Pirates Battling Uncertainty With No. 1 Pick

Tonight's MLB Draft could be the beginning of the long-awaited next chapter at PNC Park. Or not.

Pat Lackey is veteran blogger and a frequent guest of Pulling No Punches. Today, he breaks down the Pirates' possible first-overall draft picks. You can read part one of his draft blog, "The Curse of First," here.

Make no mistake, tonight's MLB Draft is big. The Pirates' first overall pick is an enormous opportunity to compliment an already fast-developing stable of young talent. You can see the outline of a successful team coming together in Pittsburgh this season, but while it’s true that the farm system is improving, the Bucs still have quite a lot of work to do. Adding premium talent never hurts.

Unfortunately, that's about the only thing I'm certain of in advance of tonight's draft. Neal Huntington's front office is notoriously closed-door about personnel decisions, and with the hours ticking away there is still no clear favorite to go no. 1. The best we can do is narrow the field down to three potential choices. Let's take a quick look at the three college juniors the Pirates are giving long looks:

Anthony Rendon: A year ago, Rendon seemed like the obvious choice. In his sophomore year at Rice, the third baseman hit .394/.539/.801 (average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) with 26 homers in 226 at-bats. Combined with his 20-homer freshman campaign, he was being compared favorably to Evan Longoria and Ryan Zimmerman, two of baseball's best young third basemen.

Unfortunately, he suffered a broken ankle at the end of the season. Though he was expected to make a full recovery, the injury was obviously a concern for a team in the Pirates' position. He seemed to be recovering nicely, but he injured his throwing shoulder before the 2011 season started and he's spent most of the year at as a designated hitter. Recently, he's played some second base, raising questions about the health of his arm and his long-term ability to stay at third.

Most worryingly, his power has taken a big dip this year; in 2011 he's hitting .327/.523/.535 with six homers. His ability to stay healthy long-term is the biggest question surrounding him now.

Gerrit Cole: Early in the season, the right-handed Cole's fastball (which tops out at 100+ mph) earned him comparisons to Washington Nationals' flamethrower Stephen Strasburg. The UCLA pitcher doesn't have the numbers to match that comparison, though; this year he's striking out just over a batter an inning and he's allowed 92 hits in 107 innings, which gives him a 3.28 ERA. He's had a couple of very rough starts and though there's no questioning his talent, his inability to dominate at the college level is certainly raising some questions about picking him with the first overall pick. Still, most polls and mock drafts have Cole as the slight favorite to go no. 1.

Danny Hultzen: Hultzen's the late-comer to the party, trying to fill the vacuum that's been created by Rendon and Cole not stepping up. The lefty from the University of Virginia has dominated this year, striking out 12.7 hitters per nine innings and putting up a 1.59 ERA. He's only allowed three runs in a start once and he's never allowed more. Plus, Hultzen has only given up double-digit hits in one start this year. He's obviously talented and has been lights-out this season.

So what's the concern? For one, college pitchers that get tagged with seemingly encouraging reviews like "most polished" or "fast-riser," both terms that are used to describe Hultzen, often end up with careers like the Pirates' own Paul Maholm. That's no knock on Maholm, but he's never going to be much more than a mid-rotation guy. There's a clear ceiling. Is Hultzen cut from the same cloth?

Other prospects: The Pirates have also indicated at least some interest in Dylan Bundy (a high school pitcher from Oklahoma with a 100 mph fastball), Bubba Starling (a Kansas high school outfielder that's committed to play quarterback for the University of Nebraska), and some have speculated that Cole's teammate at UCLA, Trevor Bauer (a smaller pitching prospect with great numbers but high pitch counts and unorthodox mechanics), has played his way into consideration.

So what will the Pirates do? Keeping the Pirates' recent draft history in mind, Rendon would seem like the obvious choice. Since Neal Huntington took over as general manager, the Pirates have often avoided pitchers from elite college programs. Quite often, college pitchers get shouldered with huge workloads that result in injuries, and the Pirates thus far have shown a preference to work with high school arms that they have more control over. Still, ESPN's Keith Law recently put the Pirates' chances of drafting Rendon below 20 percent.

Personally, my preference would be Rendon. The injuries that have slowed him down in 2011 aren't supposed to be lingering issues and while there's some fear that he might turn into a Ryan Doumit-type who is constantly broken down, Rendon is likely less of a risk than Cole and Hultzen. You make decisions based on positional needs in baseball's annual draft, and Rendon would add another potentially strong bat to a team that needs more offense at the major league level (and that coincidentally doesn't have a whole lot on the way in the minors).

The stumbling block is his injury. However, MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo reported this week that teams have medical information on Rendon's shoulder. Mayo predicted him to go second overall to the Mariners. Since a few previous mock drafts had Rendon sliding further down in the top ten because of the injury concerns, I read that to mean that there's nothing too troubling in the medical file.

There's really no easy choice for the Pirates here; they would be justified in taking any of the top five or six players available due to concerns with just about everyone in the top of this draft class. I think Rendon makes the most sense for them on a lot of levels, though, and he's the guy I'm hoping the Pirates draft tonight.

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Pittsburgh's Top 10 Things to Do in March

Pittsburgh's Top 10 Things to Do in March

Your 10 best bets for this month.
Jamie Dixon: Winning His Way

Jamie Dixon: Winning His Way

Peers, players, and regular observers know him to be one of the best coaches — and people — in college basketball.
15 Buzzworthy Pittsburgh Salons

15 Buzzworthy Pittsburgh Salons

From east to west — and north and south — these are the region’s salons and services that make our cut. Having a good hair day doesn’t have to be so difficult after all.
Home of the Year: 2015

Home of the Year: 2015

This year’s selections include a Richland Township house built to appreciate its 160-acre lot and Shadyside garage that was renovated into a stunning, modern dream home.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Everything That's Awesome About Pittsburgh Today
Comic Aaron Kleiber to Headline at the Pittsburgh Improv

Comic Aaron Kleiber to Headline at the Pittsburgh Improv

Grab tickets now for next weekend's four-day run.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
Deer Debate: It's All about Priorities

Deer Debate: It's All about Priorities

PittGirl can't be convinced there is any solid math that proves an animal’s life is more important than a human one.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
First Look: Smoke's New Lawrenceville Location

First Look: Smoke's New Lawrenceville Location

At long last, Jeff Petruso and Nelda Carranco again are churning out the Tex-Mex-style tacos Pittsburghers crave.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
5 Best Retro Shops in Pittsburgh

5 Best Retro Shops in Pittsburgh

For anyone looking for a perfect #throwback picture to post, head here first.

Comments


Lawrenceville's Home for Cigar Education

Lawrenceville's Home for Cigar Education

Cigar novice? Visit Sammy Sing at The Cigar Den for a crash course and a relaxing time.

Comments


A Taste of Things to Come: Potential Offerings at Kevin Sousa's New Restaurant

A Taste of Things to Come: Potential Offerings at Kevin Sousa's New Restaurant

While the chef readies his Braddock restaurant, he's hosting a series of dinners at home to try out dishes.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Looking Sharp

Looking Sharp

Give your style some bite with the porcelain shark tooth necklace by Redraven studios.

Comments


This week's buzz from the PM editors
Malpaso Dance Co. Heats Up the Kelly-Strayhorn

Malpaso Dance Co. Heats Up the Kelly-Strayhorn

The Cuban dance company performs this weekend at the East Liberty venue.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
#PGHWeddings

#PGHWeddings

More brides are using social media to enhance their wedding days, so we’re sharing a few tips to help you do the same.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Now Accepting 2016 Home of the Year Submissions

Now Accepting 2016 Home of the Year Submissions

Our first standalone HOME issue in years features the 2015 winners of the annual Home of the Year competition — and we're already thinking about next year's contest.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Allegheny College Students Learn in the Sand

Allegheny College Students Learn in the Sand

The school's augmented reality sand box creates three-dimensional topographical maps based on the way students physically shape the sand.

Comments


Thinking outside the box (score)
Time Not on Penguins GM’s Side

Time Not on Penguins GM’s Side

General Manager Jim Rutherford has overhauled much of the Pens’ roster in a short period of time. Will his mind-on-the-now plan work to win Cup No. 4?

Comments


Award-winning sports commentary by Sean Conboy
R.I.P. Corporate Penguins, 2009-2014

R.I.P. Corporate Penguins, 2009-2014

Fire Bylsma? Fire Shero? The Penguins' problems run deeper.

Comments

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags