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When I was reading our scouting reports on players before the Under Armour All-America Game, one guy who jumped out at me that I hadn't heard much about previously was third baseman Nick Castellanos (Archbishop McCarthy HS, Southwest Ranches, Fla.). The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder didn't disappoint in the game, winning MVP honors for the Baseball Factory team after going 4-for-4 with four doubles, a walk and a steal. He also looked smooth at the hot corner as well.

I'm not ready to put him in the same class as righthanders Jameson Taillon (The Woodlands, Texas, HS) or A.J. Cole (Oviedo, Fla., HS). But Sunday at Wrigley Field, Castellanos sure looked like a 2010 first-rounder to me.

Update for Aug. 17: There won't be an Ask BA on the day of the signing deadline because I'll be too busy tracking deals. But I have been answering lots of questions in the Comments sections of our Draft Blog. So try me there!

    With the recent signings of Zack Von Rosenberg, Colton Cain, Zack Dodson and Trent Stevenson, how much does that change your opinion on the Pirates' draft this year? Also who do you like more, Tony Sanchez or Von Rosenberg?

    John Bruni
    Pittsburgh

    What do you think of the Pirates' draft now that they have managed to sign all of those prep pitchers generally thought headed to college? They have signed their top nine picks, including Zack Von Rosenberg, Colton Cain, Brooks Pounders, Zack Dodson and Trent Stevenson. And while they did reach for Tony Sanchez with the No. 4 overall pick, he did sign quickly for a discount and has been playing well all summer. Did they get enough potential impact talent for the money they spent?

    Ian Leyda
    Pittsburgh

After ranking fourth in baseball by spending $9,780,500 on draft bonuses in 2008, the Pirates are at it again. Pittsburgh started by signing seventh-rounder Stevenson for $350,000 in late July. That bonus was $200,000 over MLB's maximum recommendation for picks after the fifth round, making it easily the biggest over-slot deal at the time.

But the Pirates were just getting started. In the last three days, they have handed out the two biggest deals after the first round ($1.2 million to sixth-rounder Von Rosenberg and $1.125 million to eighth-rounder Cain) and also signed fourth-rounder Dodson for $600,000 (more than double MLB's $261,000 recommendation).

Kudos to the Pirates. Small-revenue clubs can't compete with big-revenue teams for big league free agents, so they have to build aggressively through the draft, and that's exactly what Pittsburgh has done in its first two drafts under GM Neal Huntington and scouting director Greg Smith. Some teams considered Von Rosenberg and Cain borderline first-round talents, and the Pirates were able to land them because they were willing to spend. Pounders (a second-rounder), Dodson and Stevenson also rank on the system's short list of top pitching prospects.

I'd take Sanchez over Von Rosenberg, but it's close. Though Sanchez is off to a .321/.430/.500 start through 28 pro games, I still think the Pirates could have done better with the No. 4 overall pick. He's a quality defender but I heard too many scouts question his bat before the draft.

If it were my call, I would have spent what it took to sign the best player on the board, which would have been a high school pitcher such as Tyler Matzek or Jacob Turner. If my ownership wasn't willing to do that and wanted to limit my spending to the $2.5 million bonus Pittsburgh gave Sanchez, I would have taken someone like Fort Worth Cats righthander Aaron Crow, North Carolina righty Alex White or Southern California shortstop Grant Green. They may have made noise about wanting more than $2.5 million, but would they really re-entered the draft in the end?

That said, Sanchez is hitting well for now and the most important thing is the Pirates have signed more than their share of talent. That's exactly what a team that hasn't had a winning season since 1992 should be doing.

    With all the noise about how the office of His Excellency Allan has held off on approving over-slot contracts in an effort to try to de-escalate other signing bonuses, I can't help but notice that, like ever-so-many of Bud Selig's greatest ideas, this one seems to be both foolish and ineffectual. It looks like we'll have just as many over-slot deals this year as last, that more guys in later rounds are getting top-end money, and that the only major accomplishment Selig can claim is that he has ruined teams' opportunity to get some good player-development work in with their most talented selections. Can you explain how the best-known used car salesman in the world thought this was going to play out, and why nobody from any club's front office has stood up and pointed out that the Emperor has no clue?

    David Jay
    Hartford, Conn.

If David sounds angry, well, he's not alone. Agents obviously despise MLB leaning on clubs to stick to its bonus recommendations, and the teams hate it nearly as much. They just don't speak out publicly because it will make trying to sign players for more than MLB wants even more difficult.

When the rules changed in 2007, instituting a signing deadline and giving clubs better compensation for unsigned picks in the first three rounds, MLB believed it was handing teams extra leverage over the players. But as I wrote several times, including here, there was no extra leverage because teams want to sign their premium draft picks. Agents know and teams acknowledge that the longer a draftee is willing to wait, the more money he'll get paid.

The commissioner's office cut its slot recommendations by 10 percent in 2007, and bonuses still went up. MLB took more of a hands-off approach last year so that a few high-spending teams wouldn't hoard a disproportionate share of talent, and the industry spent a record $188.3 million on draft bonuses. Now the commissioner's office has slashed slots by 10 percent again, with little noticeable affect.

MLB needs to realize that slotting has accomplished all it can as a policy rather than as a rule. First-round bonuses rose by an average of 23.3 percent in the 1990s, compared to 3.9 percent this decade after the commissioner's office started slotting in 2000. Unless a hard slotting system comes into play in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, MLB isn't going to be able to control every bonus. By trying to do so, it drives a disproportionate share of talent to the clubs that are willing to pay for it.

    What do you know about Padres lefthander Juan Oramas? He's on loan to the Mexican League and nearly won the ERA title as a 19-year-old. If he had pulled it off, he would have been the first Mexico City pitcher to lead the league in ERA in more than four decades. He had a 2.31 ERA, despite pitching his home games at an altitude far above that of Coors Field, and struck out 89 in 90 innings. He was exceptional in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League last year, but he's also just 5-foot-10. How good of a prospect is he? And how would you rate the level of Mexican League play? It's listed as a Triple-A league, but I've always been skeptical of that.

    Rob Dorsey
    Silver Spring, Md.

Oramas signed out of Mexico in November 2006 and spent his first two pro seasons in the DSL, going 5-5, 2.43 with 133 strikeouts in 107 innings. He doesn't have a classic body at 5-foot-10 and 215 pounds, but he has a precocious feel for pitching. He does an excellent job of changing speeds and working all the corners of the strike zone. His fastball has gained velocity each year and now sits at 88-90 mph, and he also throws an average curveball and a work-in-progress changeup.

In terms of quality of play, the Mexican League resembles independent league more than Triple-A ball. It's not loaded with major league prospects but it does provide a stern test for a younger player.

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