He's the number 3 prospect in all of minor league baseball according to Baseball Prospectus.

Baseball America ranks him as their 7th overall and 4th highest prospect pitcher, in addition to their 14th ranked 2013 big league rookie in terms of expected impact.

Keith Law of ESPN and Scouts Inc. ranks his likely Major League 2013 impact as 6th highest on his list, with a prospect status of 8th on Law's Top 100.

Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com considers him the 9th best prospect in pro ball.

All of the above media entities consider him as the clear-cut top prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates system.

He is right-handed pitcher Gerrit Cole, of course, he of the triple-digit fastball and nasty slider to accompany it.

Fueled in part by his speed-ball and this preseason hype, Pirates fans are eager to watch Cole work in Pittsburgh and throw his strong right arm into the efforts of breaking the ugly streak of twenty consecutive losing seasons for the franchise.

On March 5th at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Florida, Cole continued his work in Spring Training as he struck out the first six batters he faced from the World Baseball Classic's Team Spain, dealing 20 strikes in his first 28 pitches.

If Cole knocked on the Major League door any harder, he might break his arm Francisco Liriano style.

But are the Pirates' decision makers ready to open that door, or is Cole destined to return to AAA Indianapolis where he finished his 2012 season?

Last Sunday Neal Huntington, the Pirates' General Manager, seemed to be bracing the fan base for Cole's April return to the team's Indy affiliate.

"We've seen the reasons why we love him so much and are so excited about his future," Huntington said of watching Cole at Pirates' camp. "We've also seen why it's the future. It's the consistency of controlling the emotions, controlling his mechanics, the ability to repeat pitches, to locate his fastball as well as he needs to, the crispness and sharpness of his secondary pitches. He shows you signs of 'wow', just outstanding stuff, but also signs of things he's still got to work on."

Even Pirates' Pitching Coach Ray Searage would only leave the door ajar slightly for a Cole sighting on Pittsburgh's opening day roster.

"There's a lot of 'wow' moments," Searage said of Cole. "The kid is just throwing very well. But yes, there are some things that are not completed as a Major League pitcher. The consistency of the breaking ball. The controlling of the running game. If we take Gerrit Cole, who is going to be one of our guys in depth, and we call him up or put him in a situation where he's going to pitch in the Major Leagues we want to make sure he is ready to handle everything the Major Leagues are going to give him. We don't want to set him up for failure, we want to set him up for success. He's still growing and learning and he needs a little bit more experience. But, he might just surprise all of us in a couple weeks from now and we'll cross that bridge when we get to it."

Of course with all things Pirates, skepticism of the team's willingness to spend money leads fans to suspect that Cole will be marooned in AAA until he's clear of reaching any early arbitration status that would force owner Bob Nutting to write a big Cole check a year too soon. It's a theory that Huntington says isn't true.

"No, I mean our factors are we need guys that can come contribute to a winning major-league team," Huntington said. "It's a little different than it was when we first got here and [with prospects] it was 'Are they ready for the Big Leagues with some growing pains and learning curve at the Major League level?' Our goal is to win every game we play. We want to put a club on the field that gives us a legitimate chance to win that game. That'll be a time for him to come up, when we feel he's ready to come up and contribute to a Major League team."

As for Cole's mindset, when I asked him if starting the year in Indianapolis would be alright with him, he began "I don't know if it's alright, but…"

Clearly, Cole believes in his ability. And why shouldn't he after 136 strikeouts in 132 innings soaring through the Pirates' minor league system in 2012? His 12 starts in AA Altoona produced an ERA of 2.90, without allowing more than 3ER in any outing.

Cole did, however, end 2012 on a sour note as he allowed 8 ER in just two innings in his second AAA start for Indianapolis, a playoff loss again the Charlotte Knights. Charlotte banged Cole around for 9 hits and whiffed just once against his big fastball as Indy manager Dean Treanor had to pull Cole after only 47-pitches.

And although he's hungry for the bright lights of MLB, Cole does understand what the team wants him to work on.

"Consistency of the delivery is big because it allows you to repeat pitches," Cole said when asked to self-evaluate. "Fastball command is really crucial to get ahead of guys and put pressure on them. I don't really care [about velocity] anymore because they can hit it no matter how hard you throw it. I just try to throw it downhill and mix up speeds when I have to. I always have [speed] in my back pocket, I don't need to get better at that. I need to get better at locating and jumping ahead of guys. The breaking ball and changeup, sometimes arm speed will get [batters to miss] rather than the break. It's just important to get ahead of them. Just trying to keep the delivery in check and just repeat as much as I can out there. Fastball location and to get a feel for changing speeds. And trusting the guys behind the plate, get a feel for them."

For now, there's still a slim chance Gerrit Cole could make the Pirates roster out of the gates here in 2013.

"They haven't told me I haven't," Cole said when asked if he thinks he has a chance. "I'm still here. As long as I'm still here I guess I still do."

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