- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - There was no question at No. 1 in the last two baseball drafts.

The Washington Nationals _ and pretty much everyone else _ knew for weeks that they would likely take fireballing righty Stephen Strasburg in 2009 and powerful slugger Bryce Harper a year ago.

Well, it’s the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ turn with the first overall pick Monday night, and they don’t have it as easy. That’s not to say they don’t have plenty of options, but none quite as clear cut as Strasburg and Harper were.

“Publicly,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said, “it’ll absolutely come down to 2 minutes before the draft.”

While Strasburg and Harper were hyped as probable No. 1 picks for months, several players have taken turns at the top of mock drafts this year.

“I would rate this draft as without an elite No. 1, I would say it’s safe to assume,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said, “but it’s probably as deep a draft with power arms and impact-type players as I’ve been around the last five or six drafts.”

When commissioner Bud Selig steps to the podium at the draft site at the MLB Network studios in Secaucus, N.J., he might say UCLA right-hander Gerrit Cole’s name first. Or, maybe Rice slugging third baseman Anthony Rendon. Perhaps it will be Virginia lefty Danny Hultzen, or Oklahoma high school righty Dylan Bundy.

“There’s a cluster of pitchers that have above-average stuff,” Rizzo said. “There’s several pitchers that throw 95-100 in this draft. That’s hard to say in the last couple of drafts.”

This will mark the first time the Pirates have the No. 1 pick since they took right-hander Bryan Bullington out of Ball State in 2002. Regardless of who they take, the Seattle Mariners know they’ll get an outstanding player one pick later.

“It’s a good year,” said Tom McNamara, Seattle’s director of amateur scouting. “I know a lot of scouting directors don’t say that; they say it’s a down year, but it’s a good year this year. There are a lot of good players. We’re pretty excited about bringing the right player to this franchise.”

That could be Cole, who has put up mediocre numbers during his junior season _ 6-8, 3.31 ERA _ but has what many consider to be the best pure stuff in draft. He was a first-round pick of the New York Yankees in 2008, but refused to even listen to an offer and instead attended UCLA.

If the Pirates take him, Seattle might instead go with Rendon. The slick-fielding third baseman has been hampered by teams pitching around him, and a strained shoulder that limited him to mostly DH duties. But he might be the best all-around hitter in the draft.

“We’ve seen Anthony play a lot of third base,” McNamara said. “We’re comfortable with what we’ve seen.”

Hultzen is a two-time ACC pitcher of year and Virginia’s career leader in victories and strikeouts. He has also been impressive at the plate, but is looked at as a future ace on mound.

Trevor Bauer, Cole’s teammate, was the Pac-10 pitcher of the year and is 13-2 with a 1.25 ERA and a Division I-leading 203 strikeouts. He set school records for wins, strikeouts and innings pitched.

Story Continues →