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February 20, 2012; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburg Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole (75) works out during camp at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

Gerrit Cole: Why Pirates top prospect should begin year in minors

Count me as one who isn’t quite sold on the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff heading into the 2013.

That brings me to the most popular topic of discussing the Pirates potential opening day pitching staff and that’s whether or not the Bucs should promote top prospect Gerrit Cole and have him open the season with the big club?

July 8, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; USA pitcher Gerrit Cole delivers a pitch during the second inning of the 2012 All Star Futures Game at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

That answer is an easy no.

Coming off of Cole’s dominant last outing in which he flashed the stuff you’d expect to see from a No. 1 overall draft pick by striking out the first six batters he faced, there is more of a demand among Pirates fans to make the trip north with the Pirates.

As nice as it would be to see Cole make the jump to the big leagues, first take into account that his last outing was against Spain. Yes it was dominant, but we shouldn’t read too much into it.

However if he turns in another great outing next time out, there will be more of a chance that he could pitch his way into a Pirates uniform.

If that happens, the Bucs front office will have to take notice, but promoting Cole now makes little sense unless they are certain he is ready to be an anchor of the rotation.

Cole’s situation doesn’t have as much to do with baseball, as much as it has to do with finances. Cole likely could use a few months in Triple-A, which makes June or July a much more realistic time period.  Keep in mind that he has thrown a grand total of six innings last summer at Triple-A Indy.

By waiting until mid-June to promote Cole, the Bucs can push his first arbitration year back by a full year. That alone is worth sacrificing a potential two or three months of Cole’s rookie year in order to gain an extra year of control in the long run.

If they do that, they get Cole for three and a half months in 2013 plus he wouldn’t be able to become a free agent until 2019.

That’s smart to do, even if they feel Cole is major league ready, which many scouts feel he is.

The Trib’s Dejan Kovacevic summed it up pretty nicely:

“But if the team waits until mid-June or so, it can push back Cole’s arbitration eligibility by a year. Thus they’d get 31⁄2 months of Cole in 2013 plus retain his rights an entire extra year before he can become a free agent following the 2019 season.

Yeah, I know: Who cares about 2019?

Let me counter with this: Who cared about that extra year with Andrew McCutchen when a similar fuss was kicked up in 2009 that he wasn’t called up until June?”

The bottom line is that an extra year of Cole in his prime is much more valuable to the team than the first couple of months into his rookie season.

The service time is one reason why Cole won’t make the Opening Day roster, but another is the way the Bucs handle their prospects. There is no way they will give a major league job to a guy who has had so little Triple-A time, even if he is the best option.

Pirates’ general manager Neal Huntington summed that up to the Trib’s Rob Biertempfel:

“Gerrit just finished his first full professional season and we couldn’t be more pleased with his growth and his development. We’re going to do everything in our power to put him in a position to be successful. There are some guys who are flying through systems and being successful. There are a lot of guys who have flown through systems and you wonder whatever happened to them. Gerrit’s an important piece of our future, so we’ve got to make sure we coordinate his development … not just because we’re a little bit uneasy about who’s in our rotation on Opening Day.”

So while Cole may still pitch his way into the mix before things are said and done, it really would take something special over the next couple of weeks for him to break camp with the big team.

But be patient as it won’t be long until he is a fixture in the Bucs starting rotation.

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Tags: Gerrit Cole Pittsburgh Pirates

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