Cole Aker working on command, thriving in starting role with Spartans

UNC transfer found a chance to show his arm and improve his game in Division II baseball

TAMPA, Fla. – Cole Aker has made command a priority in his new home with the Tampa Spartans.

The right-handed pitcher transferred here following two years as a reliever with the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.

Entering his draft year, Aker found a chance to be a starter so he could work on his still inconsistent release. It’s going well — he was named the No. 4 draft prospect in the Division by Baseball America.

“It’s been a pretty smooth transition,” he said, after arriving at the ballpark in a hurry from a routine doctor’s appointment. “The team has been great and from my first day I felt like I had been here all year.”

He made just 10 appearances up north in 2017, and had a 1-1 record and a 2.12 earned-run average in 17 innings, striking out 18 batters and walking 13. He’s already off to a 2-0 record in 2018, with 15 strikeouts and nine walks in 21 innings over six starts.

While his walk rate is still high, Aker believes in the work of the Tampa coaching staff.

“That was one of the biggest reasons to come here,” he said. “I wanted to be somewhere I knew the coaches had full belief in me and would let me work through my issues.”

His arm was the main reason why Aker was recruited by the University of Tampa.

“It’s an electric arm,” head coach Joe Urso said. “It’s the fun part for a coach, to get somebody of that talent level and teach him the game, teach him how to pitch.”

Led by assistant Sam Militello, the Spartans’ coaching staff has found a distinctive way to improve Aker’s control. His velocity has dropped from 95 mph to 90-92 mph.

“Eventually I think the scouts are going to want to see the 95 again, to make sure the velocity is still there,” Urso said. “But I think they’re happy that he’s commanding the ball more than worrying about the velocity.”

Cole is the grandson of 10-year Major League reliever Jack Aker, who played for six teams from 1964-1974. His father, Matt, played baseball for the University of Mississippi, and coached high school and college following Ole Miss.

As a junior, the son has started turning his attentions to the upcoming draft.

“Obviously the draft is a cool thing to look for,” he said. “But for me, it’s just about getting better, if I keep developing that will all handle itself.”