Draft's fourth pick gives Bucs options

Draft's fourth pick gives Bucs options

ATLANTA -- On the eve of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, it remains unknown whom the Pirates plan on selecting with their No. 4 overall selection. As of early Monday, indications were that the Pirates' list of potential first-round picks wasn't that short yet. However, it looks like the organization will go one of two ways.

The consensus is that the Draft is heavy in pitching, at the top, but also in the lower levels. The Pirates, who certainly need pitching in their system, could very well use their No. 4 pick to snag a pitcher who looks to be on a fast-track to the Majors.

Former Missouri pitcher Aaron Crow, who was a first-round pick last year, but didn't sign, University of North Carolina's Alex White and Vanderbilt lefty Mike Minor could all fit this mold.

"There are some arms we're doing work on," general manager Neal Huntington said. "But there are not guys that are separating themselves based on the total package."

The other route, and the one that is looking increasingly possible as Tuesday approaches, is for the Pirates to take a position player first and then load up on pitching in the later rounds, as plenty of arms are expected to still be available.

If UNC's Dustin Ackley, widely regarded as the top position player available in the Draft, is somehow still available, the Pirates would likely grab him. If not, keep your eyes on Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez.

"There's also some catching depth this year," said Pirates scouting director Greg Smith. "Last year, it was the corner bats. This year it's the catching. There are some premium guys up there and some depth guys out there."

Sanchez isn't necessarily viewed as a conventional Top 5 pick, but he could be someone the Pirates would be able to sign quickly. And if they don't allot a hefty signing bonus to that first-round pick, the Pirates would have the money available to be even more aggressive in the later rounds.

Huntington has gone to see Sanchez play, and Sanchez has had dinner with members of Pirates management. In 161 games with Boston College, he hit .317 with 49 doubles, 24 homers and 124 RBIs.

But while it's still murky as to who sits atop the Pirates' Draft board, there are some certainties. Most notably, the Pirates have reiterated their continued commitment to allotting significant dollars for signing bonuses.

With the approval of owner Bob Nutting, Pirates management more than doubled the amount it paid in signing bonuses from 2007 to '08. Last year was the first Draft headed by Smith, Huntington and president Frank Coonelly.

After using about $4.5 million for signing bonuses in 2007, the Pirates doled out nearly $10 million for 32 players in '08. That was the fourth-highest total paid out by any of the 30 Major League teams. Pittsburgh will have at least that much at its disposal this summer.

"We have plenty of budget to be aggressive in the Draft," Huntington said. "We could have spent more last year. We didn't stop spending because we ran out of money. We stopped spending because we got to the point where what was being asked and what we felt was the right money to give weren't matching up. We're not going to blindly meet demands just because we have money."

Last year, Nutting even approved an additional increase late as the Pirates tried to sign second-round pick Tanner Scheppers. As it turns out, Scheppers, who had dropped in stock because of an arm injury, wanted more money than the Pirates felt he was worth and therefore never signed. Still, the money was there and it will be there this year, even with the economy slumping and despite the fact that this Draft is widely perceived as lacking in as much premier talent as was there a year ago.

"The Draft remains critical to our building plans," Coonelly say. "Therefore, it is budgeted the same as it was last year. We won't be forced to make decisions because of a lack of funds."

In addition to the sudden increase in money, the Pirates' 2008 Draft ended up being largely defined by the contentious negotiations -- negotiations that were dragged out until near the end of September -- with Pedro Alvarez's agent, Scott Boras.

The drawn-out negotiations, which included grievances filed and words exchanged through the media, will not deter Pittsburgh from taking a Boras client this year. That's a promise that everyone in management has made.

"We will not hesitate to work with any agent," Coonelly said. "And we will take the best players we can."

The Pirates will make four selections in all on Tuesday, which is the first day of the three-day Draft. In addition to that first-round pick, the Pirates will select at No. 49, No. 53 and No. 84.

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