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Pirates Draft Report

By John Perrotto
June 4, 2002

PITTSBURGH--Bryan Bullington spent the weekend and most of Monday surfing the Web, looking for morsels of information about the draft.

The standout righthander from Ball State, who won the last two Mid-American Conference pitcher of the year awards, knew he had a chance to be the No. 1 pick in the draft. He also knew the Pirates might take shortstop B.J. Upton or lefthander Adam Loewen.

"I had talked to the Pirates and knew I was being considered," Bullington said. "But they never gave me any kind of confirmation that I was going to be the player they chose. I'd read that I was going to be the first pick and I'd also read that maybe I wasn't. I didn't know what the Pirates were going to do any more than anyone else."

Finally, Bullington got the news as he listened to the draft online through MLB Radio. The 21-year-old was the Pirates' choice, a decision they reached late Monday afternoon but kept quiet until draft time.

"It was really a thrill," Bullington said. "You think about what it would be like to be that top pick. But when you finally get that news, the feeling really comes over you that is hard to describe. It's a great feeling and a great honor."

The 6-foot-5, 225-pounder went 11-3, 2.84 with Ball State this year. He worked 105 innings, allowing 88 hits and only 18 walks while striking out 139. In his three years with the Cardinals, Bullington has a 29-11, 3.36 record.

The Pirates reportedly offered a $4 million bonus to Bullington, then Upton and Loewen in the days leading up to the draft. They were rejected by all three.

Bullington was said to be seeking $6 million after last year's No. 1 pick, high school catcher Joe Mauer, got a $5.15 million bonus. Later reports had Bullington coming off that figure. Neither Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield nor Bullington had much to say about the negotiations Tuesday.

"If we didn't feel we could sign him, we wouldn't have used the No. 1 pick in the entire draft on him," Littlefield said.

"We haven't really talked all that much yet," Bullington said. "We'll see what happens, but I'm optimistic we'll work it all out and I'll be a member of the Pirates organization."

The Pirates aren't willing to spend $6 million for Bullington because they project him as a No. 3 starter who will need a few years of minor league experience. They said they are excited about his potential and would like to get him signed quickly.

"His fastball is 90-96 mph, he has an electric slider and a changeup," Littlefield said. "From what we've seen so far, though he will be closer to the major leagues as a college player, there's still some work that needs to be done. We still look as a couple of years away. On the plus side, that may mean he has a higher ceiling and be an even better player than we see now."

"One of the keys is to be realistic. In this draft, there was no single player who jumped out above and beyond everybody else. There wasn't that one guy you could say was going to be a No. 1 starter or a No. 3-hole hitter in the major leagues someday."

If Bullington signs by mid-July, the Pirates will likely assign him to their short-season Williamsport farm club in the New York-Penn League. If he signs later, they will probably shut him down for the summer and have him throw in instructional league.

"We're excited about getting Bryan started into professional baseball," Littlefield said. "We'd love for him to be able to play this season. He is a good-looking young pitcher, but like most pitchers his age, he needs to improve his consistency and quality of his pitches."

The Pirates continued to go with pitchers in the first 10 round of the draft, selecting four more righthanders and one lefthander. They also took a shortstop and three outfielders.

In addition to Bullington, the Pirates took four other players ranked among the top 100 draft prospects by Baseball America in the first five rounds. They selected righthander Blair Johnson of Washburn High in Topeka, Kan., in the second round; shortstop Taber Lee of San Diego State in the third round; righthander Wardell Starling of Elkins High in Missouri City, Texas, in the fourth round; and righthander Alex Hart of Florida in the fifth round.

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