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UCLA's Cole goes to Pirates at No. 1

UCLA's Cole goes to Pirates at No. 1

UCLA's Cole goes to Pirates at No. 1 play video for UCLA's Cole goes to Pirates at No. 1
PITTSBURGH -- The phone call came about 30 minutes before Commissioner Bud Selig stepped to the podium.

Gerrit Cole answered, listened as the Pirates told him he was their guy and hung up. And then he made everyone -- yes, family members, too -- wait.

"I wanted to keep them in suspense a little bit," he later joked.

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That anticipation for the Cole family and everyone else following the 2011 First-Year Player Draft eventually ended, as shortly after 7 p.m. ET on Monday, Selig let everyone in on Cole's little secret. He was -- after months of being heavily scouted and weeks of having his credentials exhaustively compared to those of a handful of other top amateur players -- the Pirates' selection with the first overall pick.

And fitting it was that the right-handed starter out of UCLA opted for the suspenseful route because so, too, did the Pirates.

The organization didn't follow the course the Nationals had the past two summers and let everyone know well ahead of time who would be taken No. 1. Part of that is because of the way the Pirates run their Draft room. But it was also as much a byproduct of there not being one standout player in this year's class.

A group of amateur pitchers and position players was still in the mix for that top pick as recently as last week. And though eyebrows were raised throughout the spring by Cole's less-than-stellar results, the Pirates were never deterred.

"If we were focused on taking the player who performed the best this year, there might have been other options," general manager Neal Huntington said. "Our focus is selecting the player that we believe is going to be the best for the organization two, four, six, eight, 10 years from now.

"He's maturing into something pretty good before our eyes, and we felt that he had the biggest impact for us potentially of anybody on the board."

Cole became the fourth player taken first overall by Pittsburgh, which previously used the top pick to select Jeff King (1986), Kris Benson (1996) and Bryan Bullington (2002). None of those three turned out to be the superstar that the Pirates hope they have with Cole.

The right-hander has all sorts of assets that scouts love when projecting future results, beginning with his build. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound starter shows every sign of being a durable rotation workhouse.

Then, there's the arm.

Not only does his fastball sit consistently in the mid-90s deep into starts, but it has touched 100 mph a number of times. His slider and changeup are also already advanced pitches, too, which suggests Cole could be on the fast track to the big leagues.

"I feel like pitching [at UCLA] the last three years in that role has really fine-tuned my competitiveness and discipline," Cole said. "[I'm] trying to be that rock you can go to and you know what you're going to get."

Control hasn't been an issue this year. However, command has sometimes been a different story. Cole finished his junior season 6-8 with a 3.31 ERA in 16 starts, and those numbers hardly stand out (for the good, at least) on his own UCLA staff. Opponents hit .242 off the right-hander, who gave up 103 hits in 114 1/3 innings.

The problem, according to scouts, is that Cole's release point was causing his pitches to come in over the plate too often and with little deception. That is something that the Pirates believe can be corrected through some work with Cole's mechanics.

"We do see some things that we feel on the surface we can help," Huntington said, "but most important, we've got to gain his trust before we start doing anything."

When that time is right, the organization will have an eager pupil.

"Obviously, your goal is to get better every day," Cole said. "If there are some flaws that you need to correct, I feel that I have a lot of aptitude and that I have a knack for learning. Getting after it is definitely what I would like to do."

There's a natural follow up to that, which, of course, is how long until that process can begin? Cole, who is advised by agent Scott Boras, has until Aug. 15 to come to an agreement with the Pirates. In two of the past three seasons, the Pirates have not been able to sign their first pick until the final hours of the negotiating period.

As much as the Pirates would love for that not to be the case -- a quick resolution would allow Cole to spend some time on the mound this summer -- that appears an unlikely occurrence. The Pirates paid a franchise-high $6.5 million to No. 2 overall pick Jameson Taillon last summer, and Cole's demands are certain to exceed that.

If Cole doesn't sign until mid-August -- and all indications are that he will eventually sign -- he's unlikely to begin his professional career until next spring.

"I really have no expectations going into that situation," Cole said. "I'm going to let Pittsburgh and their guys do the evaluation. Obviously, you want the business side of things to go as smoothly as possible, but I understand there is another side having gone through this before. I feel like I'm prepared."

Prepared he is, given that this is not an entirely new process to Cole. He was taken by the Yankees with the No. 28 overall pick in 2008 before opting to go to college. He didn't go so far as to entertain an offer from New York at the time, though he got a taste of how the business side of baseball works.

As for that decision to head to UCLA, it did nothing but further boost his stock.

"I think I've learned a lot of things," said Cole, born and raised in Southern California. "You can't really sum it all up in one sentence. There are a lot of different aspects of the game that I have fine-tuned. There are a lot of things that you learn and you really don't expect to learn, and that's not something that shows up in the box score or the statistics."

Projecting how long it might take Cole to ascend to the Majors was not a topic Huntington engaged in on Monday night. And really, there are too many factors -- including how long it might take to sign Cole -- to make such a guess.

What the organization is free to begin dreaming about is all the pitching it has stockpiled in the past few summers. Assuming Cole gets signed, the Pirates will, by all unbiased accounts, have a terrific group of pitching prospects on their hands.

The organization spent $11.35 million in the span of a week last August to secure three highly touted pitchers, the oldest of which just turned 20 in March. Along with Taillon, Stetson Allie and Luis Heredia, Cole would give the Pirates a significant boost in their efforts to develop starting pitching through the organization's farm system.

That doesn't even touch on the handful of higher-level pitching prospects the Pirates believe have long-term big league potential, too.

"Pitching is a game of attrition," Huntington said. "You can never have too much of it. It's a valuable commodity in our game."

Asked what he knew about Taillon, Cole noted the obvious: "I know he's really good. I know he's a big dude. I've seen some pictures of him."

His familiarity with the city of Pittsburgh is also limited mostly to generalities. He mentioned Roberto Clemente, the franchise's tradition, the ballpark and, of course, the Steelers.

But Cole will have plenty of time to educate himself on all things Pittsburgh because now all he can do is wait. His collegiate season came to a disappointing end on Sunday with a loss in the NCAA Los Angeles Regional, meaning that he has some time on his hands while he waits for negotiations to commence.

As for the Pirates, their work continues in earnest. Though Cole was the team's only selection on Monday, the club will make 49 more beginning on Tuesday, starting with the first pick in Round 2.

Live coverage of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft resumes at noon ET Tuesday on MLB.com, where fans will receive exclusive coverage of Day 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["first-year_player_draft" ] }
{"content":["first-year_player_draft" ] }