When the Pirates selected pitcher Gerrit Cole with the first overall pick of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, the word was that he would likely move through the team's Minor League system quickly, and that is indeed proving to be the case.
In 13 starts with the Bradenton Marauders of the High A Florida State League this season, the big right hander from UCLA went 5-1 with a 2.55 ERA and struck out 69 batters in 67.0 innings while allowing only 53 hits. That was impressive -- especially when you consider that his only previous experience as a professional was a five-start stint in the Arizona Fall League -- and it earned him a bump up the Minor League ladder.
When he made his Double-A debut on June 20, Cole worked five solid innings and was the pitcher of record in the Altoona Curve's 9-4 victory over the New Britain Rock Cats. He allowed five hits and two runs (both earned), struck out six batters and did not issue a walk, and 52 of his 74 pitches were strikes.
Had it not been for a bank of lights going out during the top of the fifth, causing a 22-minute delay, he probably would have stayed in the game longer.
"He's not here by accident. He earned his way here," Altoona manager P.J. Forbes said after the contest. "We feel very comfortable with what he did tonight."
During the same game, Cole also threw a first-pitch strike to 15 of the 20 batters he faced. His explosive fastball was clocked in the 93-98 mph range, and he also did an excellent job of mixing in his breaking pitches.
"Off-speed pitches are something that's a necessity because you have to keep hitters off balance no matter how hard you throw," Cole said after the game. "It's not all about velocity. It's also about location and changing speeds. That was something I picked up in college, where you pitch more to miss bats. So it's something that I've been comfortable with for awhile, throwing off-speed pitches and throwing them behind in the count."
Because Cole is an impressive physical specimen at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, and so accomplished on the mound, people tend to forget that he's still only 21 years old. He won't turn 22 until September 8. As he continues to tackle the Double-A level, not every outing will go as smoothly as his June 20 start did, and that's okay. New levels are supposed to challenge players and help them grow.
"I'm looking forward to him experiencing some adversity," Forbes said. "When he experiences adversity, we'll see what kind of guy he is. He needs to go through that, and we'd rather him fail here than fail up there (in the big leagues). That's the organization's philosophy. 'Let's go through the growing pains here.'"
One start into Cole's time with Altoona, some people were already wondering how long he would remain with the team before moving on to Triple-A Indianapolis.
"That's a decision that's way above my pay grade," Forbes said with a smile. "But I think the hitters let you know, at each level, where a guy is at. His thing here will be understanding the weapons he has, how to use them and what's going to be most effective in certain situations. That's going to be his learning curve."
Cole admitted having "butterflies" before his June 20 start, but outwardly he seemed unaffected by the buzz that surrounded his Double-A debut. When asked what part of his experiences in the Arizona Fall League and the Florida State League will benefit him the most as he continues to move forward, he said: "Just getting comfortable with your surroundings and getting comfortable with all the different situations pro ball throws at you. You just tuck those under your belt and move on."
Curve shortstop Drew Maggi, a product of Arizona State University who also played with Cole at Bradenton earlier this year said: "He pretty much does it all out there. I don't think he has a weak spot in his game. He dominated at High A. That's why he got up here so fast."
Just like everyone expected.
Jim Lachimia is a contributor for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.