Pirates sign top two draft picks

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The Pirates signed No. 1 overall draft pick Gerrit Cole and second-round selection Josh Bell ahead of the draft signing deadline early this morning.

Cole signed a minor league deal with an $8 million bonus, a record for the Pirates, and Bell signed for $5 million.

"We obviously invested a significant amount of money in the draft again," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said.

Cole's deal sets a record for a minor league contract signing bonus.

Huntington said deals were reached with both players "a little while in front" of the 12:01 a.m. deadline.

"It was a great feeling," Huntington said.

Signing both picks appeared somewhat a long shot heading into Monday, and the feat is a bit of a coup for Huntingon.

Bell, who many scouts believe is a first-round talent, fell in the draft after telling teams he intended to honor his commitment at the University of Texas. Had he not signed, he would not have been eligible to enter the draft again until 2014.

"We felt like we could be aggressive in a signing bonus, in a contract offer to him," Huntington said. "We felt like it was worth the risk of not being able to sign him."

With the signing of Cole and Bell - and high school pitcher Clay Holmes on Monday evening - the Pirates signed all of their draft picks from the first 10 rounds, furthering their commitment to building their franchise around prospects. The Pirates spent about $17 million signing draft picks, which will likely place them near the top of the league in terms of total investment for the fourth consecutive year.

Scott Boras, the agent representing Cole and advising the Bell family, did not return calls seeking comment Monday.

Cole had a 3.31 ERA and struck out 119 batters in 114.1 innings pitched his junior season at UCLA.

"Gerrit Cole has the size, strength, overall package of stuff and mentality to develop into a top-of-the-rotation starter," Pirates scouting director Greg Smith said in a statement. "His three plus Major League pitches complement his strong traits mentally, physically and personally."

Bell hit .548 as a senior at Jesuit (Texas) High School with 13 home runs, 54 RBIs and a 1.054 slugging percentage.

Baseball America ranked Bell as the nation's top corner outfielder available in this year's draft.

"Josh is one of the premier high school hitters in the country and we are pleased to add him to our organization," Smith said.

The Pirates signed Holmes, their ninth-round selection, early Monday night with a $1.2 million bonus, a record deal for a player selected that late in the draft.

The previous record for a ninth-round selection was $750,000, which the Padres paid Jason Middlebrook in 1996, according to Baseball America.

The Pirates paid $1.2 million to sign Zack Von Rosenberg, a sixth-round pick in 2009. It is the third-largest bonus the Pirates have paid draft picks selected after the first round.

Baseball America rated Holmes, a right-handed pitcher, the 140th best prospect in the 2011 draft class.

Holmes, who recently graduated from Slocomb (Ala.) High School and was committed to Auburn University, was in Pittsburgh on Monday, meaning a deal was imminent hours before the deadline.

Holmes is 6 feet 5, 230 pounds, and was 6-2 with a 2.06 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 54.1 innings as a senior. He was 11-5 as a junior, striking out 126 batters in 89 innings.

Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1722 or on Twitter @msanserino.


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