BRADENTON, Fla. -- The intrigue over Gerrit Cole's purpose and fate in the Pirates' Spring Training camp got a little bulletin-board boost Wednesday: The 2011 No. 1 Draft choice was in a workout group with members of the starting rotation.
From the get-go, the Bucs have downplayed Cole's chances of cracking the rotation. But there he was on Field 4 at Pirate City, rubbing shoulders with A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Jeff Karstens and Jeff Locke.
And, yes, there certainly was motive behind the assignment. But not the one conclusion-jumpers might think. It was to simply further a young pitcher's education.
"Yes, we put a lot of thought into how we group guys. We don't just pick names out of a hat and put them together," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We look at guys we may want to match up, so they can watch some other people, see how they go about things, to help with that educational process. That's something we definitely keep in mind with some of our prospects."
Not to say Cole -- ranked No. 1 among Bucs prospects by MLB.com -- definitely won't come out of his second big league camp with a big league job. A persuasive spring by him could sway the Pirates from whatever blueprint might be in place. At the least, Cole certainly could be around longer than he was a year ago, when he was reassigned to the Minor League camp at the start of Grapefruit League play.
This spring, bunting drills no sweat for Burnett
BRADENTON, Fla. -- A.J. Burnett did not have to cover any hits off Rage Against the Machine, those heavy-mental rappers. Contrary to his facetious refusal to do any more bunting off pitching machines, the right-hander on Wednesday went through bunting drills against the mechanical arm without incident.
Burnett's bunting outing was more noteworthy than usual, of course, because of the orbital-eye fracture he'd suffered during a bunting tournament last spring, which delayed his season three weeks.
As such, Burnett would be more likely to step into the batter's box in a hockey goalie mask than step atop the mound in one of those protective helmets for pitchers under consideration by Major League Baseball, intent on preventing recurrences of the fractured skull suffered last September by Oakland's Brandon McCarthy on a line drive by Erick Aybar.
According to MLB senior vice-president Dan Halem, two prototypes of the helmet are being tested in a University of Massachusetts lab.
"There is no way I'd ever wear one of those things," Burnett said. "Are they also going to have a chin strap with it to keep it from falling off your head as you deliver the pitch?"
Otherwise, the righty lightly shrugged off the proposed equipment, figuring it would be optional for veterans, who would be grandfathered against mandatory use the way they were when batting helmets were first introduced.
• Players continued filtering into Pirates camp, the day before position players' reporting date: Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Josh Harrison and non-roster outfielder Felix Pie made it nearly a full house.
• Kent Tekulve, Bill Virdon and Manny Sanguillen are back in the black and gold for Spring Training.
• How I spent my winter vacation: McDonald became a first-time daddy, Tony Watson became a first-time husband ... and Chase d'Arnaud became a first-time home buyer.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.