06/04/2002 11:41 am ET
Pirates take Ball State's Bullington
Pittsburgh goes for pitching with tall right-hander
By Ed Eagle / MLB.com
Pirates' round-by-round picks
The pool of three finally was narrowed to one Tuesday as the Pirates decided to select Ball State right-hander Bryan Bullington with the first overall pick in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft.
"We are very happy to select Bryan Bullington with the No. 1 pick in this year's draft," said Dave Littlefield, the Pirates' senior vice president and general manager. "With his determination and competitive nature, we feel he will be a great asset to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization."
Because the draft lacked anyone considered a "can't miss" prospect in the mold of a Mark Prior -- who was selected second overall out of USC by the Chicago Cubs a year ago -- the Pirates had a choice to make from among a trio of top prospects. As late as Monday, there was speculation that Pittsburgh still had considerable interest in Virginia high school shortstop B.J. Upton and Adam Loewen, a Canadian high-school southpaw from Surrey, British Columbia.
Tall, lanky build. Strong upper body. Quick, whipping arm action with fastball that tails into right-handed hitters. Little effort in delivery. Late break to curveball. Plenty of arm strength.
Ultimately, it was Bullington, widely regarded as the top college pitcher in the draft, whom Pittsburgh considered its best option.
"Being a college pitcher, he's going to be a little closer than a high school draftee, but I still think with what we've seen so far, though he will be closer, there still will be some work that needs to be done," Littlefield said. "I'd anticipate we're looking at him a couple of years away.
"There was quite a bit of discussion on where we were going to go. It wasn't a situation where we were trying to be crafty. It was more a situation that it wasn't a year where it was one player standing above anybody else, and we felt we had to consider a lot of different factors. We feel very comfortable and good about drafting Bullington."
Bullington was 11-3 with a 2.84 ERA in 15 appearances in his junior season. As is to be expected from a pitcher who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 220 pounds, he throws hard, with a fastball clocked in the low- to mid-90s. Bullington also has a mid-80s slider, a curveball and changeup that he can throw for strikes.
In fact, throwing strikes has been Bullington's most impressive trait. In 105 innings last season, he fanned 139 batters while walking just 18.
Bullington's development throughout his collegiate career as well as his makeup -- perhaps best exhibited when he took a line drive to the face as a sophomore and did not miss his next start -- also caught the eye of the Pirates' scouting department.
"If you stop working, you're not going to improve any. If you're dedicated to improvement, working hard is the only way to get there," Bullington said.
"He's a competitive kid who has made a lot of strides since high school," Littlefield said. "There seems to be a pretty solid future for him."
Bullington is considered a solid athlete for his size and comes from a very athletic family. His mother was a swimmer at Ball State and his father, Larry, now a highly regarded high school basketball coach in Indiana, averaged 36.5 points per game at Indianapolis' John Marshall High in 1969-70 to establish a city record that still stands.
"I think quite a bit," Bullington said when asked if he similar to his father. "I was basically a gym rat growing up. I was at every practice he had. We've always grown up in a competitive atmosphere. That was instilled at a very young age. Athletic events have definitely been a big part of my family growing up, starting with him."
Of the three players under serious consideration by the Pirates, Bullington is the closest to being big league-ready. He is expected to command a signing bonus in excess of $4 million and Pittsburgh has long contended that signability would not be the determining factor in its selection.
"We haven't had a whole lot of talks," Bullington said. "Whenever that gets taken care of, I'm looking forward to being part of the organization."
Bullington is the first collegiate player to be selected first overall since the Philadelphia Phillies selected Pat Burrell in 1998 and the fourth college pitcher to be chosen No. 1 in the last 13 years. The others were Rice University's Matt Anderson (Detroit Tigers, 1997), Clemson's Kris Benson (Pirates, 1996) and Florida State's Paul Wilson (New York Mets, 1994).
Bullington also joins Benson and Jeff King (1986) as the only players to be selected first overall by Pittsburgh.
Ed Eagle covers the Pirates for MLB.com and can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.