BRADENTON — For Gerrit Cole, Robbie Grossman, Matt Hague and Jordy Mercer, getting the opportunity to put on their Major League uniforms at Pirate City is a new experience — it’s their first big league camp.
The past two weeks the young prospects have been suiting up in the clubhouse for their first Spring Training workouts with the Major Leaguers.
“It’s been great just putting on the big league uniform everyday, being around a lot of these guys and just soaking up everything I can learn from them,” Pirates Minor League Player-of-the-Year Robbie Grossman said.
Cole was given a non-roster invite to Spring Training after making his professional debut in the Arizona Fall League this offseason. Drafted by Pittsburgh in the first round (No. 1 overall) in 2011 draft, the 21-year-old right-hander allowed five earned runs on 10 hits over 15.0 innings (five starts) with four walks and 16 strikeouts with the Mesa Solar Sox.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Cole said. “It’s my first spring training period. I’m having a blast out here, getting to know the guys and getting accustomed to how things work.”
“Just kind of get consistent, get back in the swing of things and really just get accustomed to professional baseball rather than college,” Cole said of his goals this spring.
Cole is slated to pitch for the black team in Friday’s intersquad game at McKechnie Field. Though Manager Clint Hurdle said Cole won’t make the team out of Spring Training, the experience he is learning is invaluable.
“It’s all about the experience for Gerrit, to get in that clubhouse, to get with the men, to into that group situation,” Hurdle said. “There’s some other very skilled players [here]. There’s probably been a situation where he was maybe the most skilled all the time going through it. Now, he’s living in group settings, watching other individuals that have skill sets that are also of an elite level. [He’s] understanding better the preparation for spring training, now that he’s into it. The preparation that comes with the Spring Training while he’s here. It’s a very good opportunity to gain useful information for him to have sustainable success as he moves into his own season.”
Cole’s roomate this spring, Grossman is coming off a huge season with High-A Bradenton where he was named the Pirates Minor League Player-of-the-Year. The 22-year-old, who was also a non-roster invitee, furnished the 2011 season with a .294 average, 127 runs, 34 doubles, 13 homers, 56 RBI, drew 104 walks and stole 24 bases.
Grossman also became the first Minor Leaguer since Nick Swisher in 2004 to score at least 100 runs and walk at least 100 times in a season.
Grossman said he likes being around Pirates outfielders Alex Presley and Andrew McCutchen and is trying to soak up everything and is looking to get better everyday.
“They’re just great guys and they what it’s like to be at the big league level,” Grossman said. “I’m just learning everything I can from them.”
Like Grossman, Hague is coming off a solid season in the Pirates organization. In his first season with Triple-A Indianapolis, Hague finished 2011 with a .309 average, .372 OBP, with 70 runs, 37 doubles, 12 homers and 75 RBI.
Hague, 26, led the International League in hits (165), games (141) and at-bats (534) while ranking third in doubles and sixth in batting average. Hague also set career highs in hits and doubles and became the first Indy player to lead the league in hits since Junior Noboa in 1989. Hague’s season with Triple-A in 2011 earned him a spot on the Pirates 40-man roster in December.
“I’m just trying to take in as much as I can, show them at the same time what I got and have fun while doing it,” Hague said. “Garrett Jones, [Neil] Walker, [Casey] McGehee, all those guys are easy to talk to. I’m just trying to pick their brains a little and learn as much from them as I can.”
Hague has a chance of breaking camp with the Pirates and has been working hard this offseason on getting work in at third base. Hague, who was drafted as a third baseman in the 9th round of the 2008 draft, started playing first base regularly in 2009.
“[I’ve] been taking a lot of ground balls at third base, just kind of getting used to that,” said Hague, who played primarily third base during Winter Ball in the Dominican this offseason. “Really just trying to be consistent, stick to my routines and see what happens.”
Mercer was teammates with Hague during the 2011 season at Triple-A Indianapolis. The 25-year-old infielder hit .255 with 30 doubles, 19 home runs, and 69 RBI over 132 games combined with Double-A Altoona and Indy last season. Mercer led Pittsburgh’s farm system in home runs, while setting career highs in game, runs and homers.
Mercer’s past season, too, earned him a spot on the Bucs 40-man roster in Decemeber.
“It’s been cool,” Mercer said of his first Major League spring training. “I’m just trying to soak up as much of it as I can, and try and pick [Clint] Barmes and Neil [Walker‘s] brain as much as I can about infield stuff. Just take a step back and watch it and open my ears and listen to what people have to say.”
“Just continue to work, continue to learn, and continue to get better each and every day.”