The best pitching prospect ever to wear a Curve uniform will make his debut Wednesday night at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
And to be clear, Gerrit Cole is not another Bryan Bullington.
Both were No. 1 overall draft picks -- Cole last year, Bullington in 2002 -- but while Bullington was infamously projected as a No. 3 starter by former Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield and never even amounted to that, Cole is a legitimate frontline starter and potential staff ace for years to come in Pittsburgh.
Mirror photo by J.D.?Cavrich
Gerrit Cole answers a question during a Tuesday press conference announcing his arrival with the Curve.
The 21-year-old right-hander, who received an $8 million signing bonus, not only throws close to 100 mph, he complements the great fastball with other great pitches.
"His offspeed stuff or secondary stuff is as good as I've seen," Curve pitching coach Jeff Johnson said. "He's got curveball, slider, changeup now. They're all plus pitches as far as major league level, and he can throw them all over the plate."
Cole has tremendous stuff, no doubt, and it will be on display Wednesday night at 7 against New Britain. He's treating his first Double-A game like "any other start" and is confident his stuff will help him excel like he's done at every level throughout life, including high-A ball this year.
"I'm just going to do what I was doing in Bradenton, and if that works, it works," Cole said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon at PNG Field. "If it doesn't, then we'll go from there. But I believe that as long as I go out there and take care of myself and stay in the present that things are going to work out.
"Obviously there's going to be a lot to learn. It's a different league, it's different hitters, it's all that stuff. But I'm not going to go out there and try to anticipate that I'm going to have to change."
Cole didn't pitch in a minor league game after signing for a Pirates signing-bonus record $8 million in 2011, but he did make five starts in the Arizona Fall League, going 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA.
The Bucs decided to let Cole ease into his minor league career this season by starting him off at Bradenton instead of Double-A. His college teammate at UCLA and No. 3 overall draft pick last year, Trevor Bauer, did pitch in the minors last season and is already in Triple-A with the Diamondbacks.
"You just try to focus on what you can control," Cole, who still keeps in touch with Bauer, said of where he's pitching. "It's different organizations, maybe a different situation over with Arizona. The only thing I know is what we do here and what I'm supposed to do and how I'm supposed to go about my business, and that's really the only thing that I can focus on."
As everyone in the baseball world expected, Cole dominated at Bradenton, going 5-1 with a 2.55 ERA in 13 starts, striking out 69 with 21 walks in 67 innings.
Now comes the biggest challenge of all in the minors with the jump from high-A to Double-A. Many, many so-called can't-miss prospects have missed badly in the Curve's 14 seasons as they simply were not capable of figuring out the adjustments that need to be made against the caliber of players at this level.
Few people expect Cole to have major issues with the jump to Double-A, and his stuff is so good that he should be able to thrive. Still, there are things he will have to concentrate on to achieve success with the Curve.
"He's not going to get away with as many mistakes," Johnson said, "and so he'll have to get better in the strike zone. He'll have to learn how to expand more out of the strike zone when he's ahead of the count because his stuff is so good he'll get guys hunting fastballs. They're going to be ready to hit 95-100 mph, and so he's going to have to understand that and not try to power through that.
"Guys that have that good of an arm and arm strength will go back to what they've always gone back to, which is powering through stuff, and he's got to learn how not to do that."
That means becoming an all-around pitcher and not just a thrower. Cole's fastball should be good enough to get guys out at this level, but only if he locates it well and complements it with his offspeed stuff.
"His issue has got to be about angle, pitching downhill," Johnson said. "If he gets up, he gets a little flat, gets turned around a little bit. That will be something we'll continue to work on, and it will be the tell-tale for him on how he moves."
As a first-year pro, the Pirates will closely monitor Cole's innings for the season and not let him get too extended. For the time being, Johnson said the pitcher likely will be looking at six-inning starts, possibly seven on occasion if he's cruising along and his pitch count remains low.
Cole said he's had no problems making the transition from college to pro ball and getting used to the professional lifestyle. Asked if it's been hard or fun, he said "both" and added, "It's been a fun challenge."
Getting used to starting every fifth day, as opposed to once every seven days in college, has gone smoothly for him.
"I feel like my mechanics are sharper, and although the velocity maybe isn't the same as it was once every seven days, I just feel like I get in a better groove," Cole said.
"The management in between starts is probably a little different than it was at school because you have less days to recover," he added. "So it's not just about maintaining strength, but it's also recovering from the previous start in four days."
Cole's biggest strength isn't his fastball or great stuff, but instead he said it's his competitiveness. He mentioned he's a different person when he takes the mound, and the lightest moment of his news conference came when asked if he's as different on versus off the field as Pirates reliever Jared Hughes, who has gained notoriety for his intensity and facial expressions while pitching.
"Not quite as extensive as Jared," Cole said with a laugh. "It's just, I love the game so much, and I just love to go out there and compete."