General Manager Neal Huntington is preparing to oversee his third draft with the Pirates. He and scouting director Greg Smith have received good marks industry wide for their first two draft classes.
The consensus is that Washington is going to take 17-year-old Bryce Harper, which will take some pressure off the Pirates front office. It might prove to be a public relations nightmare if the Nationals pass on Harper and the Pirates don't select him with the number two pick.
"If the right guy is available, we'll pay him just as we would have with (Stephen) Strasburg or (Dustin) Ackley a year ago," Huntington said. "If the right guy is not available and we have got five guys that we like almost as much, we'll take the guy that makes the most sense for a variety of reasons."
With Harper more than likely going to the Nationals, the Pirates are zeroing in on: Texas high school right hander Jameson Taillon and Florida prep shortstop Manny Machado. Neither will come cheap, and certainly not as cheap as Tony Sanchez did as the No. 4 choice a year ago.
If the Pirates opt to go with a safer college pick instead, left-hander Drew Pomeranz could be their guy. Pomeranz hasn't had a sensational junior season at Ole Miss, but with a three-pitch mix and intriguing arm strength, he is widely seen as the best college pitcher available in a weak class. Right-hander Deck McGuire (Georgia Tech) and left-hander Chris Sale (Florida Gulf Coast University) are among the top college pitchers at the top of their list.
"It's a pitcher-heavy draft," Huntington said. "As a whole, the college position player group is one of the weaker ones in recent years. Even the college pitcher group is one of the weaker ones. It's a high school-oriented draft."
The organization spent nearly $19 million to sign draft picks in the last two years, more than any in the major leagues. Based on the $25-to-$30 million that was budgeted for the 2008-10 period, it was expected to make a similar commitment this year.
"Do we take the Pedro-type player that will require a huge signing bonus? Or do we take the guy that we like as much as anyone else on the board but won't cost us four times as much, which allows us to invest the money in four or five or six other players?" Huntington summed up the fundamental question that faced the organization in the next few days. "We've taken two different approaches in the past, and our draft board will dictate the approach that we take this year. We'll see where it takes us."
One thing is a given the Pirates will stick with the plan they have employed the in the past two drafts. They will select high-upside high school players with the intention of luring them away from college commitments with above-slot bonus offers.
"We again expect to be aggressive in the draft and select many challenging signs and very few college seniors," Huntington said. "We will give ourselves options throughout the draft to ensure another deep and talented draft class."