NEW YORK (AP) - There was no question at No. 1 in the last two baseball drafts.
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.”
“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.
“Supposedly it’s a deep draft, should be a deep draft,” said Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin, whose team picks 12th and 15th overall. “There’s a lot of good college pitchers early in the draft. It depends on if they drop. Their signability is going to be important.”
Meanwhile, Bundy is considered the best high school pitcher available. The 6-foot-1 righty out of Owassa High School went 11-0 with 158 strikeouts in only 71 innings. He could be there at No. 6, when Washington makes the first of its two first-round selections.
“It’s hard to have that impactful a draft without those first picks like the last couple of years, but we feel we’re going to get an impactful guy at No. 6 and we think at 23,” Rizzo said. “That’s really a strong pick.”
Arizona has the third selection, as well as the seventh _ a result of not signing Barret Loux, their top selection last year. Baltimore picks fourth and Kansas City will go fifth.
Tampa Bay has a plethora of picks this year, getting 10 of the first 60 selections and 12 of the first 89 _ mostly as compensation for losing top free agents such as Carl Crawford and Rafael Soriano last offseason.
“Obviously, the more arrows you have, the more likely you are to hit the bullseye,” said Andrew Friedman, the Rays’ executive vice president of baseball operations. “It’s great to have this many picks. In large part because of the failure rate, it gives us more of a chance to get guys that can impact a major league game.”
Friedman said the focus will still be on taking the guys they deem as the best available, and insist they’ve already considered the issue of signability.
“This is something that didn’t just sneak up on us,” he said. “We anticipated being in this position. It’s something we prepared for.”
Other players expected to go early in the three-day draft include: Florida high school shortstop Francisco Lindor, Kansas high school outfielder Bubba Starling and Tennessee high school lefty Daniel Norris.
There are also a handful of right-handers expected to hear their names called in the first round: Vanderbilt’s Sonny Gray, Texas’ Taylor Jungmann and high school hurlers Archie Bradley from Oklahoma and Taylor Guerrieri from South Carolina.
“It’s about getting the best player,” Melvin said, “and doing your homework.”
AP Sports Writers Tim Booth in Seattle, Colin Fly in Milwaukee and Fred Goodall in Tampa, Fla., and AP freelance writers Chris Adamski in Pittsburgh and Rich Dubroff in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.