Pirates prospects: Pool of draftees shrinks as signing deadline looms

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The spending-spree Pirates may yet sign one or two more of their later-round draftees, though few remain either healthy or available. Yet, it isn't as if club management, barely over the $8.5 million mark on 23 scholastic and collegiate deals, has to dole out the remaining million and a half in its draft budget before tonight's midnight signing deadline.

"If the situation dictates, we could go above it. If the players aren't at our value, we could go under it," said general manager Neal Huntington, who was appreciably busier this time a year ago trying to get Pedro Alvarez under contract. "It's a flexible number. It's a target number."

Who are they still targeting? Well, scratch off 27th-round selection Wes Luquettee, a catcher who cannot play until likely the 2011 season after recent Tommy John surgery -- somebody has to attend LSU after all, what with highly regarded Zack Von Rosenberg signing with the Pirates last week instead. You also can remove the names of 28th-rounder Kyle Hooper, headed to California-Irvine, and 29th-rounder Michael Heller, who was moving into the University of Florida yesterday and readying for ACL surgery scheduled for today.

"It's a great organization. I would've loved it," Heller said. "It just didn't work out."

And 16th-rounder Matt den Dekker is, according to his Twitter site, on a Bahamas cruise -- which would prevent him from getting to Bradenton by the next day, as has been the Pirates' wont in these draft deals.

As of yesterday, the highest top draftee from June to sign with any club was ... the Pirates' No. 4 overall, catcher Tony Sanchez.

"Am I? I mean, I don't think any of those guys will sign until ... the deadline's tomorrow?" said Sanchez, suddenly realizing the deadline was nigh, over the phone yesterday from Charleston, W.Va., where his Class A Power had the day off. "Holy ... It's already Aug. 17; that's crazy. They'd better sign soon."

Sanchez understood the benefit of signing and reporting early, a week after the draft for $2.5 million. He leads the Power with a .367 batting average, a 1.094 OPS, plus five home runs and 33 RBIs in 28 games.

He also noted that, after a week with the rookie State College Spikes, he has watched some of his fellow 2009 draft class -- third-rounder Evan Chambers, ninth-rounder Brock Holt, etc. -- and part of last year's crop with West Virginia. The Pirates' future, to him, looks bright.

"Those guys are going to do well wherever they are," Sanchez said of 2007 signee pitcher Rudy Owens, 2008 bonus-baby outfielder Robbie Grossman and international prospect Starling Marte. "Marte, he's the best outfielder I've played with. If the ball is in the field, he'll catch it.

"Can't wait to keep playing with these guys."

Like Alvarez, the three as-yet-unsigned draftees selected ahead of Sanchez are Scott Boras clients: Stephen Strasburg (Washington), Dustin Ackley (Seattle) and Donovan Tate (San Diego).

Catch more on the Pirates at the PG's PBC Blog . Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com .


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