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Atop draft board, Pirates in good place

| Monday, June 6, 2011

There are no guarantees, but chances are good that whomever the Pirates draft with the top pick tonight will make an impact in the major leagues.

In the history of MLB's first-year player draft, only two No. 1 picks have retired before reaching the majors: catcher Steve Chilcott (Mets, 1966) and pitcher Brien Taylor (Yankees, 1991).

Still, it's certainly possible to get it wrong at No. 1 overall. In 2004, the San Diego Padres drafted Matt Bush with the top pick and, after a position change and turbulent stay with the team, he's now in the Tampa Bay Rays' organization and hasn't moved past Double-A.

And there was Bryan Bullington, whom the Pirates selected in 2002, the last time they had the top pick. Bullington pitched 18 1/3 innings in two years with the Pirates and 81 2/3 innings in five major league seasons before he was released by Kansas City last fall. He's now playing in Japan.

There's more attention this year, but Pirates scouting director Greg Smith said there isn't more pressure to get the pick right.

"It's obviously going to be a significant amount of dollars invested, and we like to look at it as an opportunity to take the best player and set the stage for the best draft, hopefully, that we've had together," he said. "But for us, it's not just one player. The first pick gets all the attention, and rightfully so, but in the second, third, 10th round there are major league players out there with major league value."

Smith promised there won't be any major surprises. Whether they select UCLA right-hander Gerrit Cole, Rice third baseman Antony Rendon or Virginia lefty Danny Hultzen, they won't use the pick on a player whom other teams have slotted much lower because of signability concerns.

Kevin Goldstein, draft expert for Baseball Prospectus, believes the Pirates are sensitive to fan reaction.

"I remember when the rumor of Hultzen entering the mix a little more than a month ago all of a sudden was there," he said. "I was talking to an assistant GM of another team, and the first thing he said was it would make sense logically (to draft Hultzen), but the Pirates are very, very conscious of public perception of the pick. The industry certainly seems to think that's the case."

This will be general manager Neal Huntington's fourth draft; the Pirates drafted second in 2008 (third baseman Pedro Alvarez), fourth in 2009 (catcher Tony Sanchez) and second last year (righty Jameson Taillon).

"We don't ever want to pick (this high) again," he said. "not because of the pressure, but because of what picking early in the draft means in the win-loss record."

They said it

Thoughts from around baseball on what the Pirates should do with the No. 1 pick:

MLB Network analyst John Hart: "It's a touchy call because I'm just not sure if there's a sure-bet pitcher out there. If Anthony Rendon is healthy and they are interested in moving Pedro Alvarez to first base, this is a hitter who could come quickly. He's a big bat who has a chance to be a very good offensive player. There's a lot of pitching out there on the board, but there's no Stephen Strasburg. Put it this way: I'd rather be picking three or four instead of one."

MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds: "I'd be shocked if Pittsburgh doesn't select Gerrit Cole, but I'd go with Francisco Lindor. He's a switch-hitting shortstop who can solidify the middle infield. Lindor, Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen up the middle could make a lot of people smile in Pittsburgh for a long time."'s Jonathan Mayo: "(The Pirates) know they need to start having better results at the big league level soon. This is a good draft class to do that because there's some good college talent, especially with pitching."

Additional Information:

At a glance

MLB draft, first round

7 p.m. today, MLB Network

Draft order, first five picks: Pirates, Seattle, Arizona, Baltimore, Kansas City

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