The Major League Baseball first-year player draft is on its way, taking place June 6-8. While it may not garner the national attention that the NFL or NBA drafts do, it is just as important to the individual success of the teams, if not more. While players selected in the other sports are expected to step in and produce right away or within the first two years, baseball players have anywhere from a three to 5 year window before they develop into major league contributors. Sure, there are cases where a player contributes right away (e.g., Jason Heyward, Stephen Strasburg, Ken Griffey Jr.), but 95% of the time, the player needs more developing. What is also different about the baseball draft is that players can be selected from high school and colleges over the course of 50 rounds. Teams face the quandary of whether they should go with the more proven college player or the high school prospect with the “can’t miss” talent. What allows the scouts to make their money is deciding which talent will actually translate to major league talent.
The Pirates own the first pick in the draft this year thanks to owning the worst record in baseball last year at 57-105. Unlike the past few years when the Nationals have owned the top picks (Strasburg and Bryce Harper), there is no clear-cut number one this season. With the developing major league talent the Pirates have, the draft is imperative to them keeping their farm system improving. Before evaluating the top talent in the draft and the most likely to be drafted by the Pirates, let’s recall the Pirates first-round picks the past ten years. In order, these were: Jon Van Benschoten, Bryan Bullington, Paul Maholm, Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen, Brad Lincoln, Daniel Moskos, Pedro Alvarez, Tony Sanchez, Jameson Taillon. Only Van Benschoten and Bullington are gone from this group as they turned out to be huge busts. Overall, I give the Pirates a B- for their 10-year draft history.
General manager Neal Huntington is in the final year of his contract and the way the team drafts this year could play a big part in if he comes back or not. The Pirates are considering an astonishing eight players with the top pick, but it is believed they have strongly narrowed it down to five possibilities; pitchers Gerrit Cole, Danny Hultzen, Dylan Bundy and Bubba Starling, as well as third baseman Anthony Rendon. Rendon and Cole seem to be the front runners. Dylan Bundy, the high-school phenom, wouldn’t be a bad pick, but he has said he won’t sign with the Pirates if they select him.
Anthony Rendon: The third sacker from Rice was the early favorite to go first last season, but a lingering shoulder injury has teams afraid to take him very high. Rendon was the 2010 National Player of the Year, hitting .394 with 26 homeruns last season. He is drawing comparisons to Ryan Zimmerman and Evan Longoria already. Yes, I know the Pirates have Pedro Alvarez already, but the team has talked about moving him to first base in the future. Rendon will be major league ready before the pitchers will and if the Pirates pass on the next superstar because of a shoulder injury, it will set the franchise back another 5-10 years.
Gerrit Cole: A lot of mock drafts have the Pirates taking the “safe” route and taking Cole. I’m sorry, but taking a pitcher first is never safe to me. Out of the bunch, thought, Cole may be the closest thing to safe. If the Pirates take Cole, he will add to the young pitching talent in the minor leagues joining Taillon, Stetson Allie, Luis Heredia, Rudy Owens and Bryan Morris. Already being called the “next Strasburg”, Cole will have a lot to live up to. Last year as a Sophomore, Cole went 11-4 with a 3.42 ERA, striking out an astonishing 257 batters while holding opponents to a .199 average. If the Pirates pass on Rendon, Cole is the answer.
About the Author
Written by Michael Waterloo
I'm currently pursuing my Master's degree in Communication and Journalism from Clarion University. I currently work for Ohio Valley Athletics where I serve as the West Virginia Football Beat Writer and cover West Virginia Men's Basketball as well. I'm a big Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers and Oregon Ducks fan. Follow me on Twitter at @MichaelWaterloo or visit www.ovathletics.com