By John Perrotto
The Pirates have scouted UCLA right-hander Gerrit Cole, Virginia left-hander Danny Hultzen and Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon from all angles throughout the spring. In fact, it is safe to say that scouting director Greg Smith, his national crosscheckers and the various area scouts know the trio’s strengths and weaknesses about as well as they know the birthdates of their wives and children.
Yet, the Pirates’ brain trust still hasn’t been able to make up its mind on who to take with the first overall selection in Monday’s Major-League Baseball first-year player draft. Even the draft experts can’t read the Pirates as various publications have them picking each of the big three.
The Pirates, for competitive reasons, aren’t saying much about their thought process. However, a veteran crosschecker from a team that has one of the top 10 picks was willing to give his opinions on Cole, Hultzen and Rendon with the draft just three days away.
Cole was the Yankees’ first-round draft pick in 2008 following his senior season in Orange County, Calif., but decided to instead attend UCLA. The scout feels that was a wise move.
“He was a very immature kid in high school and I don’t think he would have lasted very long in professional baseball,” the scout said. “His mound presence and demeanor have gotten so much better in three years of college. He takes the game seriously and he’s become a heckuva competitor.”
The scout rated Cole’s three pitches at well above average: a four-seam fastball that reaches 99mph, a two-seamer that reaches 93, a slider that reaches 90 and changeup that reaches 87.
“For me, he was a future closer until this year but….
he really improved his changeup and that gives him a chance to be a No. 1-type starter in the major leagues,” the scout said. “He has smoothed out his mechanics since high school and he throws effortlessly. He looks like the type of guy who can win a lot of games and pitch a lot of innings.”
The scout ranks Hultzen’s stuff as a notch below Cole’s, though that is not really a knock considering no other pitcher in the draft has an arm quite like Cole. Hultzen can run his fastball as high as 96, though it usually sits at 89-90 and the scout rates it as a plus pitch along with the changeup because he has pinpoint control of each offer. Hultzen also throws a slider but is inconsistent with it.
“The thing that just jumps out at you about Hultzen is his pitchability and mound presence,” the scout said. “He has outstanding command of his fastball and changeup, puts it wherever he wants to in the strike zone. He never gets rattled and he’s also a good athlete, who fields his position and holds runners well. He probably won’t wind up in the Hall of Fame but he can be a guy who is a reliable No. 2 starter for a long time.”
Rendon was considered the clear choice as the No. 1 pick when the season began but strained his shoulder in February and has played primarily designated hitter. He also suffered a broken ankle last summer while playing for Team USA.
“The shoulder has definitely affected his swing because he is not driving the ball the way I know he can,” the scout said. “I still like him a lot, though. He’s a good all-around hitter, not just a slugger. He can hit .300 with 30 homers in the major leagues, he’s that good. He reminds a lot of (New York Mets third baseman) David Wright. I think he’ll be that type of player and that’s pretty darn good.”