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Bucs Stick With College Arms

June 3, 2003
By John Perrotto

PITTSBURGH--The debate has raged within the industry in recent seasons when it comes to the draft.

Should teams draft college players, who are more polished and get to the major leagues sooner? Or should they draft high school players, whose skills are rawer but age gives them a higher upside?

That debate crystallized in the Pirates' draft room Tuesday afternoon as the two players they liked the most were still available when it came time to make their first-round pick, the eighth overall. In the end, the Pirates decided to go with the more advanced player.

The Pirates selected lefthander Paul Maholm from Mississippi State. They chose Maholm, even though righthander Jeff Allison of Veterans Memorial High in Peabody, Mass., was still on the board and considered to have the best arm in the draft.

The fact that Maholm has pitched in the high-profile Southeastern Conference swung the decision his way.

"We felt very strongly that Paul had a lot of things working in his favor," Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield said. "He has certainly pitched against very advanced competition in one of the premier conferences in the country.

"He has pitched in big games with a lot of attention and in front of crowds of 10,000 in Starkville (Miss.). He has pitched well in those situations, kept his composure quite well and really achieved. That's impressive."

Maholm went 9-2, 2.76 in 15 games this season as Mississippi State went 42-20 and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Maholm also earned first-team All-SEC honors.

The 6-foot-3, 214-pounder has a 27-10, 3.55 career record for the Bulldogs in 46 games, 44 starts.

"I like the direction he throws the ball, you always like a lefthander," Pirates scouting director Ed Creech said with a smile. "He has been a very solid pitcher for three years at Mississippi State. He has been very consistent and he has a good variety of pitches. He knows how to pitch and we feel he should be able to make an easy adjustment into professional baseball."

Maholm has a sinking fastball that reaches 92 mph along with a curveball, slider and changeup.0

"I don't know if you would say one pitch is his best pitch," Creech said. "He can throw all four of them for strikes. He really has the command of all four of them."

When pressed, Maholm admitted his slider is probably ahead of the other three pitches.

"If I really need an out, that's probably the pitch I'd go to," Maholm said. "I have confidence in all my pitches, though."

Maholm grew up as an Atlanta fan and idolized former Braves lefthander Tom Glavine, who now pitches for the New York Mets.

"I remember all the way back to when he was a rookie," Maholm said. "I wouldn't say I'm the same type of pitcher he is but I have always tried to carry myself like him and have the same kind of mound presence."

From a physical standpoint, Maholm draws comparisons to Minnesota Twins lefty Eric Milton, who has thrown a no-hitter and pitched in an all-star game.

"Eric Milton has had a good career, I'd take following in his footsteps," Maholm said.

Maholm actually could have been teammates with Milton. Minnesota selected him in the 17th round of the 2000 draft from Germantown (Tenn.) High School.

Maholm and the Twins negotiated all summer and reached a tentative deal the night before the fall semester started at Mississippi State. However, Maholm decided to go to college, and the Twins lost their chance to sign him as soon as he attended his first class.

"I didn't get a wink of sleep the night, and that's when I knew that I wasn't comfortable going into professional baseball," Maholm said. "It was a tough decision because I left money on the table when I didn't sign.

"I know now, though, that I made the right choice. I'm much more mature and I'm a better pitcher for having gone to Mississippi State the last three years."

Maholm, though, is ready to step into professional baseball now.

"Hopefully, we'll get a contract done soon and I'll be ready to go," he said. "I think the Pirates are a great situation for me. They don't have any lefthanded pitchers in their major league rotation. I think there is going to be opportunity for me."

The Pirates are unsure where Maholm will begin his professional career. A most likely destination, though, is short-season Williamsport.

The Pirates have taken a pitcher in the first round in each of the past six seasons. In fact, their last three first-rounders--lefthander Sean Burnett (2000) and righthanders John VanBenschoten (2001) and Bryan Bullington (2002) are considered the three best prospects in the Pirates' farm system.

"Ideally, we would have liked to have picked an advanced hitter who was close to the major leagues, but there was nobody there we liked as well as Maholm," Littlefield said. "It has been my experience that you can never have too much pitching, so feel good to bring someone like him into the organization.

"Our No. 1 priority is the major league club and we feel, of the people there when we picked, that Paul has the chance to help our major league club more than anyone else that was left."

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