Pirates Notebook: Signing bonuses tops in Central

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The Pirates reached the midnight deadline last night standing pat with their hand of 23 draftees signed.

In the end, their spread-the-wealth strategy ranked them among their National League Central brethren: first in spending with $8.63 million minimum in signing bonuses; in the middle with their top 14 picks under contract; and at the bottom in total signees -- though that was near their target number all along.

The Brewers, the club they faced last night at PNC Park in the first of a three-game set, were the closest in total spending at $6.51 million. They surpassed the Pirates by signing the first 23 players they selected in June's draft. The Cardinals came next with their first 15, including a No. 19 overall Shelby Miller whom they paid reportedly $375,000 more than the Pirates' No. 4 overall pick Tony Sanchez's $2.5 million.

Milwaukee signed 22 of its first 23 picks and Houston 25 of 26, leading the NL Central.

And St. Louis signed 44 in all.

"I don't think I've ever seen one much like it, we signed at least our top [14]," Pirates manager John Russell said of his club's draft, unaware that Cincinnati signed its top 13 while Chicago and Houston their top 12, besides the top 18 of each Milwaukee and St. Louis. "To do what they did to get some very highly talented high school kids who seemed pretty committed to going to college. ...

"Everybody talks about not spending money. But I think that's a testament that they're going to do what it takes to make this team a winning team and a winning organization."

Still Milledge people

Even though he was sent to the bottom of the order for the first time in his 15 games since being acquired from Washington, Lastings Milledge still pleases his Pirates boss.

Milledge, who batted second for 13 games and fifth for another, opened last night at the No. 7 spot.

"He's still got a lot of work to do," Russell said of the left fielder batting .232 with six RBIs. "This guy has a lot of talent, but I think he's been rushed so much in his career, he hasn't had time to really work on a lot of different things. He's got a pretty full day [with outfield and batting work] every day we have him.

"Good things are going to come from him. We have to be patient with him. [That talent] is going to start showing. The best thing is, he's willing to take on the challenge to do the work and take on the challenge to get better."

Bixler at ... first base?

Newly recalled Brian Bixler, a 2004 second-round choice once considered a potential starting shortstop in the Pirates' future, is a utility man for the rest of the season. He may even play first base, where coach Perry Hill continues to work with him.

"He'll be playing all over," Russell said. "That's one of the things we got him doing in Indianapolis. He played some outfield, second, short. He can play third, he can play first. ... That gives him a lot of flexibility right now.

"I like some of the adjustments he made [at Class AAA]. He was swinging the bat very well the last three, four weeks in Indianapolis. That's the question that's arisen around Bix, if he can hit up here. He hasn't had a very good go as of yet. Is he going to get a lot of starts or playing time? We'll see how it goes."

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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