By John Perrotto
The Pirates spent the most money of the 30 Major League Baseball franchises on picks in the previous three first-year player drafts. They did not lose their crown Monday night as they were able to agree to terms with their first two picks in front of the midnight deadline for signing players.
The Pirates signed No. 1 overall pick Gerrit Cole, a right-hander from UCLA, to a minor-league contract with an $8 million signing bonus and second-rounder Josh Bell, an outfielder from Dallas Jesuit High School, to a minor-league contract with a $5 million bonus.
General manager Neal Huntington’s work in getting both players, who are represented by the hard-negotiating agent Scott Boras, signed was impressive on a number of fronts, most notably that he was able to get Cole to forego a major-league contract.
“It’s essentially the largest signing bonus given to an amateur player,” Huntington said.
Though Washington signed Stephen Strasburg, the first overall pick in the 2009 draft, for $15.1 million, it was on a major-league contract.
“The one thing that is advantageous for a player to sign a minor-league contract is that you can take the bonus and spread it out over nine months where a major-league contract is usually spread out over four years,” Huntington said.
That was the case when the Pirates used the second overall pick in 2008 to draft third baseman Pedro Alvarez from Vanderbilt. He signed a four-year contract worth $6.335 million that does not expire until 2012.
Huntington would not commit to where Cole would begin his professional career. However, with the minor-league season ending in just a little more than two weeks, it seems likely Cole would report to the Florida Instructional League in mid-September then make his professional debut next April with one of the Pirates’ full-season Class A farm clubs, Bradenton in the more advanced Florida State League or West Virginia in the South Atlantic League.
Cole was 6-8 with a 3.31 ERA in 16 games for the Bruins this year. He struck out 119 in 114 1/3 innings while pitching four complete games and one shutout.
Bell had advised the commissioner’s office to tell teams not to select him in the draft because he was committed to playing college baseball at the University of Texas.
The Pirates, nevertheless, gambled their second-round pick on him and made an initial offer of $4 million. They eventually upped that offer to $4.5 million and eventually went to $5 million on Monday night.
“We met with Josh and his family not long after the draft and had a chance to talk to them about our organization, explain to them what we were all about and how we operated,” Huntington said. “It was a great conversation and I left it feeling if we could reach a financial agreement that both sides were comfortable with that Josh would decide to begin his professional baseball career with us.”
The switch-hitting Bell hit .548 with 13 home runs, 54 runs scored and 54 RBIs this year while striking out just five times in 139 plate appearances.
The Pirates also signed ninth-round draft pick Clay Holmes, a right-hander from Slocumb (Ala.) High School to a minor-league contract with a $1.2 million bonus on Monday night.
Baseball America ranked him as the 140th-best player available in the draft after he went 6-2 with a 2.06 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 54 1/3 innings this spring.
The Pirates wound up signing each of their top 10 picks and 24 of 50 overall.
John Perrotto has covered the Pirates and Major League Baseball since 1988.