By John Perrotto
The Pirates hold the first pick in this year’s amateur draft and all indications are they have narrowed their choice primarily to two college players, with a third collegian having an outside chance to go No. 1.
The Pirates are mainly debating between UCLA right-hander Gerrit Cole and Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon. Draft experts unanimous rank those two as the best available players. However, Virginia left-hander Danny Hultzen has also piqued the Pirates’ interest enough this spring that they haven’t totally ruled him out.
Rendon was considered, far and away, the best player in this year’s draft when the college season began in February, even though he suffered a broken ankle last summer while playing for Team USA. However, the 6-foot, 190-pound right-handed hitter is having a disappointing junior season in which he has been limited to designated hitter duties because of shoulder tendinitis.
Rendon is hitting .350 with four home runs and 24 RBIs in 143 at-bats. He has also been pitched around frequently as he has drawn 62 walks, including 20 intentional, in just 44 games. That has given Rendon identical .552 on-base and slugging percentages.
Last year, when Rendon won the Howser Trophy as the college player of the year, he hit .394 with 26 homers and 85 RBIs. He was the Atlanta Braves’ 27th-round draft pick in 2008 from Lamar High School in Houston.
Cole is considered the closest to being ready to play in the major leagues of any draft-eligible player despite having a record under .500 this season. Cole is 4-5 but has a fine 3.45 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 75 2/3 innings while allowing 61 hits and 15 walks.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder throws a 98-mph fastball and was the New York Yankees’ first-round draft pick in 2008 following his senior season at Orange County Lutheran School in Orange, Calif. He was the first first-rounder in six years to turn down a pro contract since Philadelphia Phillies outfielder John Mayberry Jr. eschewed the Seattle Mariners in 2002 to attend Stanford.
Hultzen is having a strong season with a 9-1 record and 1.19 ERA in 11 starts. He has a fantastic 112/12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 75 2/3 innings while giving up 50 hits. The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder has a career record of 29-3 for the Cavaliers.
Hultzen was the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 10th-round pick in 2008 from St. Albans High School in Washington, D.C. He has pinpoint control of a low-90s fastball and sharp-breaking curveball.