Pirates' Draft goal: Bag an impact player
Selection of UCLA star hurler confirmed by baseball source
PITTSBURGH -- Shortly after 7 p.m. ET on Monday night, right-hander Gerrit Cole will become the fourth player the Pirates have taken No. 1 overall in the First-Year Player Draft.
Pittsburgh's decision to take Cole, a decision that was confirmed to MLB.com by a baseball source, came after lengthy discussions about a handful of players for that top spot. It's believed that the Pirates had narrowed their options for pick No. 1 to three college players -- Cole, lefty Danny Hultzen and third baseman Anthony Rendon -- heading into their Draft meetings last week in Bradenton, Fla.
"This year, it is a more clouded issue at the top of the Draft," general manager Neal Huntington said back in mid-May. "Maybe it was a lot clearer to some coming into the year, and it's clouded because some guys have faded back and other guys have elevated. It's not unanimous. I can tell you that."
Ultimately, the Pirates couldn't pass up an advanced college pitcher whose velocity sits in the mid-90s, and who has touched 102 mph on the radar gun. Cole, who just finished his junior season at UCLA, was a first-round Draft pick out of high school in 2008 but turned down the Yankees' contract offer in order to pursue a collegiate career.
Cole's results this year haven't been stellar, but there has been no concern of injury because his velocity has not dipped. By making Cole their selection, the Pirates obviously believe they can help Cole correct a mechanical flaw that led to too many hittable pitches and some struggles with command. Control, though, was never an issue for Cole, who struck out 119 and walked just 24 in 114 1/3 innings.
His college season ended on Sunday night with a loss to University of California-Irvine in the final game of the Los Angeles Regional of the NCAA Tournament.
Now that the Bucs have made their decision, the organization prepares for what is expected to be lengthy, and perhaps contentious, negotiations with Scott Boras, who is representing Cole. After agreeing to a $6.5 million signing bonus with No. 2 pick Jameson Taillon in 2010, Pittsburgh is likely to give Cole the largest bonus in the organization's history.
But the precedent to spend is there. No team has spent more on the Draft since 2008 than Pittsburgh, and the organization has the backing of owner Bob Nutting to be among the highest spenders again this year. The bulk of that money will go to the team's No. 1 choice.
"The support from Bob and [president] Frank [Coonelly] has been tremendous the last three Drafts," scouting director Greg Smith said. "The signability factor always comes into play with decisions, but we've been given full assurance we can take who we want. It's an exciting deal for us."
Live coverage of the Draft begins with a one-hour preview show on Monday, at 6 p.m. ET on MLB.com and MLB Network, followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Day 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player.
Here's a glance at what the Pirates have in store as the Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
After months of scouting the nation's top amateur players, the Bucs settled on making Cole this year's No. 1 overall pick. The right-hander out of UCLA is projected as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher and could be on a pretty quick path to the big leagues, given how advanced he already is.
"Somebody is going to make an impact out of this Draft. We're going to turn around and somebody is going to be an All-Star. We're just doing everything we can to make sure we get him." -- Huntington
The fact that there was not an obvious No. 1 pick coming into the spring baseball season led to months of speculation about whom the Pirates are going to take. It appears as if the Pirates' decision wasn't finalized until late this week, but Cole ultimately got the nod over the organization's other two possibilities -- Hultzen and Rendon. The Pirates also seriously considered a few high school players earlier in the scouting process.
The Pirates aren't putting together a specific wish list. Rather, they will attack the Draft by staying true to the order in which they rank players ahead of time. This means not drafting based on need, but just taking the best player available each time it's the club's turn to choose one.
This Draft is deep in pitching, and the Bucs will be thrilled to stock up on more young arms. Because there are not as many standout position player talents in this Draft, Pittsburgh might be inclined to take a position player over a pitcher in a case where the two project fairly evenly.
The Pirates have made it a habit of luring high school players away from college commitments by offering signing bonuses above the recommended slot figure. The strategy has paid off over the past three years, and they have stockpiled some talented young players as a result.
While the club isn't discarding that strategy, it could be a hard one to employ this year. The bulk of the organization's Draft money will have to go toward signing that No. 1 overall pick, and that's not going to put the Pirates in a position where they can hand out huge bonuses in the later rounds.
Recent Draft History
Recent Pirates Draft picks
|2010||Jameson Taillon||RHP||West Virginia (A)|
|2009||Tony Sanchez||C||Altoona (AA)|
|2008||Pedro Alvarez||3B||Pirates (MLB)|
|2007||Daniel Moskos||LHP||Pirates (MLB)|
|2006||Brad Lincoln||RHP||Indianapolis (AAA)|
A pair of 2008 Draft picks -- lefty Justin Wilson and infielder Chase d'Arnaud -- are knocking on the big league door from Triple-A. Wilson has been Indianapolis' best starter through the first two months of the season, though he must continue to improve his command before he'll be ready for a callup. Wilson was a fifth-round pick out of Fresno State.
The Pirates could see d'Arnaud break into the Majors before the end of the season, as he is seen as a potential future replacement for Ronny Cedeno at short. A fourth-round selection, d'Arnaud is splitting time at both middle-infield spots this season.
Taken in the 28th round of the 2006 Draft, Rudy Owens has emerged as one of the Pirates' top pitching prospects. He's on the verge of arriving in the Majors and could be in Pittsburgh by the end of the season. Owens was named the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year each of the past two seasons. He finished with a 2.10 ERA in Class A Advanced in 2009, before posting a 2.46 mark starting for Double-A Altoona last season.
Owens began 2011 in Triple-A, where he is 5-4 with a 4.65 ERA in his first 11 starts. The left-hander has struck out 30 and walked 12 in 62 innings.
In The Show
The only player from the Pirates' last three Draft classes to already ascend to the Majors is Pedro Alvarez, who is currently on the 15-day disabled list with a right quadriceps strain. Alvarez, the No. 2 overall pick in 2008, made his big league debut on June 16 and went on to capture league Rookie of the Month honors last September.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.