PHOENIX -- The Pirates have made it official: Right-hander Gerrit Cole, the top pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, will be participating in the Arizona Fall League. Cole will join six other members of the organization on the Mesa Solar Sox club, which begins play in two weeks. Cole is the third straight No. 1 pick to make his professional debut in the AFL. Stephen Strasburg (2009) and Bryce Harper (2010), both of whom are in the Nationals organization, were the previous two. The Pirates made the decision to send Cole to Arizona after having him spend several weeks working out and throwing at the Pirates' complex in Bradenton, Fla. Cole reported to Florida after agreeing to an $8 million signing bonus just before the Aug. 15 signing deadline.
"We felt it would be a good step for him, a good entry into professional baseball," general manager Neal Huntington said. "He reported to Florida in good shape. He was a great learner. He was a great student for [pitching coordinator] Jim Benedict and some of our coaches down there. We felt that the best way to develop him was to challenge him." The Pirates attach a workload limit to each of their players participating in the AFL, and Cole's will be more liberal than most. He doesn't have to worry about the same fatigue issues as others because he has not pitched competitively since the end of his collegiate season at UCLA. "We do want to see him deal with some success. We also need to see him deal with some failure," Huntington said. "We hope that he gets challenged out there and see how he handles it." How Cole fares -- not so much in results, but in execution and consistency of mechanics and command -- this fall will help dictate where he begins in the Pirates' Minor League system next year. Asked if Cole would be given a non-roster invitation to Spring Training next season, Huntington remained non-committal. Along with Cole, the Pirates are sending the following players to the AFL: Nathan Baker (LHP), Phil Irwin (RHP), Mike Colla (RHP), Jarek Cunningham (INF), Brock Holt (INF) and Robbie Grossman (OF).