ST. LOUIS -- On a night when three other teams -- the Reds, Yankees and Rays -- clinched playoff berths, the Pirates secured their spot picking first in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
Even though they defeated the Cardinals, 7-2, on Tuesday, the Pirates were assured of next June's top pick with the Mariners' win over Texas. The order for Draft selection follows the reverse order of the final standings. Even with five games remaining, the Pirates (56-101) will finish with the Majors' worst record, regardless of the outcome of the team's final games.
There is still a scenario in which the Mariners and Pirates could both finish with 101 losses -- the Mariners would have to lose each of their remaining games and Pittsburgh would have to win out -- but the top pick would still be guaranteed to go to the Pirates since they finished with a worse record in 2009.
The Pirates have chosen first in the Draft three times previously, most recently in 2002. Pittsburgh selected college pitcher Bryan Bullington that summer, paying him a $4 million signing bonus. Bullington, now in the Royals' organization, made only six appearances with the Pirates. He went 0-3 with a 5.89 ERA.
Pittsburgh also had the No. 1 pick in 1985, when the organization selected third baseman Jeff King, and in 1996, when right-hander Kris Benson was taken.
Though the Pirates haven't chosen first since '02, 2011 will mark the sixth straight year in which the Pirates have had one of the first four selections. In 2008 and 2010, the Pirates had the No. 2 overall pick.
Having the No. 1 overall pick is likely to cost the Pirates a substantial amount financially, though the organization has proven in recent years that it is devoted to allocating significant resources to the Draft. The Pirates spent just under $12 million to sign players drafted in 2010 and have spent more money on the Draft in the last three years ($30.6 million) than any other team.
Asked earlier this summer if the Pirates would be able to afford the financial demands of a top pick, Pirates president Frank Coonelly answered in the affirmative.
Under scouting director Greg Smith, the Pirates have used their most recent first-round selections on third baseman Pedro Alvarez, catcher Tony Sanchez and right-hander Jameson Taillon.
Alvarez and Taillon were widely agreed upon in the industry to be the best players available when the Pirates picked second in '08 and '10. The Pirates decision to take Sanchez in 2009 produced some external backlash, but Sanchez's early success in the Minors has quieted most of those skeptics.
So who might the Pirates already be eyeing for 2011?
It's too early to make any definitive predictions, though third baseman Anthony Rendon is widely regarded as the best college hitter to be available next summer. Rendon, a rising senior at Rice University, is recovering from a severe right ankle injury. He suffered the injury while playing for the United States National team this summer and underwent surgery in July.
Though this is the second ankle injury Rendon has sustained in college, he is expected to be 100-percent healthy for the spring collegiate season.
Other players who are projected to be taken early in the first round include: RHP Archie Bradley (Broken Arrow [Okla.] High School), RHP Gerrit Cole (UCLA), LHP Matthew Purke (Texas Christian University), RHP Dylan Bundy (Owasso [Okla.] High School), LHP Daniel Norris (Science Hill [Tenn.] High School), RHP Michael Kelly (West Boca [Fla.] High School), RHP Matt Barnes (University of Connecticut) and RHP Taylor Jungmann (University of Texas).
Work on swing paying off for Jones
ST. LOUIS -- Among Garrett Jones' stated goals for the offseason, regaining control of his swing is at or near the top of the list. It appears, though, as if Jones is already receiving a reward for some of that work.
Jones said he will spend much of the winter repeating a short and sound swing that will better open up the opposite part of the field for the left-handed-hitting first baseman. That process began recently with hitting coach Don Long, with the first step being a downward shift in the placement of Jones' hands on the bat.
"My hands were getting real high, and I had some extra movement in there, which was causing my timing to be off," Jones said. "I've lowered my hands to try and be more direct to the ball. It's helping. I'm just trying to finish strong and end on a positive note."
Though the sample size is small, the adjustment seems to have helped so far. With his three-hit game on Tuesday, Jones entered Wednesday's game 10-for-27 with four doubles and nine RBIs in his past seven games. Encouraging, too, is the fact that Jones isn't exclusively pulling the ball, something he does often when in his offensive funks. Of those last 10 hits, only three have been to right field.
After batting .144 in August, Jones' batting average sits at a much more respectable .276 mark this month. With 21 home runs and 86 RBIs, Jones is poised to lead the team in both offensive categories at the end of the season.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.