NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Of all the questions popped Monday to Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, he took the longest and had the toughest time answering this one:

"Will Gerrit Cole be given a chance in Spring Training to land a spot in the rotation?"

Huntington squirmed and grimaced for a spell before replying, "He just finished his first professional season ..."

"We could not be more pleased with his growth and development. There are guys who fly through systems, but there are a lot of guys who fly through and you end up wondering whatever happened to them. Gerrit's an important piece, and we want to make sure we put him in the best situation to succeed -- not look to him because of a need in the rotation."

Huntington is a staunch advocate of not having prospects leap over any Minor League rung, often saying he won't condone it.

Cole, 2011's overall No. 1 pick in the First-Year Player Draft, began '12 with 13 starts for Class A Bradenton, then graduated to 12 starts for Double-A Altoona. At the very end of the season, he was moved to Triple-A Indianapolis for his final start.

That step was taken, some believe, to clear the way for Cole to be in the Pirates' 2013 season-opening rotation without Huntington seemingly going back on his word.

Overall, Cole had a record of 9-7 with a ERA of 2.80 and 136 strikeouts in 132 innings.

Worth noting

• Kyle McPherson, a rotation hopeful, cut short his stay in the Dominican Winter League due to "shoulder fatigue," according to Huntington, who expects the righty to be rested up and ready to go in Spring Training.

• Huntington, on some of the left-handed starters (John Lannan, Manny Parra, Tom Gorzelanny) who became available as free agents upon not being tendered contracts: "In a perfect world, you would like some balance [in the rotation]. But it's all about getting five guys you feel best about."

• Outfielder Jose Tabata, forbidden to play winter ball in his native Venezuela, instead has been holed up with a personal trainer in Florida. "Conditioning is big for him," Huntington said. "We've got to get him back to where he was a couple of years ago. He got to a bad spot last year."

The Last Word

"For us, the biggest move this offseason was going to be the catcher. It will allow us to be patient into the deep part of the offseason. We handled our biggest need before coming into the Meetings." -- Huntington, on how the signing of Russell Martin is affecting the Pirates' offseason dynamic.