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Bucs look to Draft to stock farm system

Bucs look to Draft to stock farm system

PITTSBURGH -- When the Pirates ended the 2006 season at 65-97 for the second straight year, all eyes were on the future, both literally and figuratively.

This is the time of the year when that record returns to once again mean something. It may not be a stat that anyone likes to bring up, but you won't hear any complaints about the consolation prize that comes with such a frustrating season -- the fourth overall selection in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft.

Now that record, which had the team ready to think about the club's future the day the 2006 season ended, can help build it.

It will be the second straight year the club will pick fourth after two straight years of having the 11th overall selection.

MLB.com will broadcast every pick of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, which takes place June 7-8 at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando. Day 1 coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET with a simulcast of ESPN2's broadcast of the first round and compensation picks. Video coverage of the remaining rounds on Day 1 will air at MLB.com, with live interviews and analysis from Orlando by Casey Stern, Jonathan Mayo and Perfect Game USA's Dave Rawnsley. Day 2 of the Draft will get under way at 11:30 a.m. ET and continue through Round 50, if necessary. Every pick on Day 2 can be heard live at MLB.com with analysis from Mayo and Perfect Game USA's Allan Simpson.

Also once again this year, fans can follow every pick with MLB.com's live Draft Tracker, a searchable database of every Draft eligible player featuring biographical data, statistics, scouting reports and rare scouting video.

The common theme for the Pirates during draft time over the past few years has been to go after college pitchers. The club has taken the approach of drafting college players more often than high schoolers, hopeful that this would allow its prospects to move through the rungs of the Minor Leagues quicker.

Even with the plethora of pitchers the Pirates have in their Minor League system, don't expect Pittsburgh to shy away from drafting another top arm if there is one available.

Right now, the club's top pitching prospects at Triple-A Indianapolis -- John Van Benschoten, Sean Burnett and Bryan Bullington -- will all be at least 25 years old by the end of the season. If the Pirates were to draft a high school pitcher, they would have the luxury of having a young player who could spend more time in the Minor Leagues without having to worry about using up some of his prime years.

While Andrew McCutchen remains the hottest outfield prospect in the organization, it also wouldn't hurt the Pirates to go after a power-hitting outfielder who could follow McCutchen up through the organization. Right now the only Pittsburgh outfielder signed beyond this season is Jason Bay, meaning the makeup of the Pirates outfield in the near future may be conducive to another young prospect.

Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield said the Pirates haven't targeted a specific area of need to address in this draft, but that they do currently have their eye on eight to 10 players as potential choices for their first selection.

Because Pittsburgh often can't compete with the big spenders in the free agent market, the ability to draft and foster talent through the Minor League system becomes that much more important for the team. The current Pirates rotation is perfect evidence of this approach. Four of Pittsburgh's five starters are pitchers that the Pirates selected in the First-Year Player Draft.

2006: Brad Lincoln, RHP, fourth pick overall: Lincoln was the only member of the 2006 Pirates draft class who received an invitation to Spring Training this year. Unfortunately for Lincoln, he didn't have much of a chance to show off his 97-mph fastball and his wicked curveball. The 22-year-old started feeling some soreness in his right elbow after pitching in the Pirates' instructional league. In early April, he underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery. The University of Houston product will miss all of the 2007 season after pitching 127 2/3 innings for Houston last year. He made four starts for Single-A Hickory last season and finished 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA.

2005: Andrew McCutchen, OF, 11th pick overall: McCutchen has hit a small roadblock in what was expected to be a quick move up the tiers of the Pirates Minor League system. After McCutchen became the youngest player to ever make the Double-A Altoona roster when he joined the team at the end of last season, McCutchen has struggled there through the first two months of this season. Through his first 44 games, McCutchen has hit .199 and has 41 strikeouts to only 33 hits. However, the highly touted outfielder with exceptional raw power showed why he remains one of Pittsburgh's most intriguing prospects in the organization when he hit .308 for Altoona in 20 games last season.

2004: Neil Walker, 3B, 11th overall: Walker entered the season as the second-ranked prospect in the Pirates farm system and is putting together a solid season at Altoona. The Pittsburgh native has shown that he can hit for average and power and has played healthy all season after battling injury problems with his wrist early on in his Minor League career. Because the Pirates have arguably more depth at catcher than at any other position, the team moved Walker to third during Spring Training this year. Walker may be ready to make the move up to Triple-A Indianapolis later this season and is expected to be a threat in the Pirates lineup in the future. Walker has hit .280 with 20 RBIs through Altoona's first 43 games this season.

Rising Fast: It has been less than three years since the Pirates drafted shortstop Brian Bixler in the second round of the First-Year Player Draft, but Bixler has already made a name for himself within the organization. Bixler had a fantastic Spring Training showing as a non-roster invitee and made a push for the Pirates' Opening Day roster. The 24-year-old infielder hasn't slowed down since joining Triple-A Indianapolis to start the season. Bixler, the 52nd overall pick in 2004, has hit .338 through 42 games for the Indians after batting over.300 in both Class A Lynchburg and Altoona last year. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Bixler join the Pirates in September -- if not sooner -- if he continues to tear up Triple-A pitching.

Cinderella Story: When Jason Delaney finished a full Minor League season with a .300 average at Class A Hickory in 2006, the Pirates had to have been pleasantly surprised with their 12th-round selection in 2005. But even the most optimistic of predictions before this season couldn't have forecast the type of offensive season Delaney would have for Lynchburg this year. The 24-year-old Boston College product carried a .368 average and a .558 slugging percentage through the Hillcats' first 43 games.

In the Show: None of Pittsburgh's selections from the past three drafts has made it to the big league club.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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