Pittsburgh Pirates clubhouse manager Scott Bonnett gave Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon adjoining lockers at the team’s training complex this spring, a symbolic gesture to what the flame-throwing youngsters represent.
The former first-round picks and the future of Pittsburgh’s pitching staff have no problem with the idea but the reminder was hardly necessary. Cole and Taillon know they’ll always be linked no matter where they toss their gear.
It’s what happens when a club that can be thrifty with its dollars spends a combined $14.5 million in bonuses — $6.5 to Taillon in 2010 and $8 million to Cole the following summer — to convince the burly right-handers to become the cornerstone of a franchise turnaround.
Beginning their second spring together as starters in waiting, the 22-year-old Cole and the 21-year-old Taillon are well aware of what’s at stake.
“I’m not naive to the external pressure,” Cole said.
He’s not bothered by it either.
The former UCLA star rocketed up Pittsburgh’s minor league system in 2012, streaking from Class A Bradenton to Triple-A Indianapolis in a matter of two months. He came to spring training as a non-roster invitee so management could get a good look at the kid with the mid-90s fastball and sizzling slider.
If Cole continues his rapid growth — both he and Taillon pitched two scoreless innings during an intrasquad scrimmage Friday — there’s a chance he could be in Pittsburgh sometime this summer.
Catcher Russell Martin called Cole’s stuff “phenomenal” and sees all the traits of a talented major league starter.
“I know that he’s an intense competitor,” Martin said. “I know if he misses by three inches he’s not satisfied. Anybody with that type of mentality, that perfectionist mentality, they’re going to be pretty good.”
The Pirates might need Cole to be even better than that. Quickly.
Veterans A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez are signed through the end of the 2013 season, and it figures both could be too expensive to keep around.
The Pirates hope by then that Cole — who went 9-7 with a 2.80 ERA in the minors last summer and is considered one of the 10 best minor league prospects in the game — will be ready with Taillon perhaps not far off.
Yet manager Clint Hurdle insists the Pirates will not rush either pitcher to the majors until they are ready. It’s hard to imagine Cole not making his major league debut at some point in 2013.
“We plan on being up there, plan on pitching in the black and gold for a long time,” Taillon said.