There wasn't previously a clear-cut choice for the top pick, with the Pirates considering as many as five players over the course of the spring. Recently, though, that list had seemingly been whittled down to three: Cole, University of Virginia lefty Danny Hultzen and Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon.
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, at 88-90 mph, and can also be a plus offering at times.
One of the more puzzling things with Cole this spring was that, despite no dropoff in velocity, he was more hittable than he should have been. Cole has gone 6-8 with a 3.31 ERA, including an NCAA Regional loss this past weekend.
Scouts think there are two reasons for the less-stellar results. One was a mechanical flaw in his delivery, in which he was opening up his front side too soon. His release point was right down the middle, meaning his stuff was getting too much of home plate, especially when he tried to come inside to a right-handed hitter. His slider often flattened out, as well. Control wasn't a problem -- he doesn't walk many -- but command within the strike zone was.
The good news is that since there wasn't a drop in velocity, there wasn't a fear of injury, and mechanical flaws can be corrected. Cole has been dominant at times -- he struck out 119 while walking 24 over 114 1/3 innings -- was virtually unhittable for large stretches of his collegiate career. He was unhittable for Team USA, with a 0.72 ERA in 25 innings playing internationally in 2010 and a 1.06 ERA in 34 innings in 2009.
we're no. 1
|2010||Bryce Harper, OF||Nationals|
|2009||Stephen Strasburg, RHP||Nationals|
|2008||Tim Beckham, SS||Rays|
|2007||David Price, LHP||Rays|
|2006||Luke Hochevar, RHP||Royals|
|2005||Justin Upton, SS||D-backs|
|2004||Matthew Bush, SS||Padres|
|2003||Delmon Young, OF||Devil Rays|
|2002||Bryan Bullington, RHP||Pirates|
|2001||Joe Mauer, C||Twins|
|2000||Adrian Gonzalez, 1B||Marlins|
|1999||Josh Hamilton, OF||Devil Rays|
|1998||Pat Burrell, INF||Phillies|
|1997||Matt Anderson, RHP||Tigers|
|1996||Kris Benson, RHP||Pirates|
|1995||Darin Erstad, OF/LHP||Angels|
|1994||Paul Wilson, RHP||Mets|
|1993||Alex Rodriguez, SS||Mariners|
|1992||Phil Nevin, 3B||Astros|
|1991||Brien Taylor, LHP||Yankees|
|1990||Chipper Jones, SS||Braves|
The Southern California product was a first-round selection once before, taken by the Yankees with the 28th overall selection in 2008. His UCLA rotation-mate Trevor Bauer is expected to be taken in the top 10 on Monday as well. Cole is advised by the Scott Boras Corporation, a group that is no stranger to the Pirates. Pedro Alvarez, the No. 2 overall pick in 2008, is represented by Boras, and their contentious negotiations went down to the signing deadline in August of that year. But the Pirates have shown the willingness to take whomever they believed was the top player available and will do so again on Monday night.
Rendon was once thought to be the front-runner for the top pick, but concerns about his shoulder, a dip in his power production and the fact the Pirates have Alvarez at third base may have all contributed to Pittsburgh deciding that Cole was a better fit. Rendon could go as high as No. 2 to the Mariners.
Hultzen pitched his way into consideration for the top spot this spring, being one of the best performers on the mound in the country for one of the best college teams. The left-hander's name has been mentioned all over the top five or so picks and shouldn't have to wait too long to hear his name called.
The last time the Pirates selected No. 1 overall -- in 2002 -- they took Ball State pitcher Bryan Bullington. The right-hander pitched in 26 Major League games -- six of them for the Pirates -- and is currently playing overseas.
Live coverage of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft begins with a one-hour preview show on Monday at 6 p.m. ET on MLB.com and MLB Network, followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Days 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.