As the holder of the number one pick in the MLB draft, everyone is going to critique the possible players and who you actually select. Having the number one pick means you were the worst team in baseball the year before and rebuilding the big league team starts with the farm system. Unlike the last two years, there is no clear cut top pick
The Pittsburgh Pirates own the top pick and have been in this situation before (first since 2002). The Pirates havenâ€™t had a good track record with taking pitchers with their first pick in the last decade (2001-John Van Benschoten, 2002-Bryan Bullington, 2003-Paul Maholm, 2006-Brad Lincoln, and 2007-Daniel Moskos).
The top two players in this yearâ€™s draft are UCLA right-hander Gerrit Cole (who was the NY Yankees first round pick in 2008) and Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon. Neither have had outstanding junior seasons, but have done enough over their collegiate careers to love their potential.
Cole helped lead UCLA to the National Championship series last year against South Carolina (and has big game experience in both the College World Series and with Team USA). Cole and Trevor Bauer form the best 1-2 punch in college baseball. Cole has shown good stuff this season, but UCLA has had a hard time scoring runs. He has lowered his walk rate (just 16 total), but opponents are hitting a career-high .223 against him. He is 5-5 with a 3.25 ERA with 86 strikeouts over 83 innings.
Cole has two, maybe three, plus pitches, including a high 90â€™s fastball (that still hits in the high 90â€™s deep in games) and a devastating change up (that one scout compared to Johan Santanaâ€™s). He also has an 88 mph slider and a curve with heavy break. Some see Cole as a future number one pitcher and he could reach the majors by 2012 (at 21 years old and similar to Mike Leakeâ€™s quick rise).
Last season, Rendon busted his ankle during the postseason and Rice couldnâ€™t overcome the loss. Rendon has struggled through a shoulder injury this season, which has limited him to DH duty. His â€œdown yearâ€ can also be attributed to the lack of protection in the Rice lineup.
Rendon has been compared to Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman for his defense and has shown it when healthy. Last year he committed just five errors in 185 chances while turning 16 double plays. Rendon possesses quick hands, arm strength and reaction, and the desire to get better and work harder (heâ€™s mature beyond his years).
On offense, Rendon has been compared to Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria. He has great plate discipline and is comfortable hitting with two strikes (high walk rate and low strikeout rates). Last season he walked 65 times while striking out just 22 times. He had more homeruns (23) than strikeouts. So far this season, he has matched his walk total from last season. The shoulder injury has cut down on his power, but he is still hitting .333 with an on-base percentage of .535.
Rendon projects to be a .300 hitter while hitting 20-25 homeruns in the big leagues. Due to his small size (6â€™0, 190 lbs), he most likely wonâ€™t hit 35-40 homeruns, but could be a table-setter for Pedro Alvarez. The Pirates lack corner infielders in their farm system, along with natural hitters.
If the Pirates select Rendon, they can move current third baseman Pedro Alvarez to first base and let him completely focus on hitting (which is his strength). Choosing Rendon gives the Pirates a better team in the future, while choosing Cole gives the Pirates a better rotation (the Pirates selected nine right-handed pitchers in the first ten rounds last year and 16 of their top 30 prospects are pitchers). Rendon could reach the big leagues by 2013 while Cole could reach the big leagues in 2012. Both players are represented by mega-agent Scott Boras. The draft experts are torn between the two and the Pirates arenâ€™t tipping their hand (like the Nationals did the last two years).
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