MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo is already going all spoiler on this morning, reporting that the Pittsburgh Pirates will select big UCLA righthander Gerrit Cole with the first overall pick in Monday night's MLB amateur draft.
It isn't if you knew that Cole has been grouped with Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon and Virginia lefty Danny Hultzen as the top trio on the board. Or if you saw the tweet from ESPN's Keith Law that had him ranked at the top of his list.
There's no question why a team would consider Cole, a power pitcher, for the top spot. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder has the look of a strong, durable front-line starter and the pure stuff to match. He's been clocked as high as 102 mph on radar guns and routinely hits triple digits. He maintains his velocity deep into games, sitting comfortably at 95-96 mph throughout a start. His slider is a plus pitch when it's working, an 88-90 mph nasty breaking ball. Even his changeup is hard ...
That's a delicious dossier — part of the reason the Yankees used a No. 1 pick on him in 2008 — but it gets taken down a peg after this junior season that Cole just put together. He went 6-8 with a 3.31 ERA and was hammered by the University of San Francisco (11 hits, three runs) in UCLA's opening NCAA regional game on Friday.
That apparently isn't enough to scare off the Pirates from taking the 20-year-old at No. 1. But it's enough to scare some Bucco backers into immediately seeing the worst case scenario start rolling into place.
Namely, Rendon becoming a huge star because the Pirates are passing on him.
If the Pirates do indeed select UCLA pitcher Gerrit Cole with the first overall pick of the 2011 MLB Draft instead of highly-touted position player Anthony Rendon ... then Pirates fans and Pittsburgh media will forever link Rendon's career to the Pirates franchise, with potentially-devastating consequences. Fairly or not, any success Rendon finds in his career will in some way reflect negatively on the Pirates, and if Rendon does become a more valuable player than Cole by any reasonable margin, it'll usher in a wave of fan backlash and vitriolic blog posts the likes of which Pirates Nation hasn't seen since ... well, they actually see them on a near-hourly basis.
Such risks are the curses that come with the blessing of having the top pick in a talent pool that contains much fewer guarantees than any other sport. Even a team with a great front office like the Tampa Bay Rays isn't immune to selecting the occasional Tim Beckham(notes) before Pedro Alvarez(notes), Eric Hosmer(notes), Brian Matusz(notes) or Buster Posey(notes).
But it goes without saying that Pirates fans are a little more gun shy than most. The last time they had the draft's top pick — 2002 — they selected Bryan Bullington(notes), another big college righthander. Bullington didn't get his first major league win until last season (while pitching for the Kansas City Royals) and now plays in Japan. If it wasn't for San Diego and Matt Bush(notes) in 2004, he'd be the most notable No. 1 draft bust in the 2000s.
Since then, the Pirates have selected Brad Lincoln(notes) while Clayton Kershaw(notes), Tim Lincecum(notes) and Max Scherzer(notes) were still on the board in 2006 and went cheap with pitcher Daniel Moskos(notes) when Matt Wieters(notes), Madison Bumgarner(notes) and Jason Heyward(notes) were still available in '07. (Moskos has been good as a lefty reliever since being promoted this season, but you usually don't aim to draft relief specialists with the fourth pick in the draft.)
Of course, the Pirates have also had first-round successes in the past decade: Andrew McCutchen(notes), Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker(notes) (once they converted him from a catcher). And considering the Pirates have a nice little core of position players to build around but no franchise-type pitcher to speak of yet, the risk on Cole is worth taking.
With all that faith the Pirates have been showing over the past two decades, what's a little more?