2011 Draft Day Two Preview: Two Top Players Fall to Pirates

What a crazy day one for the draft.  Last year, if you would have told anyone that the Pittsburgh Pirates would have picked Gerrit Cole over Anthony Rendon, they probably would have flipped out.  If you would have told Nationals fans that they’d end up with Baseball America’s top ranked prospect for the third year in a row, they too, would have flipped out, but in a good way.

Rendon’s slide to sixth overall really shows that there were concerns with his shoulder.  I’ve been a heavy supporter of Rendon, and I mentioned that if he were taken second overall, then I’d be comfortable taking him first overall.  The fact that five teams passed on him, presumably based on his medical information, really sends up a red flag.  I wrote yesterday about how even if Rendon is the preferred pick, Gerrit Cole is still a good selection.  I think Rendon’s slide tonight, and the injury issues that slide could point to, justify Cole as the number one overall pick.

The Pirates have said that the injury reports didn’t lead to their decision.  They’re never going to say anything that wouldn’t sound like “we felt there was a better player, but we didn’t take him because…”, as it just serves no benefit.  Why trash the guy you just drafted by saying there was someone else better, who you would have taken if he weren’t hurt?  That’s like asking a girl out on a date, then proceeding to tell her that you only asked because you found out the person you liked better once slept with a Jersey Shore cast member.  If it wasn’t for that long term damage, you would have gone with the top pick, but that’s not what you tell the backup plan.

As for the rest of the draft, again, if you would have told me last year that Matt Purke would be available with the #61 pick, I’d probably be able to guess that it’s injury related.  If you told me that he wouldn’t even be the best option on the board, even as a Tanner Scheppers type pick, I’d be very surprised.

The Pirates ran in to another Stetson Allie situation tonight, which leaves them with their pick of some talented guys on day two.  Josh Bell, the 15th overall prospect in Baseball America’s rankings, and Daniel Norris, the 16th overall prospect, each fell to the second round, both due to signability concerns.  That’s similar to Stetson Allie last year, who was passed up when he asked for $3 M on day one (he eventually signed for $2.25 M).  Before I take a look at Bell and Norris, let’s take a look at why the Pirates should go after one of these guys with the #61 pick in the draft.

Taking the Hard to Sign Pick

The obvious reason why the Pirates should add one of these two players is that it gives them the chance to add a top 20 talent in the second round.  Looking at the top prep players and their commitments, both look to be hard signs.  Josh Bell has a commitment to Texas, while Norris has a commitment to Clemson.  They are also both asking for a ton of money.  Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus says it might cost $6.5 M to sign Bell.  By comparison, that’s what the Pirates gave to Jameson Taillon as the second overall pick last year.  Norris might be the easier to sign of the two, as he was asking for $3.9 M, which is close to the $3 M that Allie was asking for last year.

You take the risk with one of these guys not just to add talent, but because this might be the last chance to make a move like this.  There is a lot of talk about how the draft could go to a hard slotting system next year, which eliminates over-slot bonuses.  That’s not a good thing for the Pirates, who have spent the most in the draft over the last three years, thanks to over-slot bonuses.

If the Pirates take a guy like Bell or Norris, and they don’t sign, the Pirates would get the #62 pick in the 2012 draft as compensation.  That pick would be unprotected, meaning if they didn’t sign the 2012 pick, they wouldn’t get compensation in 2013.  However, if a hard slotting system is in place, it might be easier to sign a player in 2012, with little room for negotiating by the player.

In either case, drafting one of the two players tomorrow will certainly challenge for a record for the biggest bonus of all time after the first round.  In Bell’s case, only about 10-20 players have ever received $6.5 M or more, and most were top 5 picks.  Rick Porcello got a huge amount (just over $7 M) in 2007, after sliding all the way to 27th.  But there’s a big difference between the 27th overall pick and the 61st overall pick.  The 27th pick is still in the first round.

We’ve heard reports that the Pirates don’t envision a top international player on the market this year.  That means we won’t see a guy like Luis Heredia getting $2.6 M, on top of spending over $11 M in the draft.  If the Pirates took Bell or Norris, they would be reaching at least $10 M on their first two picks alone.  However, considering that this could be their last draft to load up, and considering that they won’t be spending big in the international market, it’s definitely something they should consider.  Why is that?  Let’s take a look at the best two available.

Josh Bell

Bell told teams not to draft him, which might be a negotiation ploy.

It’s almost a guarantee that Bell will be the fan favorite pick of this pair of prospects.  He’s a hitter, first of all, which plays in to the “need” aspect.  Second, he’s a switch hitter with power potential from both sides of the plate.  He projects to have plus power, as well as plus hitting skills from both sides of the plate.  He’s 6′ 2″, 206 pounds, and mostly gets his value from the bat.  Defensively he profiles as a corner outfielder, and he only grades as an average runner.  But for a fanbase that is panicking over the offensive struggles in Pittsburgh this year, Bell’s offensive potential sounds very appealing.

The reason he fell is simple: he sent a letter to all of the teams telling them not to draft him.  He insists that he is honoring his commitment to the University of Texas.  The only problem?  He is being advised by Scott Boras.  I would buy the “don’t draft me” claim otherwise, but if that’s really how he feels, then why would he go through the trouble of getting an advisor?

We’re also getting the usual “signability” lines.  A college education is important to his family.  His mother is a professor.  I always find it amusing when top prospects use the “college is important” line.  If you’re passing up millions of dollars to take World History at 8 AM three days a week, then maybe you need an education.  As for Bell, I’m not convinced he won’t sign if given the right amount of money.  I don’t know if that would be $6.5 M, but it definitely would be over $3 M, and maybe even over $4 M.

He’s coming off a year where he hit for a .593 average in 81 at-bats, with 13 homers and 17 stolen bases.  Baseball America not only rated him the 15th overall player in the draft, but also the fifth best hitter in the draft.  He would be a huge boost to a system that is very thin on hitting prospects, and it hardly would be drafting for need, since you could also argue that he’s the best available player.  The only drawback I see is that his skill level might not be worth a blank check in the second round.  I would love to see the Pirates take a chance on him, but at the same time, if they didn’t sign him, it wouldn’t be a huge disappointment, or a failure by any means.

Daniel Norris

Norris is a left handed pitcher out of Tennessee, with a commitment to Clemson University.  Baseball America rated him the 11th best pitcher in the draft, and the top high school left hander.  He rates as the third best overall left hander, behind Danny Hultzen and Jed Bradley.  Norris throws his fastball in the 89-93 MPH range, topping out at 96.  He throws a curve and a changeup, and has clean arm action.

Norris is 6′ 2″, 180 pounds, so it’s unlikely that he increases his velocity from it’s current level.  He has a few mechanical issues, although the Pirates could work with him on making the proper adjustments.  All three of his pitches have the potential to be plus pitches, which suggests that he has the potential to be a top of the rotation starter.  He put up a 1.80 ERA in 62 innings this year, with a 113:29 K/BB ratio.

Norris would definitely be an easier guy to sign, although that might be due to a lack of a price tag on Bell.  We know what Norris wants, which means we know what it will cost if he comes down a few million (he’d probably get more than what Allie got in 2010).  The addition of Gerrit Cole and Norris this year, on top of Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie, and Luis Heredia last year, would be a phenomenal pitching haul in just one year.  The Pirates would have five guys with number one upside.  How many systems even have two guys with number one upside?  For those wanting the “need” of hitting, you can definitely trade a top pitcher for some hitting.  Pitching is always in demand, and depth like the group I listed above would give the Pirates some serious trade chips.

Who To Take?

This is almost a first round decision.  Norris seems like the easier sign, and he’d be cheaper.  I’m not sure how willing the Pirates, or any team, would be to spend $6.5 M on a prep hitter in the second round, especially when they could be spending $8.5 M or more on their first round pick.  At the same time, with this potentially being the last year to sign over-slot guys, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to go all out.  Neither player is a guarantee, so the “need” factor can be removed.  They’re both prep players, far from the majors, which means drafting for “need” is way off, considering you’re trying to fill a need in 2011 with a player who probably won’t arrive until 2015.

The more I think about it, the more I’d go with Bell.  He might be a difficult sign, but his power potential, especially as a switch hitter, would be worth it.  I don’t think he fills a need for the short term, as he’s a prep player, but he could be a candidate to take over for Andrew McCutchen or Jose Tabata when they near free agency.  Either way, the Pirates can’t go wrong.  They’re choosing between a potential plus hitter, or a potential top of the rotation left hander with three plus pitches.  Those are two outstanding players to be picking from with the 61st overall pick in the draft.

As for any other candidates, I’d avoid Matt Purke, due to his injury issues.  He’s a sophomore, which means he’s got leverage to go back in the draft and try again in his junior year.  Matt Dean, a prep third baseman with the potential for plus power, wouldn’t be a bad pick.  Kevin Cron, a prep first baseman whose brother, C.J., went in the first round, is another interesting option.  Baseball America rates him as the 133rd best prospect, although he’s got a great bat, just like his brother.  I wouldn’t take him in the second round, but I also wouldn’t mind “reaching” for him in the third or fourth round.

Day one definitely showed the amount of talent in this draft, and day two could be huge for the Pirates, especially if they take either Bell or Norris with the first pick in the second round.

Day Two Coverage

I’ll be covering day two on Twitter, providing updates on every player drafted.  We will also be getting the player profiles updated as quickly as possible, and the links will be uploaded to Twitter and Facebook.  The site will also be updated after every fifth round (starting with the fifth round), recapping the last few picks, for those of you who don’t follow on Facebook or Twitter.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • Lee Young

    Tim…you hit the nail on the head with “this is almost as interesting as the 1st round pick”.

  • Andrew P

    i’d take Norris, he’s an easier sign and a #1 lefty… those don’t grow on trees. any chance Purke would be available in round 3?

    • Tim Williams

      I would be surprised if Purke accepted less than first round money, and I’d be surprised if any team gave him first round money.  Regardless of what round he goes in, I don’t think he signs.

      • Andrew P

         i’d pay purke last 1st rd money if we could snag him in the 3rd. huge upside for like $2m? maybe $3m?

  • Anonymous

    Are the Pirates allowed to communicate with Boras about any of his draft eligibile clients before the draft?
    The reason I asked this question is that if they could, they might find out the real deal with Bell.
    It looks like Boras is going to fill up his piggy bank after this draft!

    • Tim Williams

      Yes.  Teams are allowed to contact the player.  Last year teams contacted Allie when it was their turn to pick, or before it was their turn.  They ended up balking at his $3 M bonus demands.

  • Nate

    Line of the day – “If you’re passing up millions of dollars to take World History at 8 AM three days a week, then maybe you need an education.”

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