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Pirates 2002 Draft Overview

By Allan Simpson
May 17, 2002

Scouting Director: Ed Creech (first year: 2002).

2000 Draft (First three rounds, picking 19th)
1. Sean Burnett, lhp, Wellington (Fla.) Community HS.
2. David Beigh, rhp, Harrison HS, Battle Ground, Ind.
3. Chris Young, rhp, Princeton.

2001 Draft (First three rounds, picking eighth)
1. John VanBenschoten, rhp, Kent State.
2. (Choice to Braves as compensation for free agent Terry Mulholland).
3. *Jeremy Guthrie, rhp, Stanford.
(*Did not sign.)

2002 Draft
Pirates pick first in rotation.

Overview
When Pittsburgh took Clemson righthander Kris Benson with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 draft, it was a jumpstart for a five-year rebuilding plan that would culminate in a contending club as the Pirates moved into PNC Park in 2001.

Instead, the Pirates bottomed out with a 62-100 record--their ninth straight season without a winning record. The worst record in the National League has them drafting first again in June. The hope again is that the pick will be a catalyst for better times for one of the game's oldest franchises.

Last year's disappointment resulted in a front-office makeover, with former Marlins assistant general manager David Littlefield replacing Cam Bonifay as GM last July. Littlefield, who has an extensive scouting background, cleaned house. Mickey White, who had overseen three fruitful drafts as scouting director, was reassigned and then left the organization. Ed Creech, the scouting director for the Expos when Littlefield was a national crosschecker, took White's place in November.

With the No. 1 pick looming, Littlefield wanted someone with experience and someone he knew to oversee the selection process. Between his stint with the Expos (1994-97) and his appointment by the Pirates, Creech also served as scouting director for the Cardinals (1998) and Dodgers (1999-2001). His most noteworthy pick was outfielder J.D. Drew with the Cardinals in 1998.

Though Littlefield's decision makes sense, it's hard to criticize the drafts of White, who took Florida high school teammates Bobby Bradley and Sean Burnett with first-round picks in 1999 and 2000 and John VanBenschoten with the team's top pick last year. White surprised many in the industry by drafting VanBenschoten, who led NCAA Division I in home runs last year, as a pitcher, impressed by his 95 mph fastball. He was vindicated when a new development staff also saw more upside for VanBenschoten on the mound this spring.

Similar decisions with two-way players in 1997 (J.J. Davis) and 1998 (Clint Johnston) did not work out, though. Former scouting director Leland Maddux took Davis as a position player despite a mid-90s fastball. Johnston was a .400 hitter in college, but the Pirates made him a pitcher. Both players have flopped, no small reason why the Pirates' rebuilding efforts stalled.

In eight drafts as a scouting director, Creech has gone for a high school player with six of his first-round picks. High school players have the greatest appeal this year, with shortstop B.J. Upton and lefthander Adam Loewen on Pittsburgh's short list. College righthander Bryan Bullington and lefthander Joe Saunders also were under consideration.

Creech is said to prefer Upton, while Littlefield prefers a college pitcher who could provide help in the big leagues faster. Ownership also apparently prefers a college player, thinking that would be a cheaper route. Three weeks before the draft, Bullington was the favorite over Upton for the pick.

The Pirates cited the need for immediate help when they went for college players with the No. 1 pick in 1986 (Arkansas third baseman Jeff King) and 1996 (Benson). With fans impatient for a winner in Pittsburgh, they can't afford to miss with this pick.

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