By John Perrotto
Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon and UCLA right-hander Gerrit Cole are considered the two best players available in the major-league amateur draft, which will be held next month. Yet the Pirates, who hold the first overall pick, are also strongly considering Virginia left-hander Danny Hultzen.
It seems somewhat baffling on the surface why the Pirates would think about taking Hultzen, who is generally considered the third-best or four-best player in the draft along with Dylan Bundy, a high school right-hander from Owasso, Okla.
However, there are a number of reasons the Pirates are considering going with Hultzen at No. 1. Primary among them is that they feel Hultzen can make a quicker impact in the major leagues.
Hultzen has impeccable control of a low-90s fastball and big-breaking curveball. He has an amazing 9.3 strikeout/walk ratio this season with 121 punchouts and 13 bases on balls in 82 2/3 innings while going 9-2 with a 1.42 ERA in 12 starts.
The Pirates are attracted to Hultzen because they believe he could join their rotation by the start of the 2013 season and possibly even sometime next year. Management understands it has a limited time to build a solid pitching staff to complement a young lineup that includes second baseman Neil Walker, third baseman Pedro Alvarez, left fielder Jose Tabata and center fielder Andrew McCutchen. The Pirates privately concede that it is unlikely they will be able to retain all four of those players–particularly Alvarez– past free agency because of financial limitations.
A second reason why the Pirates are giving Hultzen strong consideration is because he would likely settle for a smaller signing bonus than that Rendon and Cole, both clients of agent Scott Boras. Hultzen is represented by Creative Artists’ Agency. While they say otherwise publicly, the Pirates would prefer not to deal with Boras following their acrimonious negotiations in getting Alvarez signed as their first-round choice in 2008.
Taking Hultzen would also allow the Pirates to employ a draft strategy similar to 2009. They chose Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez with the fourth overall selection that year, signed him to a reasonable bonus then had money left over to lure a pair of high school pitchers, left-hander Colton Cain and right-hander Zach Von Rosenberg, away from college scholarships in the later rounds with seven-figure bonuses.
So while sources close to the situation insist that the Pirates are not close to making a final decision, Hultzen could certainly be their guy.