We’re less than 12 hours away from the 2011 MLB Draft and the Pirates are still doing their best to protect the identity of their pick from the public. Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus said on Friday that the Pirates seem to be reveling in throwing a wrench into everyone’s plans by playing this one super-close to the vest. Still, right now all signs seem to be pointing to Gerrit Cole: Goldstein says so in the above linked story, Bill Brink says so, Jonathon Mayo says so, Keith Law think so, and frankly, if I’ve learned anything about Neal Huntington since 2008, it’s that when in doubt you should go with the 6’4″ flamethrower.
I’ll be up front: Cole makes me nervous. In fact, as I’ve said time and time again in the last few weeks, pretty much everyone on the Pirates’ plate at #1 makes me nervous and when that happens, I default to the high-upside position player. I’d rather see the Pirates take Anthony Rendon. That said, my preferences are colored by the following things: I haven’t seen any of these players play, and even if I had, I’m not a scout; I know that the Pirates need bats in the minors and even though I say that the Pirates can’t draft for need, that’s much harder to separate out in practice than in principle; and I’ve been a Pirate fan for long enough to see numerous highly-drafted pitchers go down with serious arm injuries.
Here’s the truth though: Cole is a great prospect and it’s certainly fair to argue he’s the best talent in the draft. Keith Law has been touting him as the best talent in the draft all spring and he hasn’t backed down, even in light of his late-season struggles. Pirate fans have been making it seem like it’s an open-and-shut case for Rendon, but it’s not that easy.
It’s true that drafting a college pitcher first overall gives me the howling fantods, but it’s also true that I believe some teams do better than others in developing arms without injuring them. David Price threw nearly as many innings at Vanderbilt (312 2/3) as Cole has at UCLA (322 1/3) and he hasn’t had any major arm issues to this point in his career. The Pirates have drafted a ton of pitchers in the last three years and the only two that have had significant arm issues are Victor Black, who’s never really been healthy since being drafted, and Quinton Miller, who was the first high-upside high school arm that the Pirates drafted and who’s injury may be the reason the club has generally slow-rolled these pitchers out the last two seasons (with the exception of Taillon). Other pitchers in the system, like Brett Lorin and Bryan Morris, have faced injuries, but they also came into the system with injury histories and its harder to pin that on the Pirates.
I’ll say for Cole what I said for Taillon last year: if the Pirates think he’s the best talent on the board and if the Pirates think that they can develop him without a serious injury, then he’s who they should draft. The development of Cole vs. Rendon is obviously something that we should all be watching as we evaluate the drafts of Neal Huntington and Greg Smith (as someone that wants to see Rendon picked, I know I’ll be watching closely), but the collective freakout that’s coming tonight over not picking Rendon seems ridiculous to me. The Pirates won’t be going cheap or choosing signability over talent by picking Cole, they’ll be rolling the dice that they can develop a college pitcher without getting him injured and that they can iron out the kinks that have made Cole hittable in his junior year. The Bucs biggest problem is that it’s impossible to make their pick this year without rolling the dice.