Baseball America held an early 2011 draft chat today, touching on a lot of topics pertaining to the top three players in the 2011 draft: Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole, and Matt Purke. While the draft order is not settled yet, the Pittsburgh Pirates have pretty much locked up the number one pick. The Pirates have a magic number of nine, which means that any combination of nine Pirates losses or Seattle Mariners wins will clinch the first overall pick for the Pirates. The Pirates have 16 games remaining, and even if they go 8-8, the only way they wouldn’t get the number one pick is if Seattle also went 0-16 to finish off the year.
Right now the top prospect in the draft is Anthony Rendon. There are concerns with Rendon, who suffered a serious ankle injury for the second straight year. Rendon is said to be recovering well, and should be 100% by the start of the 2011 college season. The BA writers answered a question on whether Rendon is the consensus number one guy, and his upside:
JimY (Ohio): With Rendon’s injury history, how much of a consensus 1st pick is he?ii is he still a no brainer?
Conor Glassey: He’s still the top guy, but I wouldn’t say he’s head and shoulders above everyone like Strasburg & Harper were.
Bill (Philadelphia): Is Ryan Zimmerman a fair comp for Anthony Rendon?
Aaron Fitt: Zimmerman’s a little bigger than Rendon, but yes, I think that’s the kind of player he can be. Premium defender who can hit for average and power–a cornerstone player.
In regards to Rendon not being the top pick, and not being like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, I agree. It’s easy to get lost in the hype machine with the consensus number one picks over the last two years and put Rendon in the same picture. Rendon is more like Pedro Alvarez was in the 2008 draft. He’s the top prospect, but there are people close to him in talent, just like the 2008 draft with Buster Posey and Justin Smoak.
As for the comparison, it shows why Rendon is the top pick. I’ve seen Rendon compared to guys like Zimmerman and Evan Longoria before. The reason you see so many Pirates fans tracking the status of the number one pick is due to Rendon’s potential. If Rendon lives up to his potential, he could move Pedro Alvarez over to first base, possibly as soon as June 2013, giving the Pirates a very special lineup with Rendon and Alvarez hitting behind Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, and Neil Walker.
The two closest prospects to Rendon are pitchers Gerrit Cole and Matt Purke. Cole, a right hander, was drafted in the first round of the 2008 draft with the 28th overall pick by the New York Yankees. Purke, a left hander, was drafted by the Texas Rangers last year with the 14th overall pick, and is a sophomore eligible draft prospect this year. This question was answered about their potential:
Toby (Bronx): Are there any potential #1 starters in this crop?
Aaron Fitt: Toby, there are a few college arms with a legit chance. Gerrit Cole’s stuff is as loud as anybody’s in the big leagues — it’s in the Strasburg neighborhood. Now, the reason Strasburg is special is because he has impeccable command to go with the stuff, and Cole isn’t there yet. But his command and feel for pitching has come a long way, and there’s no question he has No. 1 starter upside, if he continues to develop at this rate. I’m also very high on TCU’s Matt Purke and Texas’ Taylor Jungmann—I’d feel pretty comfortable projecting both those guys as No. 2 starters in the big leagues, with a chance to develop into No. 1s if everything breaks right.
Cole has the top of the rotation stuff, but has always had control issues. Those issues improved some last year, as Cole improved slightly from a 4.0 BB/9 to a 3.8 BB/9 ratio. Purke is a hard thrower for a left hander, and might have better control and command, with a 2.6 BB/9 ratio in 116.1 innings during his freshman year. John Manuel had something interesting to say about Purke in the chat:
Aaron Bailey (Kansas City, Mo): I heared that Matthew Purke will be sophomore-elible; since he spruned the draft after high school, is he likely to sign as a sophomore?
John Manuel: He is eligible, you heared right, and he is very likely to sign. Look, he wanted to sign out of high school, but the Rangers’ financial situation didn’t really allow it to happen, that’s a kind way of putting it. It worked out so far for Purke, he had an amazing freshman season, went to Omaha and he’s stayed healthy so far. He’s a prime candidate to go in the first 5 picks in 2011. As an LHP, I could see him going No. 1 to the Pirates if he has a big spring.
I really can’t see Purke going to the Pirates at all if Rendon ends up being healthy. I’m not against taking a pitcher, as I lobbied for Jameson Taillon pretty much from day one in the 2010 draft. However, that’s when there’s no college hitters like Rendon available. A college hitter like Rendon is typically the safest bet in the draft to reach his potential. The only way I would take Purke or Cole is if Rendon wasn’t healthy, and even then I’m not sure I wouldn’t take Rendon.
The last thing you want to do is make a short term judgement call on a long term decision like the draft. The Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 passed on Pedro Alvarez to go with Tim Beckham. Maybe that was due to Alvarez’s hammate bone injury at the time. Maybe that was because of Evan Longoria being the long term third baseman in Tampa Bay, and the lack of a shortstop option. Neither was reason for the Rays to pass on Alvarez, as you don’t draft based on need, and you shouldn’t draft based on an injury that could only impact the short term.
The Pirates have a need at pitching, but they’ve addressed that need already through the draft. They have four guys in Altoona who could potentially crack the rotation by June 2011. They have three young pitchers with a ton of upside in Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie, and Luis Heredia. They also have a ton of pitching prospects in the lower levels, like Zach Von Rosenberg and Colton Cain. The need at the major league level may be pitching, but that’s no reason to pass up a hitter like Rendon to try and address that need. If Rendon is anywhere close to healthy, with no long term effects on his ankle, then he should be the pick, even if he’s not head and shoulders above everyone else like Harper and Strasburg were.