline for draft picks last year, and the organization is confident that they’ll get a return on their $675,000 investment sooner rather than later. The 6’ 3”, 205-pound left-hander was drafted in the 22nd round in 2006 after his freshman year at Western Nevada College, but returned to school for his sophomore campaign and went 10-3 with a 1.34 ERA before signing with the Braves in late May. Rohrbough is just 21 but already mixes his three pitches - a low-90s fastball, a power curveball and a developing changeup - like a veteran, which helps explain why he was able to reach advanced Class A in his first full pro season.

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Rohrbough got off to an impressive start as a pro in 2007, going 3-2 with a 1.08 ERA, 58 strikeouts and just eight walks in 33 innings for the Rookie-level Danville Braves to earn Appalachian League Top Prospect honors. After just eight appearances he was promoted to the Class A Rome Braves, and he picked up right where he left off by going 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA and fanning another 38 batters in 28 innings pitched. In total, Rohrbough’s numbers from his pro debut are staggering - a 5-2 record, 1.17 ERA, 96 strikeouts as opposed to just 20 walks in 61 innings, and a .154 opponents’ batting average. Baseball America took notice, ranking him as the Braves’ No. 7 prospect this past offseason.

Assigned to Rome to start the 2008 season, Rohrbough battled shoulder tendinitis this spring and missed the first six weeks. After returning to the rotation in mid-May, he wasn’t quite as dominant as he had been in his first go-around in the South Atlantic League, going 3-4 with a 4.94 ERA in 13 appearances. However, his 76 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings convinced the Braves he was ready for a tougher assignment, and he was promoted to the advanced Class A Myrtle Beach Pelicans in early August. Rohrbough pitched well for the Pelicans down the stretch, going 2-2 with a 3.41 ERA and fanning 28 while walking just eight in 31 2/3 regular season innings. He remained in the rotation as the Pelicans advanced to the Carolina League finals before eventually falling to the Potomac Nationals. I recently had a chance to speak with Rohrbough:

Q: After the Braves drafted you in 2006, you spent another year in junior college before signing. How much did that help prepare you for your pro career?

A: It helped me a lot. I was drafted after my freshman year in college, but after my sophomore year I felt like I was polished enough to really go out and compete in pro ball, so it really helped me a lot.

Q: Are you surprised to have reached advanced Class A in your first full pro season?

A: Not exactly. I mean, to me, single-A is single-A, and my plan starting this year was if I was healthy I was hopefully going to start out here, but things didn’t go as planned and I’m just happy that I was able to end up here.

Q: Could you talk a bit about the different pitches you throw and how you like to use them?

A: I just throw the fastball, curveball and change, and you know, standard, just like every other pitcher, get ahead with your stuff and just kind of go off with what the hitters are telling you and pitch to the situations.

Q: You’ve averaged well over a strikeout per inning as a pro. To what do you attribute your high K rate?

A: I mean, striking out people really comes a lot with getting ahead of guys; making sure you get those first two out of three pitches strikes, and I’ve been able to do a good job doing that so far.

Q: What are some of the main things you tried to work on this season? Do you feel like you made good progress?

A: My main thing I had to work on is my changeup, and I feel like that came along pretty good. It could still get a lot better, but it definitely came along much better this offseason. And also, holding runners.

Q: Any plans for fall or winter ball?

A: No. I’m going down to the Braves instructional league, and then after that I’m just going to take it home for the offseason.

Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Braves?

A: Oh, man. I couldn’t even tell you that. It just depends on when I’m ready and when they have a spot for me. Hopefully within the next couple years.

Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and Mayor of the National Pastime web community. His Prospect Q&A column runs every Monday and Thursday throughout the season. He can be reached at jleblanc@washingtontimes.com.

Photo by Jason Colley

Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s: Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies; Brandon Hicks, Braves; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Nick Weglarz, Indians; Gorkys Hernandez, Braves; Beau Mills, Indians; Stephen King, Nationals; Brad Bergesen, Orioles; Fernando Martinez, Mets; Derrick Robinson, Royals; David Hernandez, Orioles; Jason Castro, Astros; Bobby Parnell, Mets; George Kontos, Yankees; Brian Matusz, Orioles; Matt LaPorta, Indians; Austin Jackson, Yankees; Jeff Bianchi, Royals.