BRADENTON, Fla. -- Gerrit Cole left disappointed. The Pirates watched him leave with anticipation.
Pittsburgh's premier prospect could not hide his disgruntlement Monday morning upon being informed he was one of six, including five pitchers, being sent to Minor League camp.
"I sort of knew [this was coming], but it's pretty disappointing. I pitched really well. I tried not to give them a whole lot of opportunity to make this decision," Cole said.
"We're excited about it. He showed up great here in camp," general manager Neal Huntington said. "There's still a checklist for him to work on, and we're very confident he will get it accomplished. He has the stuff you hope to build a rotation around."
Reassigned to Minor League camp along with Cole were fellow pitchers Brooks Brown, Kris Johnson and Kyle Waldrop, and catcher Ali Solis. Right-hander Phil Irwin was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis, leaving 49 players in camp, including 12 on non-roster invitations.
But, understandably, the others were subheads to the Cole headline.
The 2011 No. 1 Draft choice appeared in four games, including a start in the exhibition against Spain's World Baseball Classic team, and allowed 10 hits and four runs in 13 innings, with three walks and 13 strikeouts.
Huntington addressed the inevitable speculation that the move with Cole was made to delay his service-time clock. Players who begin their Major League careers prior to June reach each stage of salary leverage -- arbitration, then free agency -- a year sooner.
"Everybody is going to speculate why he is being sent out -- and they're wrong," Huntington said. "He's being sent out because in our minds he's not ready to compete, to be successful at the Major League level, to be one of those top-of-the-rotation starters, our goal for him."
Whatever the motive for his departure now, it is everyone's expectation that Cole's express will pull into the big league station at some point this season.
Asked whether he expected to be in the Majors later this year, Cole replied with a firm, "Yes."
"But that doesn't make me feel any better," he added. "I worked really hard this spring, and put together a lot of good outings, especially when I didn't have my stuff."
Huntington also referred to Cole's last start, against the Twins on Saturday, when he coped with baserunners in each of his four innings yet limited the damage to one run.
"A start against the Twins with half of their 'A' lineup in the middle of March is different from a start against a playoff-caliber team in the middle of May," the GM said. "He learned some valuable lessons here in Spring Training.
"We told Gerrit it feels like the Andrew McCutchen situation of a few years ago, with the checklist for him to work on."
That was a somewhat ironic comparison for Huntington to make, given that McCutchen was optioned after batting .318 in the Spring Training of 2009 -- and promoted for his big league debut on June 4 (in his case, the service-clock became irrelevant a year ago as the Pirates signed him to a long-term deal even before he became arbitration-eligible).
"They didn't really give me anything specific [to work on]," Cole said. "They give you the same old stuff: Just keep doing what you're doing, you'll tell us when you're ready."
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.