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Pirates pull off dazzler, sign Cole and Bell

| Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011

The Pirates pulled off what many believed was impossible late Monday night, signing both the No. 1 overall draft pick, Gerrit Cole, and their second-round pick, Josh Bell, before the deadline at 12:01 a.m. today.

The Pirates spent more than $17 million to sign 24 players from this year's class, including their first 10 picks. Cole, a right-handed pitcher out of UCLA, received an $8 million bonus. Bell, a high school outfielder, was given $5 million.

"We obviously invested a significant amount of money in the draft again, thanks to (owner Bob Nutting's) support and his resources, and we've essentially given out the highest minor league signing bonus in history (to Cole)," general manager Neal Huntington said. "But Gerrit Cole is a very, very talented player, and we were very aggressive in trying to add Josh Bell to our system."

Huntington said that as part of the ebb and flow of negotiations, sometimes they felt like they had a good chance of signing both, and sometimes they felt like they had no chance.

"You just continue to work forward and try to push through," Huntington said. "We were done a little while in front of the deadline, but still it was hit or miss as we went through the night and even toward the deadline. Once we got the confirmation on both, it was a great feeling."

Signing Cole wasn't so much a question of if, but for how much.

Bell, however, had a commitment to the University of Texas, and he had been so serious about honoring it that he sent a letter to Major League Baseball's scouting bureau asking not to be drafted.

Most teams took his word for it, and despite having first-round talent, Bell was still on the board in the second round. The Pirates drafted him 61st overall.

"We felt like we could be aggressive in a signing bonus and a contract offer to him," Huntington said. "We felt like it was worth the risk of not being able to sign him, and we went into it with full respect of his commitment to Texas. His family is obviously strong, they're intelligent and hard-working people, and we had nothing but respect for their perspective.

"We wanted the opportunity to explain who we were, how we do things, and we were hoping Josh was ready to take the step to professional baseball if we were to find a common financial ground, and we were able to do that."

Both Cole and Bell are represented by agent Scott Boras.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Cole was 6-8 with a 3.31 ERA with UCLA this year. During his three years as a Bruin ,he ranked second in school history in strikeouts (376), third in starts (49) and fifth in innings pitched (3221/3). Baseball America rated him as having the best fastball in the draft, and Pirates scouting director Greg Smith said he projects to be a front-of-the-rotation starter.

Cole was originally drafted by the Yankees in the first round in 2008.

Signing a minor league rather than a major-league contract came as something of a surprise, but Huntington said that the bonus may have influenced the decision.

"The record-setting signing bonus on a minor league contract is something to be proud of," Huntington said. "There are times where a pure minor league contract and minor league signing bonus, paid out over nine months, is better than a major league contract paid out over five-plus years, depending on how the deals are structured."

Bell hit .548 with 13 home runs, 54 RBI and 54 runs scored in his senior year at Dallas Jesuit (Texas) High School. The 6-foot-3, 206-pound switch-hitter was ranked by Baseball America as the top corner outfielder and fifth-best position player overall available in the draft.

Going into yesterday, the Pirates had signed 20 of their 50 picks and all but three of their top 10. They came to terms with their ninth-round pick, right-handed pitcher Clayton Holmes, earlier in the night.

Huntington said the next step is to get Cole and Bell to Pittsburgh and figure out what they've been doing since their respective seasons ended. Once they have that information, they'll put together a plan as to where they might begin their careers.

Last year, the Pirates spent $11.9 million to sign 27 players, with $8.75 million going to No. 2 overall pick Jameson Taillon and second-rounder Stetson Allie, both high school pitchers. Both went to short-season Single-A State College after signing, but only to observe. Neither one pitched until the Florida Instructional League began in October.

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