MLB Amateur Draft: Pirates pick 4th, but they may have limited options

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Rose Palmisano, The Orange County Register
Josh Vitters, a third baseman for Anaheim (Calif.) Cypress High School tops the Pirates' wish list.
By Paul Meyer
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Pirates face a bunch of questions concerning which player they'll ultimately take today with their first pick -- and the fourth overall -- in the amateur draft.

Do they take another pitcher?

Amateur Draft

First round, 2 p.m. Today, ESPN2

Picking a pitcher with their first choice hasn't worked out so well in recent years. Arm injuries to Bobby Bradley (1999), Sean Burnett (2000), John Van Benschoten (2001), Bryan Bullington (2002) and Brad Lincoln (2006) come to mind.

Include Clint Johnston (1998) and Paul Maholm (2003) in the category of pitchers taken in the first round, and the Pirates have opted for pitchers in seven of the past nine drafts. That group to date has given the Pirates 19 major-league victories -- 13 by Maholm.

OK, so maybe they'll take a catcher.

After all, it's not as if they're well stocked at that position in their minor-league system.

Or do they just take a hitter period?

As you might have heard, offense continues to be a problem throughout the organization.

Then there's perhaps the most important question -- do they want to deal with uberagent Scott Boras?

They haven't in the past, but ...

And even that question could be rendered moot if the Chicago Cubs, who pick third just ahead of the Pirates, move off high school third baseman Josh Vitters and engage Boras in negotiations with Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters.

There were only a few seeming certainties as yesterday turned into last night.

Vanderbilt left-hander David Price will be taken first overall today by Tampa Bay. High school right-hander Rick Porcello, another Boras client, will go second to Kansas City.

And if the Cubs take Wieters -- there were some indications yesterday that could happen -- the Pirates will choose Vitters.

"That would be accurate," an industry source said yesterday.

Vitters, 6 feet 2, 195 pounds, from Cypress, Calif., has an outstanding bat and should develop into a power hitter. Baseball America, famed for its ranking of prospects, has Vitters No. 1 among high school players in its "best pure hitter" and "closest to the majors" categories.

Littlefield's picks

The Pirates' first-round draft choices since Dave Littlefield became general manager July 31, 2001.

Yr

Player

Level

02

Bryan Bullington, RHP

AAA

03

Paul Maholm, LHP

Majors

04

Neil Walker, C*

AA

05

Andrew McCutchen, CF

AA

06

Brad Lincoln, RHP

Injured

*- has since moved to third base.

That, of course, is why the Cubs like him and could snatch him from the Pirates.

That would leave Wieters, a switch-hitter who's variably listed as 6-5 and 6-6, for the Pirates to consider.

Wieters falls into what Boras considers a "special player" class, which historically has meant long -- sometimes unsuccessful -- negotiations. Boras demands money for "special" players that far exceeds the "slot" bonuses recommended to teams by Major League Baseball.

Last June, the Pirates took Lincoln, from the University of Houston, with the fourth pick overall. Lincoln received a signing bonus of about $2.8 million.

Compare that to what Boras negotiated for Mark Teixeira, another Georgia Tech product, in 2001. Teixeira, the fifth overall pick that year, received a four-year major-league contract worth $9.5 million from the Texas Rangers.

It's expected Boras will seek at least a similar deal for Wieters.

The Pirates can talk all they want about money not being an object, but lots of money and Boras could be an object. In other words, the value the Pirates place on Wieters and the value Boras places on Wieters could be millions of dollars apart.

So, what if the Pirates don't have a chance at Vitters and decide to pass on Wieters?

Well, then the draft waters become filled with fish.

Do the Pirates pass on all Boras clients who are projected to be first-round picks? That could be up to four other players, including North Carolina State right-hander Andrew Brackman, high school right-hander Matt Harvey, high school third baseman Mike Moustakas -- who could become a catcher -- and Tennessee outfielder Julio Borbon.

That could leave the Pirates to pick from Missouri State left-hander Ross Detwiler, Clemson left-hander Daniel Moskos and high school outfielder Jason Heyward.

Then there's Beau Mills, whose father, Brad, coaches with the Boston Red Sox. Beau Mills' name has surfaced in some quarters as the Pirates' first-round pick.

Mills, a first baseman/third baseman, has tremendous power but also has some defensive baggage.

It would seem the Pirates need to be as correct as possible on the future of their first-round pick because -- with a ton of supplemental first-round picks for other teams -- they don't make another selection until No. 68 overall.

"The first pick is important [every year]," said Ed Creech, the Pirates' senior director of scouting. "It's more scrutinized. That's the one people judge a draft by."

The identity of the Pirates' first-round pick officially will be known by about 2:20 p.m. today. For the first time, the first round of the draft will be televised. ESPN2's coverage begins at 2.

Each team will have up to five minutes to announce its pick, and it's thought ESPN2 will urge each team to take that five minutes so it can put experts on the air to blather about the player.

The Pirates relish the opportunity to have the first round televised.

"If it's going to help promote the game of baseball, it's a great thing," Creech said. "I'm all for it."

"I think it's great," general manager Dave Littlefield said. "When you look at the success and the interest [in the televised drafts] of football and basketball, it's a great step for us."

ESPN2's coverage originates from Orlando, Fla., where each major-league team will have representatives ready to go on camera.

Trevor Gooby, the Pirates' director of Florida operations, will be blanked in Orlando by Pirates broadcaster Steve Blass.

Blass' role?

"Decoration," he said.



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