Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Buccaneer’s Bounty

As I’m sure many of you know, the deadline for teams to sign their Rule IV Draft picks was Monday night at midnight eastern time, and as is often the case many of the negotiations went down to the wire. With 24 hours to go before the deadline, two thirds of teams hadn’t agreed to terms with their first round pick, but when the dust settled at midnight only the Blue Jays failed to ink their top pick. The Jays picked Tyler Beede, a high school right handed pitcher, but Beede will be attending Vanderbilt after turning down a reported $2.5M offer.

Many teams made statements on draft day with aggressive picks. Yesterday was their chance to put their money where their mouth is, quite literally. No team stepped up and did so more convincingly than Pittsburgh, which broke several draft records in signing many of its top picks to slot-busting bonuses.

In all, the Pirates set a major league record after spending $17M to sign Rule IV Draft prospects. Nearly half of this sum was awarded in the $8M bonus to first overall pick Gerrit Cole. Cole is a prototypical power pitcher, pairing a high-90s fastball that can touch triple digits with a nasty slider and a plus changeup. He’ll join top 2010 draftees Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie in what the Pirates hope will be a dominant troika of rotation arms sooner rather than later.

Despite Cole’s big price tag, most in the industry expected the Pirates to pony up and spend what was necessary to secure his signature. More surprising was the announcement that they had inked second-rounder Josh Bell for an astronomical $5M. Like Cole, Bell is a Scott Boras client. Bell sent a letter to the teams of MLB before the draft cautioning them that he’d be honoring his commitment to the University of Texas. However, Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington drafted Bell anyway, respecting the old adage that “everyone has a price.” Huntington found Bell and Boras’ price, and although it was more than double what any player outside of the first round has ever been paid, Bell’s a great add for Pittsburgh. He’s a first round talent, so his demand for first round dollars wasn’t unreasonable, and I think Bell fits nicely into the Pirates young offensive core alongside young studs like Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker. Though he’ll likely take a little longer to get to the big stage than Cole, who the team hopes to fast-track to the Bigs as early as next season, the Pirates succeeded in pulling two legitimate top prospects from this draft. With a strong major league core and an impressive minor league system already in tow, Huntington has set the Pirates up for sustained success over the course of the next few years. Though the road from the mediocrity the Pirates have experienced over the last nearly two decades to contention is long and difficult, Pittsburgh continues to take steps in the right direction. Monday’s signings were a significant step.

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