Pirates scouts sold on 'big, intense' right-hander's ability as team once again opts for pitcher by taking UCLA starter with No. 1 pick
June 7, 2011 4:00 AM
UCLA pitcher Gerrit Cole is the second consecutive pitcher the Pirates have taken with No. 1 pick.
By Bill Brink Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Pirates opted for pitching with the first overall pick in Major League Baseball's draft, selecting UCLA starter Gerrit Cole Monday night.
Cole, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-hander whose fastball can hit 100 mph, became the second consecutive pitcher the Pirates chose with their first-round pick.
"He's big, he's physical, he's competitive, he's intense, he's intelligent," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said in a conference call from team headquarters in Bradenton, Fla.
Cole said in a conference call that he found out about three minutes before the draft that the Pirates would choose him.
"Obviously one of the most memorable phone calls I've ever received," he said.
Cole is 6-8 this season with a 3.31 ERA, twice taking perfect games into the seventh inning. He moved into second place on UCLA's career strikeout list with 376. Last summer, he played for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team and went 2-0 with a 0.72 ERA in five games. A 20-year-old from Santa Ana, Calif., he won 11 games for the Bruins in 2010, striking out 153 batters in 123 innings.
Cole's numbers suffered this season compared to his previous standards, and his teammate, pitcher Trevor Bauer, compiled better statistics, but Huntington said Cole's future projection outweighed the present results.
"Our focus is selecting the player that we believe is going to be the best for the organization two, four, six, eight, 10 years from now," Huntington said. "Gerrit has the makings of three above-average major league pitches."
Game: Pirates vs. Diamondbacks, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
TV, radio: Root Sports, WPGB-FM 104.7.
Pitching:RHP Kevin Correia (8-4, 3.40) vs. RHP Daniel Hudson (6-5, 4.22).
Key matchup: Correia vs. Justin Upton, who has hit .351 with a home run and four doubles in 37 career at-bats against Correia.
Hidden stat: Hudson has walked one batter in his past three starts, a span of 21 innings.
The Diamondbacks selected Bauer with the third pick.
Cole said he did his best to ignore the speculation about draft position.
"I didn't really let it get to me or affect me very much," he said. "I just control what I can control and let the teams do the evaluation."
The Yankees drafted Cole in the first round out of Orange Lutheran High School in 2008, but Cole opted for college. He did not take a loss in his first three high school seasons.
"There's a lot of different aspects of the game that I've fine-tuned," since the 2008 draft, Cole said.
In addition to his fastball, which routinely sits in the mid- to high-90s, he throws a hard slider, a changeup and a two-seam fastball in the low 90s.
Those pitches sold the Pirates, who observed Cole's performances at UCLA closely.
"Collectively with our scouting staff, we did not miss a start," scouting director Greg Smith said in the conference call. "I got multiple looks at him, as did our leadership group."
Agent Scott Boras is advising Cole. Boras represents Pedro Alvarez, and negotiations got tense between the two sides after the Pirates chose Alvarez in the first round in 2008. Huntington had said that a player's representative would not affect who the Pirates drafted.
"Signability is an issue with every player that comes off the board in the first round," Huntington said. "We're going to fight to find a common ground that makes sense for both sides. And we believe at the end of the day we'll get a deal done."
The Pirates selected two high school pitchers, Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie, in the first and second round of the 2010 draft. The Pirates gave Taillon a $6.5 million bonus, the largest in club history, and signed Mexican right-hander Luis Heredia to a $2.6 million bonus as well.
The Pirates will spend heavily again this year: The previous two No. 1 overall picks, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals, earned huge contracts and signing bonuses. Harper, taken first overall in 2010, signed a $9.9 million contract with a $6.25 million bonus, and Strasburg signed a $15.1 million contract with a $7.5 million bonus as the No. 1 pick the year before.
Boras represents Harper and Strasburg as well, but no one in this year's draft was as highly regarded as those two. The price, which the Pirates and Cole have until Aug. 15 to agree upon, will still be high.
The Pirates bypassed Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon, who was considered the top hitter in the draft. A sore shoulder has kept Rendon from playing the field as much this spring, but Huntington said a multitude of factors caused the Pirates to select Cole instead.
"There was nothing in Anthony's record that changed our willingness to draft him or not," Huntington said.
The Pirates also considered Virginia pitcher Danny Hultzen and high school outfielder Bubba Starling, but chose Cole, hoping that at some point in the near future he can take the mound at PNC Park.
"You got Roberto Clemente, great city, great ballpark," Cole said of Pittsburgh. "Lots of history, lots of tradition. Steelers, obviously. I've heard it's a great place to play, great environment, fans are unbelievable."
Cole was the Pirates' only pick Monday because the team did not have any compensation picks. The Pirates will make their next pick, the 61st, when the draft resumes at noon today.