The Yankees made a massive investment in Gerrit Cole this offseason. The team’s new ace is ready to make that pay off as soon as Opening Day arrives.

Any doubts the New York Yankees had over whether or not Gerrit Cole would be ready to go when the 2020 season kicked off were emphatically silenced on Thursday. He thoroughly impressed team officials during his simulated three innings against Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks and Luke Voit.

Cole’s fastball velocity ranged between 95-99 miles per hour during his limited work. According to new Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake, the dominant right-hander is in a “really good spot” in relation to being ready to pitch on Opening Day. It’s expected that Cole will get the ball for the Yankees whenever their regular season begins.

The Yankees’ coaching staff was also impressed at Cole’s ability to pitch at full strength in an empty stadium. That will be an important quality for any pitcher to possess in 2020. No one will be able to draw adrenaline from fans in the upcoming 60-game season.

The challenge for Cole moving forward will be to improve his pitch location while building up his ability to throw more pitches in a single outing. It’s unlikely the Yankees — or any MLB team, for that matter — is going to allow their starters to pitch deep into games when the season does finally begin. The hope is that building up Cole’s arm strength more gradually will allow him to be effective for the entire regular season and what the team hopes will be a lengthy postseason run.

Cole’s ability to be effective immediately should help New York bring veterans like Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton along at a slower pace. Tanaka isn’t quite as far along as Cole is during his preseason work. He projects to be ready for the start of the regular season, but he doesn’t have a significant margin for error.

Paxton is a pitcher who benefited greatly from the season’s delay. Back issues were going to cause him to start the season on the Injured List before the pandemic altered the MLB schedule. He is fully recovered at this point, but the Yankees don’t want to put too much pressure onto him too soon.

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The ability of Cole to pitch like a bona fide ace is still what the Yankees need if they’re going to break their World Series drought. His impressive preseason work sets him up to have a very productive first year in the Bronx.

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