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Cole absorbed lessons in big league camp

Cole absorbed lessons in big league camp

Cole absorbed lessons in big league camp
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Gerrit Cole's getting-to-know-you Spring Training ended Thursday morning, when the Pirates' top pick in last June's First-Year Player Draft was reassigned to Minor League camp.

So Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington was correct weeks ago when he encouraged Major League campers, players and visiting fans alike, to "get a quick look at Cole, because he won't be there long."

Huntington hoped to also be spot-on with his latest prediction for Cole, that the shift in camps will put him "in position to have a great season."

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Anything approaching greatness in his first professional campaign will only whet fans' appetites for more Cole, just as three weeks of rubbing elbows with Major Leaguers only whetted Cole's taste for the big leagues.

"I had fun. I learned a lot about what it takes to be a Major League player," Cole said on his way out of the McKechnie Field clubhouse through a gauntlet of handshakes. "I soaked up a lot of information."

So did others in camp getting their first in-person looks at a 21-year-old right-hander, who with James Taillon forms what many insiders consider the top tandem of pitching prospects in baseball. Taillon is rated slightly higher because he was Drafted earlier (No. 1 in 2010, the national No. 2 pick) and already has a Minor League season in the books, posting a 3.98 ERA for 23 starts in the Class A South Atlantic League last summer.

The fact Taillon didn't get the big league camp invitation extended to Cole said everything about the Pirates' objective in having the former UCLA righty briefly in their midst.

"This has been an information-gathering time for him," manager Clint Hurdle said. "I like everything I see. Everybody likes his arm, likes the man. I was happy to have him in camp. It was a tremendous learning opportunity for him."

Last June's overall No. 1, however, wasn't about to soak up a lot of innings in Major League camp, so he was reassigned among his peers to allow him to fall into a season-opening routine.

"Being in camp allowed him to figure out some things he can now try out," said pitching coach Ray Searage. "This move is all about development; it was time to get him going."


"I like everything I see. Everybody likes his arm, likes the man. I was happy to have him in camp. It was a tremendous learning opportunity for him."
-- Clint Hurdle, on Gerrit Cole

"It's just about innings," Huntington said of the move. "We want to make sure we keep Gerrit stretched out, keep him on track and get him with his pitching coach, so he's in position to have a great season. We're just out of innings for him, as we've got other guys who are in legitimate competition to make the club."

Cole had zero chance of that. The organization stuck to its guns, reinforcing it by making Cole the camp's first "casualty."

"Love the arm," Huntington said. "He'll now get ready for the Minor League season, have some extended days in camp. It was important to give Cole a look at how veterans go about their business, how they care about their work. The goal was to get Gerrit that experience."

"He's a young kid. Now Gerrit will have the opportunity to start pitching every five days," said Searage, who did not spend much time with Cole, deferring his tutoring to the Minor League staff. "Too many cooks in the soup kitchen -- we didn't need that. We didn't need him to start listening to too many people."

Cole is completely on the same page as the team's decision makers. There were expectations he would at least get the opportunity to pitch in an exhibition, even if only a "B" game. As it turned out, his participation was limited to a pair of intrasquad games, including two innings in Wednesday's exercise.

Nick Evans did not get to face Cole in either of those games, but the former Mets first baseman got a good look at him from the bench.

"Looks like he's got a great arm," Evans said. "Of course, you get a totally different look from the batter's box. But I didn't see too many comfortable swings against him."

Rather than being disappointed to have become the first camp cut, Cole was "anxious to settle into a routine. But I'm glad to have had this chance to settle in."

"I would have liked some more innings up there, that would have been nice," Cole said. "I just think it'll be more regular [going forward, in the Minor League camp], and then I'll get to face other teams, too. That's going to be cool."

Hurdle already thinks of Cole as pretty cool.

"He knows he's got a lot of work in front of him," the manager said. "He asked the right questions, he listened. He used his eyes and his ears very well. He was very professional in all his drill work, in the way he handled himself in the clubhouse."

In the short term, Cole isn't expected to go far. He is most likely to begin his first pro season right here, with the Bradenton Marauders of the Class A Florida State League. It will be the first leg of a journey that could lead back to Pittsburgh.

In saying their good-byes, according to Cole, Hurdle and Searage "just said, 'It was a pleasure having you out here, hope you learned a lot and look forward to seeing you soon.'"

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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