For the Pirates to grow into a contender, they must develop superstars from within their own organization. That all begins with the annual First-Year Player Draft.
The Pirates will enter the upcoming draft, which will be held next Monday and Tuesday, with the same philosophy they have abided by in each of the previous three seasons under GM Dave Littlefield.
"To get the best player the quickest to big leagues," said Littlefield. "We're looking for the guy who has the most significant upside that is the closest to the big leagues."
With that approach in mind, the Pirates do not have a predisposition toward selecting college players or junior college players over high school players, or position players over pitchers.
"You always have to be open-minded when you look at the end results of where the best players are coming from," said Littlefield. "We're going to consider a player from every different option."
While the Pirates certainly have more pitching prospects than potential impact position players, particularly at the upper levels of the Minor Leagues system, Littlefield is reluctant to put an increased emphasis on drafting hitters to fill in the gaps.
"In the Major League draft you can't draft for need," said Littlefield. "The players are so far away from the big leagues. Bringing need into the equation will confuse things and probably give you a less-percentage chance of selecting the right players.
"I'd love to have a college bat that we think has some ceiling and is close to the Major Leagues. But you have to consider who is out there and who you like. You need to be open-minded.
"If it's a close call with all things being equal we could use more bats than pitching, but you can never have enough pitching."
With the 11th overall selection in the draft, the Pirates should have several intriguing options available when they make their first choice.
Jay Bruce, an outfielder from West Brook High School in Beaumont, Texas, has the potential to be the type of five-tool player that scouts love. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Bruce is a left-handed hitter who batted .538 (42-for-78) with eight home runs, 24 RBIs and 11 steals. He is considered one of the better high school athletes in the draft.
Ricky Romero, a left-handed pitcher from Cal State-Fullerton, could also be available. Romero will lead the No. 6 ranked Titans into the College World Series after posting a 12-4 record and a 2.80 ERA in 16 starts.
The player the Pirates have shown considerable interest in during the past six months is outfielder Andrew McCutcheon of Ft. Meade High School in Florida. Like Bruce, McCutcheon is ranked among the top athletes in the draft. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound McCutcheon is a right-handed hitter who batted .709 (39-for-55) with 11 home runs and 28 RBIs.
McCutcheon is expected to work out for the Pirates again this week.
"He is a good high-school athlete that has good skills," said Littlefield. "He can run, has a nice arm, and looks like he has the ability to hit well. He's a guy a lot of teams are taking a look at."
PIRATES DRAFT HISTORY
The Pirates target the best available player, and though they are rebuilding, they aren't averse to going after high school talent instead of a college player who could help them sooner if they believe the prep player has a higher ceiling.
LAST THREE TOP PICKS
Neil Walker, C, 2004, Pick #11: A switch-hitting catcher with power potential, Walker is considered one of the top position-player prospects in the organization. In his first full season of pro ball, Walker is batting .267 with 12 doubles, two triples, three home runs and 27 RBIS in 49 games with Class A Hickory.
Paul Maholm, LHP, 2003, Pick #8: Maholm has made a swift recovery from what could have been a career-threatening injury. While pitching at Class-A Lynchburg last May, Maholm suffered a fractured right orbital bone after being struck in the face by a line drive. He returned in August to pitch for Class A Hickory and was promoted to Class AA this season. In eight starts with Altoona, Maholm is 2-2 with a 3.48 ERA.
Bryan Bullington, RHP, 2002, Pick #1: Bullington has been under the microscope since the Pirates decided to select him with the top pick in 2002 instead of infielder B.J. Upton. Bullington, who was 25-12 with a 3.32 in his first two professional seasons, was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis this spring after a promising showing in big league camp. However, he was forced to sit out the first month of the season due to right-shoulder tendinitis. In four starts since his return, Bullington has gone 1-2 with a 7.40 ERA.
Ed Eagle This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.