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Pirates take Bullington first

By Josh Boyd and Jim Callis
June 4, 2002

bullington
Bryan Bullington
Photo: Stan Denny
The first round of the 2002 draft—which many scouting directors expected to be one of the most unpredictable ever—kicked off as expected with the Pirates announcing Ball State's Bryan Bullington as the No. 1 overall pick.

It became apparent the 6-foot-5 righthander soared to the top of Pittsburgh’s short list during the weeks approaching the draft. He was impressive in workouts in front of GM Dave Littlefield and scouting director Ed Creech.

The Pirates weren't able to get Bullington and his advisers, IMG, to agree to a predraft deal worth $4 million, and reportedly shopped the same bonus to Virginia high school shortstop B.J. Upton and Canadian prep lefthander Adam Loewen. They then decided to take Bullington without a deal in place and don’t anticipate any major stumbling blocks in the negotiating process.

Last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Minnesota high school catcher Joe Mauer, received $5.15 million from his hometown Twins, though he had the additional leverage of being a Florida State quarterback recruit. Bullington isn’t expected to command the same money.

Until he heard his name called first on MLB.com’s Internet broadcast of the draft, Bullington said he wasn’t certain he was Pittsburgh’s guy.

"I heard it when everyone else did," Bullington said from him home in Fishers, Ind., where a group of 25 family members and friends was celebrating his selection. "I had heard I was in their top three for the last couple of days, but that was it."

Bullington said he hadn’t really thought about details such as bonus parameters or where he might hope to start his major league career. He described his emotions as a sense of relief.

"You build up to this over the last few days," he said. "Everything you think about, everything you talk about is the draft. I’m was just glad that it happened."

The rest of the top 10 unfolded mostly according to plan, though Texas high school lefthander Scott Kazmir's name was notably absent. The Devil Rays selected Upton, the top position player available, with the second pick. The Reds were split on Kazmir and California prep righthander Chris Gruler, both of whom worked out at Cinergy Field over the weekend.

But the Reds never talked money with Kazmir, apparently using him to leverage Gruler into signing for a $2.5 million bonus, an agreement that was announced Tuesday evening. That was still a good deal for Gruler, who likely would have gotten slightly less had the Reds not taken him and he had fallen to the seventh or eighth pick.

After the Reds passed, the next team that might have been willing to give Kazmir more money than recommended for their draft slot was the Rangers at No. 10. But their owner, Tom Hicks, has made a public announcement of belt-tightening and the club passed on Kazmir as well as Scott Boras-advised college righthanders Jeremy Guthrie (Stanford) and Bobby Brownlie (Rutgers) to take South Carolina shortstop Drew Meyer, a much less costly pick.

The next obvious destination for Kazmir was the Mets, who pounced on him at No. 15. That made Houston’s Cypress Falls the fourth high school ever to produce two first-round picks in a single draft, as righthander Clint Everts went fifth to the Expos.

While the next seven picks after Bullington were high school prospects, the focus for the remainder of the first round shifted to the college ranks. The Angels and Padres, who were both linked with San Diego high school lefthander Cole Hamels throughout the spring, selected Virginia Tech lefthander Joe Saunders and Clemson shortstop Khalil Greene, respectively. Hamels was regarded as one of the most talented prospects available, but teams took a cautious approach because he broke the humerus bone in his pitching arm as a sophomore. Phillies doctors cleared Hamels, and the team popped him with the 17th pick.

Kazmir wasn’t the only top prospect to slide because of perceived signability concerns. Brownlie, who was hampered by biceps tendinitis and didn’t pitch well for Rutgers down the stretch, lasted until the Cubs took him at No. 21, while Guthrie went one pick later to the Indians. Both are believed to be seeking bonuses in the $4 million to $5 million range. Missouri high school outfielder John Mayberry Jr., who’s strongly committed to Stanford, didn’t come off the board until the Mariners selected him 28th.

That group fared better than Boras clients Jeff Baker and Jason Neighborgall. Baker, the Clemson third baseman at one point considered the top college position player in the draft, went in the fourth round to the Rockies. Neighborgall, a North Carolina high school righthander who has one of the strongest arms and best curveballs in the draft, went to the Red Sox in the seventh round. Reports that each wants bonuses around $4 million have circulated throughout the scouting community. Several other Boras-advised players dropped even further.

Mayberry and the first of Oakland’s four first-round picks, Ohio State outfielder Nick Swisher at No. 16, are the sons of former first-round picks. John Mayberry (1967, Astros) and Steve Swisher (1973, White Sox) both became big league all-stars. So did Cecil Fielder, the father of Florida high school first baseman Prince Fielder, who went seventh to the Brewers.

There were no true surprise first-round picks. Tennessee high school righthander Matthew Cain (Giants, No. 25) and Maryland shortstop John McCurdy (Athletics, No. 26) received less predraft play than other first-rounders, but both were considered possible sandwich-round targets.

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