With the 2011 MLB Draft (June 6-8) just a month away, the question still remains: Who will the Pirates take with the first overall pick?
Anthony Rendon (Rice) was the clear-cut favorite after last year's draft concluded. However, ankle and shoulder injuries combined with Gerrit Cole's (UCLA) phenomenal season this year, have had people second guessing. Keith Law from ESPN lists Gerrit Cole as the number one pick in his mock draft and blames Rendon's "poor play" as the reason.
The Pirates have the first pick for the first time since 2002, when they took Bryan Bullington based on his signing ability and passed on names such as Upton, Fielder, Swisher, Hamels, Saunders and Greinke. Pittsburgh will not make the same mistake twice—at least not from a monetary aspect.
Both Rendon and Cole are represented by Scott Boras, a money shark who will jack the prices of both players up after the draft. This year, it simply comes down to who the Pirates project to be more successful and beneficial to their franchise as they try to become a winning ball club in the near future.
On draft day, the first name called in the 2011 MLB Draft should be Anthony Rendon and these are the five reasons why.
Anthony Rendon has been comparable to Ryan Zimmerman for his defense and, when healthy, he's been able to show the scouts why. Last year, Rendon committed just five errors in 185 chances while turning 16 double plays. The year before, his freshman year, he committed 12 errors in 215 chances while turning 20 double plays.
Rendon not only possesses the quick hands, reaction and arm strength to play third base, he is also prideful of how well he handles his defensive responsibilities—a sign of maturation at a young age. Not to mention, if Anthony Rendon stays at third base, he will move Pittsburgh's current third baseman Pedro Alvarez to first, and let Pedro concentrate more on hitting while hiding his lack of range.
While Anthony Rendon has been compared to Ryan Zimmerman with his defense, he has been compared to Evan Longoria for his offense. When watching Rendon hit, the first thing that sticks out is his patience at the plate. He has an excellent feel for the strike zone and is comfortable hitting with two strikes as shown by his high walk, low strikeout numbers.
In his freshman year, Rendon walked 31 times while striking out 23 times. As a sophomore, Rendon walked 65 times while striking out 22 times. In fact, he had more home runs (23) than strikeouts (22). So far this year, Anthony Rendon has already met his walk total from last year with eight regular season games remaining.
Anthony Rendon's walk-rate is a product of two factors: a lack of lineup protection (Jeremy Rathjen, an important piece of Rice University's lineup, suffered a season-ending knee injury) and a tremendous amount of talent with the bat. Although his shoulder injury has cut down Rendon's home run production, he's still batting a team-leading .333 with an OBP of .535 and a SLG of .522.
Anthony Rendon projects to be a .300 hitter with 20-25 home runs. Although his small frame (6'0, 190 lbs) prevents him from hitting 35-40 home runs, he's still a solid three hitter who could set the table for Pedro Alvarez as the cleanup hitter.
If you purchased the 2011 Prospect Handbook from Baseball America, you will see a depth chart on page 352 containing the prospect rankings by position in the Pittsburgh Pirates' minor-league system. You will also see Matt Hague, the only corner infielder listed (29) in the Pirates' top 30 prospect ranking. The Pirates lack depth in both corner infielders and all-around hitters within the system. In fact, 16 of the 30 top prospects are pitchers, of which three of them were acquired last year when the Pirates drafted nine right-handed pitchers in the first 10 rounds.
Although the old saying "you can never have too many pitchers" still rings true, the Pirates are in dire need of hitters. Gerrit Cole, as a right-handed pitcher, is an excellent talent but does not bring anything dynamic to the Pirates. Jameson Taillon, being three years younger, has more upside and has already been slated a future ace to the organization. Rendon would make the Pirates a better team, while Cole would give the Pirates a better rotation.
Pedro Alvarez could use some power protection
It would be realistic to project Anthony Rendon to crack the 2013 lineup. If the core players continue to develop, the 2014 lineup could be deadly for the National League:
Andrew McCutchen .300 AVG 20 HR 40 SB
Jose Tabata .300 AVG 15 HR 25 SB
Anthony Rendon .320 AVG 25 HR 100 RBIs
Pedro Alvarez .260 AVG 35 HR 120 RBIs
Neil Walker .270 AVG 15 HR 70 RBIs
To avoid digressing, this list does not include Starling Marte, a player who is fast enough to move McCutchen to left field. The Pirates' lineup shows a solid balance of speed and power. The power is evened out by the emergence of Rendon's bat in the lineup. With scouts and draft experts stressing Anthony's shoulder injury as being a short-term problem, Rendon's power will return to 20-25 form.
The only downside is that Rendon is a right-handed hitter in a park that strongly favors left-handed hitting. With McCutchen and Tabata hitting in front of Rendon, the Pirates will have plenty of opportunities to start rallies at the top of the lineup.
Washington Nationals' star pitcher Stephen Strasburg
Let's face it, this draft should come down to two players: Anthony Rendon and Gerrit Cole. There are plenty of talented prospects in this draft, but the two aforementioned players are ahead of the pack by a wide margin. So, in comparing all aspects of these players, we need to look at track record of both career history and position history.
Historically, pitchers are more prone to injury than position players simply because of the violent arm action required to pitch. Last year, the Nationals called up pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg was electrifying, setting a Major-League record with the most strikeouts (32) in the first three starts of his career. At one point, he was considered to be a candidate as an All-Star despite making his debut in June.
In July, Strasburg encountered shoulder soreness and was forced to go on the disabled list. He returned in August, only to tear his Ulnar Collateral Ligament in his elbow. Now Strasburg is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and will not be allowed to pitch competitively before September of this year. Gerrit Cole, another fireballing right-handed pitcher, has thrown 83 innings this year and has thrown over 100 pitches in 10 of his 12 starts.
That's a lot of wear and tear.
Although Anthony Rendon has suffered two devastating ankle injuries, he has bounced back and continued to hit well while stealing 10 bases in 14 attempts. Also, when comparing the consistency of both players' college careers, the numbers speak fondly in Rendon's favor.
Despite going 11-4 his sophomore year, Cole had questions about his control. He walked 52 batters in 123 innings with a poor BB-K ratio of 2.9. This year, Cole has lowered his walk total but has raised his batting average against rating to .221—the highest in his college career. His stuff has been excellent, yet he has a hard time getting batters out. If he lacks the ability to dominate at the college level, he'll need a lot of time in the minors to develop into a star pitcher.
Anthony Rendon, no question. Gerrit Cole has too many question marks at a position that is already a high risk. Rendon has been a consistent player in college, showing significant improvement from his freshman year to his sophomore year. His so-called "down year" is attributed to a minor shoulder strain and his lack of protection in the lineup.
Anthony Rendon will be an excellent fit for the Pittsburgh Pirates and with Major League Baseball heading in the direction of a strict bonus slot system, the Pirates will be spend enough to obtain the talented young third baseman.