"I really worked hard here, and I put together a lot of good outings, especially if I didn't have my stuff," Cole said. "I tried to give them a lot of opportunities to not make this decision. But in the end, it still happened."
Cole was 9-7 with a 2.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 136 strikeouts in 132 innings last season. He made 13 starts in High-A, 12 in Double-A and one in Triple-A.
Had Cole started the season in the major leagues, he would earn a full season of service time and qualify for free agency in 2018, not 2019.
If the Pirates wait until June, they could also push back his arbitration years, a financially advantageous move for the ballclub.
"Everybody's going to speculate why he's being sent out, and they're wrong," Pirates' general manager Neal Huntington said. "He's being sent out because, in our minds, he's not ready to compete and be successful at the major league level.
"We're excited about it. He showed up great here in camp. There's still a checklist for him to work on, and we're very confident he will get it accomplished. He has the stuff you hope to build a rotation around."
Asked whether he expected to be in the Majors later this year, Cole replied with a firm, "Yes."
"But that doesn't make me feel any better," he added. "I worked really hard this spring, and put together a lot of good outings, especially when I didn't have my stuff.
"They didn't really give me anything specific [to work on]. They give you the same old stuff: Just keep doing what you're doing, you'll tell us when you're
In addition to Cole's move, the Pirates optioned right-handed pitcher Phil Irwin to Class AAA Indianapolis and reassigned four other players to minor league camp: right-handed pitchers Brooks Brown and Kyle Waldrop, left-handed pitcher Kris Johnson and catcher Ali Solis.