June 6, 2011 marks the Rule 4 draft which as better known as the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The Pirates hold the first round pick for the first time since 2002 and the fourth time in their storied history. The pick in 2002 was a right handed pitch from Ball State University, Bryan Bullington, and the other two were Kris Benson in 1996 and Jeff King in 1986.
This is a pretty exciting time for Pirates fans for many reasons. We are looking at the 19th straight losing season and there hasn’t been much to look forward to. When you finish with the worst record in the league you have a chance to take any player you want in the draft with the hope that this guy will be able to take your team to the next level.
There are a lot of thoughts on who the Pirates should take. Unfortunately there is not one player that you can call a “consensus pick” like there has been the past two seasons. The Nationals were fairly lucky when they got to pick Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper the past two seasons with the first overall pick. The Pirate have seemed to just miss out on players like this. This season there is a group of maybe five players that the Pirates have to pick from with questions marks and different advantages for every single one of them. Those players are Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole, Danny Hultzen, Bubba Starling and Dylan Bundy.
The Pirates have been very tight lipped about who they are going to take but it really has come down to three of the five players that most people thing the Pirates are going to take which include Rendon, Cole and Hultzen. This is not to say that both Starling and Bundy are not options it is just I get the feeling that they are not in line. The Pirates took a high school arm last year in the first round and it is known that the Pirates only take high school arms if they are special. From all accounts Bundy is a special player but it seem (in my opinion) that he could be a hard player to coach and doesn’t want to deviate from what he does. There were also rumors that he sent letters to certain teams in the top ten (Pirates included) that he didn’t want those teams to draft him. It is possible that the Pirates take Bundy but it looks as if they are not. Starling is a high school center fielder that is said to be one of the best athletes to come through the draft in some time. Being a great athlete doesn’t really mean that you are a great baseball player, which is some of the talk on Starling. It would be somewhat of a reach for the Pirates to take Starling but who knows at this point.
Since I don’t have all the time in the world I am going to preview the big three that the Pirates might take which are Rendon, Cole and Hultzen before the big pick tomorrow night.
Rice University, Third Base
6’0, 190 pounds, Bats: R, Throws: R
At this point last season there was serious talk that Rendon would have pushed Bryce Harper for some pub as being the number one pick. Over the past year Rendon has sufferance his second ankle injury (broken ankle) and has suffered from a bummed shoulder which looks like it could jeopardize him getting picked as the top pick.
Outside of the injury there isn’t much not to like about Rendon. He has been a hitting machine at Rice and winning the Baseball America Player of the Year Award for 2010. After a powerful first two seasons at Rice where he hit a combined 46 home runs and driven in 157 runs his production dipped in 2011 when he only has six home runs and 37 RBI to date. To be fair there are a few reasons for the drop in production which include new bats, the shoulder injury and the loss of Jeremy Rathjen. Rathjen was a top hitter for the Rice team and prevented other teams from pitching around Rendon as they have been but he tore his ACL and was lost for the season in early March.
Without the protection or threat of someone else beating them Rendon has been pitched around to the fullest extent this season. As of the time I am writing this he had drawn 79 (!) walks in only 297 plate appearances. That means Rendon was walked 27% of the time. Those are unheard of numbers for a player at any level no matter how talented they are. Although his power number are down it isn’t like he is having a down season. His .332 average leads the Owls as well with 20 doubles, 2 tripoles and the six home runs. His OPS of 1.053 is easily the highest on the team while also scoring 58 runs.
In his three years at Rice Rendon is a .372 hitter with 52 home runs and 194 RBI in 679 at bats. He also has walked 175 times in three years, which is an absurd number, and has only struck out 77 times. With the Pirates strike out a lot and don’t take a ton of walks and don’t have a power guy so if Rendon is healthy this really is a great player that can come into the system and get to the majors as early as June of 2013. In college he put the ball over the fence almost once every 12 at bats and had and OPS of almost 1.200.
The injury he has with his shoulder is going to be a huge determining factor on if the Pirates take him with the first overall pick. Scott Boras is also his agent so that is going to be some big time headaches, but the Pirates have no backed away from taking Boras clients in the past few years. From what I have heard the medical records of Rendon have not been released and may not be released by the time the draft rolls around. Without the injury Rendon is easily the pick for the Pirates, now there is a lot up in the air.
Rendon has not played third base almost all season because of his shoulder. He did play some second base in the conference tournament but that really puts a lot of doubt in some people’s mind about the injury. Rendon is an excellent defensive third baseman and is widely thought, when healthy, he could be a plus defender.
6’4, 215 pounds, Bats: R, Throws: R
Cole is regarded as the top college arm in the draft and is the guy that most experts are penciling in for the Pirates this coming draft. He is a former first round pick of the New York Yankees in 2008 and he has only improved his draft status by going back to college at the University of California in Los Angeles.
The big righty has something that baseball people can’t teach, the ability to throw gas and overpower hitters. If you look at Cole’s record while at UCLA then you might wonder how this kid is going to be able to win when he can only go 21-20 in three years in college. While you can look at records all day they don’t tell the whole story. Cole has a fastball that will average 96 and has been clocked hitting 100 in the later innings. While just throwing triple digits doesn’t mean you will automatically get outs it is something that is nice to have and something the Pirates have valued when picking pitchers.
He backs up his plus fastball with a slider and changeup primarily where the slider can sit anywhere from 86-88 and the changeup that he has been developing. Cole is a power pitcher and his stats can back that up as he has struck out over a batter an inning during his three year stay at UCLA while striking out over 11 batters per nine innings in his freshman and sophomore year while striking out almost 10 per nine innings this year. His 3.38 career ERA isn’t something that is going to knock you out but his 1.14 career WHIP is something that you can be happy with.
The knock on Cole in my eyes is his inconsistency and his proneness to giving up the free pass. This season Cole was very up and down. When he was good he was really good and when he didn’t have his stuff he was pretty bad. He started the season 1-2 with two no decisions then ran off three straight wins before losing five of his next six. While he was only 1-2 during his first five starts that was easily his best pitching of the season. He only gave up earned runs in two of those five games and racked up double-figure strikeouts in two games (11 in an opening day win over San Francisco and 12 in a loss to Georgia).
As good as Cole was in the first five games he was just as bad during the 1-5 stretch in late April into May. Three times he gave up 10 runs and only had a strike out high of seven. Pitchers are going to have ups and downs and looking over Cole’s game log this season is just that. Walks were also a concern for him as he walked four batters per nine innings in his first two seasons with 38 walks in his freshman season (85 IP) and 52 walks in his sophomore season (123 IP), but has cut that number down to only 24 walks in 114.1 innings this season. The control has continued to improve, which is a plus, but the up and down performances has me somewhat concerned.
6’3, 220 pounds, Bats: L, Throws:L
Hultzen is a late darkhorse for the Pirates at the first overall pick after he has had a great year for Virginia. Danny is considered to be the safest of the three possible picks for the Pirates as he is the closest to the so called “ceiling” as said by most experts.
This season Hultzen has been nothing less than top pick worthy with a 1.57 ERA supported by an 11-3 record in 15 starts. Hultzen has what is described as a smooth effortless motion that he can repeat every pitch which he translated into 148 strikeouts as opposed to only issuing 17 walks this season. He is holding hitters to a ridiculously low .198 batting average while also pulling double duty and hitting .330 in 112 at bats with 10 doubles and a .968 OPS. Not too shabby.
The knock on Hultzen is that he could be very close to his peak performance wise and that he doesn’t have much more room for improvement and currently has people thinking he could be a solid number two or three starter for a major league team.
The pedigree is there for Hultzen as he has 31-3 career record with a 2.18 ERA and a 0.986 WHIP in his three years. His fastball sits in the low 90’s with a changeup and a slider. The changeup is the best pitch that he has to offer and it will sit around 80 mph. The slider is the pitch that Hultzen has started to perfect through his three years at Virginia and could be a really solid third pitch for the southpaw.
What is impressive about Hultzen is that he is very effective in striking batters out. In his three years he has averaged 10+ strikeouts per nine innings. While his fastball only sits in the low 90's he knows how to pitch. There is a stark difference between people who can throw and people who can pitch and Hultzen can pitch. He knows the zone and knows how to set batters up. He might pitch to contact a lot, but he can still strike batters out and be productive.
As you can see these are three very deserving players that could possibly be taken by the Pirates as the number one overall pick. While these players can defiantly help the Pirates move in the direction they need to go they are not that consensus player that I have talked about before.
I can almost guarantee that no matter who the Pirates pick tomorrow there are going to be people that are going to complain. Actually I would bet my bottom dollar on that situation happening. There is a wide array of talent and each player brings a little bit different characteristics to the table that some people value and some people don’t. I know that I have my mind set on who I want to see taken but that doesn’t mean I am going to be totally upset or mad if the Pirates don’t take who I think they should take. Let’s be honest I am just a fan like all of you, I am sure the front office knows a little bit more than I do so I really can’t knock them too bad. While I follow the team closer than most (which my family and friends might say is a negative about me) I still have a vast amount of information that I don’t know. I don’t get to see the prospects to a great degree (which the front office does) so that doesn’t get me the respectability of some of the others.
The sense I am getting now from the Pirates is that they are going to take Garrit Cole with the first overall pick. Every person “in the know” has been saying that for a few weeks now and state that the Pirates can not overlook the upside and potential of his arm and what he can turn into. As I am putting this together Buster Onley tweets that other teams are anticipating the Pirates taking Cole with the top pick. Whereas last year it was almost a certainty that the Pirates would take Rendon but it looks as if it flipped to be a certainty they will take Cole.
If I were making the pick for the Pirates I would take Anthony Rendon. If you have been following me on twitter and been following what I have been saying about the draft you know that I am a HUGE Rendon fan and have been since the Pirates got the top pick sealed up last season. While I don’t dismiss Cole being a good pick I think that Rendon has a lot more to offer for the Pirates. He is the hitter that can come in and be the middle of the lineup guy. He can hit for power, has good plate discipline and can play a really solid third base. Hitters like this do not come along every year and in my opinion he is the best overall player in the draft. What I am seeing and hearing is that the shoulder situation isn’t supposed to be serious and is something that will heal with rest and some rehab and if that is the case I can’t imagine him not being the best player on the board. In the draft you don’t draft for need, you take the best player. Anthony Rendon is that best player.
I have concerns over Cole and his inconsistencies and although I don’t really have anything against Hultzen I don’t think he strikes me as a #1 overall guy. I know the front office is worried over the shoulder injury for Rendon but that does not bother me as much.
[EDIT: I forgot to put this in the preview last night but I wouldn't mind seeing the Pirates take Bundy. Obviously I don't put too much into him here because he is a high school kid and I only know what I read, but from what I have heard he is the real deal. If you forced me to put together a list I would put Rendon as my number one but I would put Cole and Bundy in a tie for my number two. Cole will reach the majors much quicker than Bundy but Bundy might have more of an upside.]
If you need other stuff to read for the draft make sure you check out Tim at Pirates Prospects, Pat at WHYGAVS, Brian at RTJR, Jon at McEffect and Jim at Northside Notch. There are a tons more too but I don’t have three hours to type them all out. If you have enough time to read all of their draft stuff they you read at a million words a minute. Those sites are unreal good at what they do.
So if you are the Pirates who do you take? Leave your thoughts and pick in the comments.