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PITTSBURGH—Whether or not UCLA pitcher Gerrit Cole will become an impact player at the next level remains to be seen, but nobody can say that the Pirates don't have priority list or won't stick to it.
For the lack of a better alternative, the organization continued to stockpile power arms on Monday night when Cole was chosen as the first pick of the draft.
At 6'4", 220 pounds, the 20-year-old was widely considered to be the best combination of size, talent and experience at the position.
"Pitching is a game of attrition, unfortunately," general manager Neal Huntington said. "You can never have too much of it. It's the most valuable commodity in our game.
"In terms of Gerrit Cole, there's a lot of things to like. He's big. He's physical. He has a great arm. He has a slider and a change-up that can be developed into quality major league pitches. He's a good person. He comes from a good family. He has good traits mentally, physically and fundamentally. We were excited to be able to select him No. 1 overall."
The selection of Cole took place one year after high school pitcher Jameson Taillon was drafted at the No. 2 pick in the first round. High school pitcher Stetson Allie came aboard in Round 2 of the same draft.
"You've got Roberto Clemente, a great city, a great ballpark, a lot of history, a lot of tradition and the Steelers, obviously," the Newport Beach, Calif., native rattled off the positives of his new home. "I've heard that it's a great place to play, a great environment. The fans are unbelievable."
Cole became the third pitcher to be selected by the organization at the first overall pick. The others were Kris Benson (1996) and Bryan Bullington (2002).
After the Arizona Diamondbacks drafted UCLA teammate Trevor Bauer two spots later, Cole was quick to call him.
"We were ecstatic," he said. "It was kind of like congratulations back and forth, really. I kind of jumped on him pretty quickly. There wasn't much substance because we were both pretty much speechless."
Three years after Cole was selected by the New York Yankees in the first round only to opt for college, much was expected of him this season. Numbers-wise, the right-hander didn't live up to the hype. In 16 games, he posted a 6-8 record and 3.31 earned run average. He totaled 119 strikeouts compared to 24 bases on balls in 114 1/3 innings.
In the minds of professional talent evaluators, however, size and stuff trump statistics more times than not.
"If we focused on the player who performed the best this year, there might have been other options," Huntington conceded. "But our focus is to select the players that we believe will be best for the organization two, four, six, eight, 10 years from now."
What made Cole an attractive option was his thick body type and the ability to throw in the mid-to-upper 90 miles-per-hour range consistently. Better yet, his velocity doesn't fluctuate much if at all late in games.
Unlike Rice University third baseman Anthony Rendon, the consensus No. 1 pick at the start of the season, Cole has no history of health problems.
Since January, scouting director Greg Smith and his staff had been on his trail. That no obvious candidate emerged from the pack made for numerous internal discussions in recent months.
"One of things that we really stress on our staff is the vision to see down the road and what the biggest impact can be in the crystal ball," Smith said. "As we looked at Gerrit, the physical size, the strength and not only the weapons that he has now but what can be harnessed and helped as he moves forward (stood out). That along with his mentality, his make-up, his competitiveness —there were a lot of things that we liked."
Said Huntington, "We walked through through all quadrants of the board high school hitters, high school pitchers, college pitchers, college hitters. At the end of the day, we felt very strongly about Gerrit and that's the direction that we went."
Cole did show flashes of dominance this season.
Cole began the season with a 4-2 record and 1.74 ERA. In March, he pitched six perfect innings against the University of Georgia, striking out 11 batters—nine on swings.
His season took a sudden turn for the worse in mid-April. In a half-dozen starts, he had a 1-5 record and allowed 25 runs. A lack of run support contributed to his subpar record, as the team averaged only 3.25 runs in his 16 starts.
The organization believes that a few changes in mechanics will enhance his development in the near future.
"The most important thing we need to learn about Gerrit Cole is as a person more than as a pitcher, more than just to watch him from the stands," Huntington said.
"We need to learn what makes him tick. We need to learn how we can help him. Then we will begin to attack the specifics of how we help him. We do see some things on the surface that we can help him. Most important, we need to get to know him and earn his trust before we try to do anything."
Huntington declined to venture a guess as to when Cole could be ready for the major leagues.
"His ability to make adjustments will be more important as will his ability to deal with adversity and success," Huntington said. "He will show us by the way he handles himself on the field and off the field when he is ready to move to the next level and ultimately get to the big leagues."
First, the two sides will have to come to a contract agreement. Cole is represented by super agent Scott Boras, with whom team management believes it has an amiable relationship.
In the last three years, the organization spent more money in the draft than any major league team.
"I really have no expectations going into that situation," Cole said.
"I'll let the Pirates and their guys do the evaluation. Obviously, you want things to go as smoothly as possible, but I understand the business side having gone through this before, so I'm prepared. It will probably take care of itself eventually.
"We'll work hard and fight to find a common ground by the end of the day," Huntington said. "We believe that we'll get a deal done because it is the right thing to do and that Gerrit wants to pitch and pitch in our system."
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