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Bucs top pick to pitch in Arizona Fall League

PHOENIX — Right-hander Gerrit Cole will pitch in the Arizona Fall League, the Pirates announced Wednesday, marking the third consecutive year the top overall pick in the MLB draft will make his unofficial pro debut there.

"We always thought the best way for Gerrit to begin his development in our organization was to be challenged by the competition in Arizona," general manager Neal Huntington said. "We felt like he was ready to handle it. We felt it would be a good step for him, a good entry into professional baseball, and get him ready for 2012."

Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, the top picks the past two years by the Washington Nationals, also went to the AFL after signing.

Cole will make an early departure from Instructional League in Florida to join the AFL, which begins play Oct. 4.

Huntington was pleased with Cole's physical condition when Cole reported in mid-August for workouts at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.

"He reported in good shape," Huntington said. "He was a great student for (pitching coordinator) Jim Benedict and our coaches down there in Florida. They felt the best way for him to develop was to challenge him (in Arizona)."

The AFL is a showcase for many of the game's top prospects. Having Cole play there should help the Pirates gauge which level of the minors to assign him to next season.

"He can show us where he is and what he's able to accomplish," Huntington said. "Not from a numbers standpoint but from the consistency of his mechanics and where he is stuff-wise. In such a small number of innings, the ERA is not indicative; it's the quality of delivery."

Facing top-level competition, Cole might not be as dominant as he was during his three seasons at UCLA. That's OK, Huntington said.

"We need to see him deal with some failure," Huntington said. "We hope he gets challenged out there. It will be a good thing for him. We'll see how he handles it, keeps his emotions in check and trusts his stuff."

Before the start of spring training, Cole will participate in the Pirates' intense development camp for top prospects. There's also a chance he could be a nonroster invitee to major league training camp.

"We typically try to bring guys who have a legitimate chance to be at the major league level," Huntington said. "Depending upon where our numbers are, we may stretch the boundaries a little bit."

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