Prized pitching prospect Gerrit Cole, who received an $8 million signing bonus as the No. 1 overall pick in last year's draft, was promoted to the Curve on Friday and will make his Double-A debut Wednesday night at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
"We just feel like he's ready for the next set of challenges," Pirates farm director Larry Broadway said.
Cole made the decision easy for the Pirates by posting impressive numbers at high-A Bradenton in his first pro season. The 22-year-old right-hander out of UCLA went 5-1 with a 2.55 ERA in 13 starts, striking out 69 with 21 walks in 67 innings.
Gerrit Cole was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2011.
Cole has been especially good since mid-May and ranks fifth in the Florida State League in ERA. But rather than rushing him to Double-A, the Pirates let him continue to develop at Bradenton for a few extra weeks.
"He's gone about his business very professionally in Bradenton," Broadway said. "He's grown as a man and as a pitcher, and we feel he's ready to take on the next set of challenges that Double-A will bring him."
Cole, who throws upwards of 100 mph, was sharp across the board statistically at Bradenton. He held hitters to a .217 average, had a 1.10 WHIP and more strikeouts (69) than innings pitched (67).
Cole becomes the highest-paid minor leaguer ever to play for the Curve, surpassing Pedro Alvarez (2009 team), who received a $6 million signing bonus as the No. 2 draft pick in 2008.
Cole also will be the second No. 1 overall pick to be a full-time member of the Curve, joining pitcher Bryan Bullington (2004 team), who was drafted first overall in 2002. Former Pirates pitcher Kris Benson, the No. 1 overall pick in 1996, made a rehab start for Altoona in 2002.
With just 67 innings in pro ball, Cole has thrown fewer than any starting pitcher to ever join the Curve on a full-time basis. Paul Maholm previously held that distinction with 94 2/3 innings when he opened the 2005 season with Altoona.
Cole may not have much professional experience, but a case could have been made to promote him to the Curve much sooner, given how successful he was at Bradenton.
"The stuff was there in college, obviously, that's why he got drafted," Broadway said. "[Keeping him in Bradenton this long] wasn't improvement in stuff, it was more of ability to pitch and ability to stay committed to the plan, to adjust to a five-day routine, overall professional mound presence, those type of things that go along with experience."
The Florida State League is on its All-Star break, so the Pirates figured this would be a good time to promote Cole.
The pitcher will join the Curve in Binghamton this weekend, then make his debut Wednesday at PNG Field.
This level is much more challenging than high-A ball, and Cole will be facing better, more experienced hitters in Double-A. His first challenge will be against New Britain on Wednesday.
Asked what Cole will have to do to enjoy success with the Curve, Broadway said: "Commanding his fastball, which he's done a great job of, and continuing to mix his pitches appropriately and just to learn hitter ID, swinger ID, sticking with his plan and all those things that go into being a starter pitcher that's got to get through the lineup more than once."
Bradenton's other prized pitching prospect, Jameson Taillon, could join the Curve at some point later this season. Unlike Cole, however, Taillon has struggled of late, hurting his prospects of getting called up to Double-A anytime soon.
In his past six starts, Taillon has allowed 28 earned runs in 31 innings for an 8.13 ERA. He's 3-6 with a 4.52 ERA overall in 13 starts.
"He's gone through some good adversity," Broadway said. "It seems to come down to one inning for him, and he's a young player and doesn't yet really understand how to minimize damage.
"He kind of lets the game speed up a little bit on him, which is something that comes with maturity and with being in tough situations and going through adversity."
Taillon, the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft, is still just 20 years old, so the Pirates have no reason to rush his development.
"He's come a long way quickly," Broadway said, "so it's good for him to experience a little bit of -- it's not necessarily failure, it's more adversity."