OK, it's draft day; here's the likely suspects in a year when no one stands head and shoulders above the pack:
Gerrit Cole, RHP, UCLA - The word is that Cole will be the Bucco pick tonight. If so, the Pirates are going for the highest upside pitcher available.
Cole has a heater that ranges from 94-96 MPH and has touched 100. He also throws a two-seamer with movement, a couple of ticks slower than the four-seamer. His changeup is already pretty good, but his slider is still a work-in-progress. It needs to stay tight, and sometimes it gets loopy and hittable.
He's an inning-eater for the Bruins and as strong in the later innings as at the start, but lately been less than dominating. Cole's mechanics need some tweaking; some scouts think that his current arm action is an injury waiting to happen, although others think it's just fine.
The 6'4" 220 lb'er is projected to be a top of the rotation starter in the show who could be big-league ready by 2013. Cole is also the consensus top pitcher in this year's lottery.
There are two schools of thought involved here: the old school says you never have enough pitching, and the spreadsheet school that says top picks are much more productive when used on hitters, who are easier to project, than on pitchers.
Of course, old school guys tell you that hitters are easier to pick up on the market or in deals, so...
But the Bucs love themselves some pitching, and while nothing definitive has broken yet, the tea leaves are tilted pretty heavily toward Cole leaving the California surf for a career by the Three Rivers.
Danny Hultzen, LHP, Virginia - Hultzen has been all that in 2011, vaulting his name to the uppermost levels of MLB draft boards. But he's been faintly praised as "the safe choice," a guy that's already hit his peak and projects to become a #2 pitcher; pretty good, but good enough for the number one selection?
He throws throws a low-to-mid 90s fastball, a change-up and a slider, all with pinpoint control, and has a repeatable smooth and easy motion. But the scouts think it's his command, not his stuff, that makes him so tough on the hill, and have reservations that he can take it to "ace" level, where nastiness rules.
Taking either one and adding them to the mix of Jameson Taillon, Luis Heredia and all the other young arms the Bucs have amassed should give the Bucs a formidable rotation down the road, and it's possible either one of these players could join the big-league staff by 2013 and immediately become the number one guy.
Remember, the Bucs have invested heavily in prep arms, and it may take quite awhile before any of them break into the show, where a college kid could jump in the fast lane and fly through the minors. But pitchers are a risky bet, even at the elite college level, and so still lurking is the shadow of...
Anthony Rendon, 3B, Rice - Last year, Rendon was the man, and was compared to Bryce Harper. But 2011 was his personal year from hell. He had shoulder and ankle injuries (the ankle was hurt playing for Team USA in 2010 and required surgery), no help from his teammates (with no protection in the order, nobody in their right mind would pitch to him) and had to deal with a new stick, courtesy of NCAA bat regulations that went into effect this season.
It's not like he was creamed spinach for the Owls. He hit .332/6/37 despite being walked an ungodly 79 times in 297 plate appearances (27%), leading to an unreal .552 OBP. His slugging percentage was .531; he had 20 doubles and a couple of triples to go with six long balls. He can rake; he has a short, easy maintenance kind of stroke. Rendon hit .388 with 20 homers as a freshman and .394 with 26 homers as a sophomore, posting a .530 OBP and .801 slugging percentage.
The injuries are said to be his major red flag. In the pros, he would have sat on the DL awhile and been back when at 100%; in college, he played through the pain and never allowed his shoulder time to heal, and in fact may be aggravating it.
The shoulder issue moved him from third to second base, but he has a rep as an outstanding glove guy when healthy. His shoulder problem is said to be a muscle sprain that requires rest, not the knife. Still, three injuries in three years is a factor that will weigh heavily.
So for the Pirates, the choice is to roll the dice on a pitcher that could top their rotation in a couple of seasons, or a somewhat safer bet on fragile (think Dewey) batter that could do the same. All three have special talents; all three have flaws. We'll find out soon what way the FO goes.