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Pirates draft preview
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2004 First-Year Player Draft
06/02/2004  6:38 PM ET
Pirates draft preview
Team plans to select best player available at No. 11
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Pirates pitcher Kris Benson is eligible for free agency after this season. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH -- For a small-market team with limited financial resources like the Pittsburgh Pirates, scouting and development are the keys to creating a championship-caliber ball club.

Since scouting director Ed Creech and player development director Brian Graham joined GM Dave Littlefield's staff in the winter of 2001, the club has done well in both areas.

In 2002, the Pirates were named Organization of the Year by Topps. Last season, the club's farm teams finished with the best winning percentage among all 30 big league franchises, and each of the six affiliates qualified for the postseason.

Creech will look to continue to stock the Bucs' impressive minor league system when the First-Year Player Draft is held June 7 and 8.

Creech and his staff, who have been traveling throughout the country in recent weeks to get a last look at players they are considering selecting, will continue to look at prospects and hold staff meetings up until the first day of the draft. Although the planning is exhausting, Creech said the organization's overall draft philosophy remains simple.

"We just want to get the best player," said Creech. "When our turn comes to pick, we're going to take the best pitcher or player who is available."

Creech also said that the club has no preference when it comes to selecting high school versus college players.

"It makes no difference to us," said Creech. "We're going to go with the guy with the higher ceiling." Although the organization is much stronger overall in pitching depth than it is with position players, Creech did not rule out the possibility that the Bucs will again select a pitcher with the 11th overall pick this year.

"If everything is equal and we have a pitcher versus a position player there, I think we might lean towards a position player," said Creech. "But that's not necessarily written in stone.

"If we have a pitcher with higher ceiling than the position guy, we'll go with the pitcher. But obviously we want to add to our position player depth."

 Past five No. 1 picks
  Year   Player
  2003   Paul Malholm, RHP
  2002   Bryan Bullington, RHP
  2001   John Van Benschoten, 1B
  2000   Sean Burnett, LHP
  1999   Bobby Bradley, RHP

A position player who has impressed Creech and his staff is Pittsburgh-area prospect Neil Walker from Pine Richland High School. Walker, a switch-hitting catcher, hit .620 during the regular season before going 11-for-14 (.786) in four postseason games to lead his school to the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League Class AAA championship.

"He's in the mix with us," said Creech. "I like his bat from both sides of the plate. He's going to be a power bat and we feel like he's got some ceiling with the bat.

"With him being from a premium position like catcher, it makes him even more enticing. He's a pretty good prospect."

However, Walker could be gone by the time the Pirates make their first selection. Currently ranked the 14th-best overall prospect by Baseball America , Walker recently worked out for two teams higher in the draft order than the Pittsburgh: Cleveland (No. 6) and Baltimore (No. 8).

If Walker is already gone from the draft board, the Pirates could turn their attention to Trevor Plouffe. Plouffe, a pitcher/shortstop from Crespi High School in Northridge, Calif., is currently ranked by Baseball America as the 14th-best high school prospect in the nation.

"We have four or five guys we hope will still be around," said Creech. "We still have several days to decide who that guy is going to be."

Ed Eagle is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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