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Cole thrilled to join up-and-coming Pirates

Cole thrilled to join up-and-coming Pirates

Cole thrilled to join up-and-coming Pirates
PITTSBURGH -- Gerrit Cole had his moment in the spotlight on Saturday as he was introduced by the Pirates during a formal news conference at PNC Park. Among those on hand to watch Cole slip on a Bucs jersey were his parents, sister, agent Scott Boras and UCLA head coach John Savage.

"It feels great," Cole said, looking down at that jersey. "I'll tell you what, the fabric's pretty good, too. There is nothing like MLB threads."

Taken No. 1 overall in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, Cole is eager to begin proving that his talents were worth such a distinction. He is headed to Bradenton, Fla., to begin working out at Pirate City, along with second-rounder Josh Bell and a handful of other players from his Draft class.

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Cole will participate in the Pirates' instructional league next month, and general manager Neal Huntington didn't rule out the possibility of Cole heading out west to pitch in the Arizona Fall League after that.

The AFL typically draws advanced prospects, though Cole could fit in this group given that he is coming out of a three-year stint at UCLA. He pitched 114 1/3 innings as a junior this spring and finished 6-8, with a 3.31 ERA and 119 strikeouts.

"The next step in the progress for us is to establish where Gerrit is," Huntington said. "We've got to get him into baseball shape, and in this particular case, back into pitching shape. The last thing we can do is rush that process. We have to make sure we're intelligent about it."

Though Cole did not reach an agreement on a signing bonus until the final hours before Tuesday's 12:01 a.m. ET deadline, the 6-foot-4 right-hander said he always had every intention to sign. He ended up with an $8 million signing bonus, the largest in Draft history.

The last time the Pirates had the No. 1 overall pick, Bryan Bullington (2002) signed for half that much.

"I was pretty sure that the Pittsburgh Pirates was where I wanted to start my career," Cole said. "It was where I wanted to be. Signing was definitely the first choice."

The Pirates now have to hope that Cole develops into a much better pitcher than Bullington -- who recorded one win in his Major League career. If all goes right, Cole, 20, could ascend through the system quicker than most players, given his starting point.

There will be some growing pains as Cole steadily increases his workload, and the right-hander will have to improve upon the command he showed at UCLA. But an intriguing set of tools are already in place.

His fastball sits in the mid-90s deep into starts, and Cole has a good handle on his slider and changeup, as well.

"There's definitely going to be some sort of learning curve, but there was a learning curve going into college, as well," Cole said. "I think I'm pretty well prepared for the process. Obviously, I've never thrown 200 innings before, so I think physically, I need to be able to maintain that. Staying healthy will obviously be key."

Cole was not able to meet Bell in Pittsburgh this weekend, though the two will soon travel to Florida together, with so many tracking the progress they make there. Both have instantly become top-five prospects in an organization that has stocked up with some potentially elite talent in recent Drafts. Now it's time to turn potential into product.

"To be selected first overall is just a tremendous honor," Cole said. "Everybody dreams of it, I think. But I don't know if anyone ever thinks they're going to go No. 1 overall."

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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