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Bullington, Pirates reach deal

By John Perrotto
October 30, 2002

Bryan Bullington
Photo: Stan Denny

More than four months of long and sometimes fruitless negotiations came to an end Wednesday. The Pirates finally signed Ball State righthander Bryan Bullington, first overall pick in this June’s draft.

Bullington received a $4 million signing bonus, believed to be basically the same offer the Pirates had been making since draft day. However, the smiles on the faces of the Pirates’ brass and Bullington’s family and agent indicated everyone was glad the situation has been resolved.

"I think everyone is happy because everyone comes out a winner," Pirates scouting director Ed Creech said. "We got the guy we wanted to bring into our organization and he gets the chance to play professional baseball."

While Bullington wound up settling for less than the $5.15 million that last year’s top pick, catcher Joe Mauer, received from the Twins, he broke into a broad grin as he buttoned up a Pirates’ jersey during a press conference at PNC Park.

"This is a big hurdle cleared," Bullington, 22, said. "It’s another step on the way to my ultimate goal and that’s pitching in the major leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates. I couldn’t be happier.

"I always knew this day would come. I never got nervous or anxious when the talks slowed down. When you’re talking about the kind of money a top draft pick gets, the negotiations are going to take time. But it’s over with now and I’m looking forward to getting started with my professional career."

The 6-foot-5, 225-pounder earned Mid-American Conference Pitcher of the Year honors this past spring for a second straight season as he went 11-3, 2.84. He struck out 139 and walked only 18 in 105 innings while setting a conference record for strikeouts and leading the MAC in wins and ERA.

In three years at Ball State, Bullington was 29-11, 3.36 with 13 complete games. He holds the Ball State career record with 357 strikeouts and pitched for USA Baseball’s national team in 2001.

Bullington throws a 96 mph fastball with heavy sink that breaks bats, a sharp slider that ranked as the best among college pitcher eligible for the draft this year and a developing changeup.

"When you look at him, he’s really everything you want as a pitcher," said Duane Gustavson, the Pirates’ area scout in Indiana who first started following Bullington during his freshman year at Ball State. "You could tell when he was a freshman that he was a definite prospect and he has continued to improve since then. He has all the making of an outstanding major-league pitcher."

Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield also has high hopes for Bullington.

"Not only does he have a lot of talent but he is a very solid kid from a very good family," Littlefield said. "We’re extremely pleased to have him. We want to bring in as many talented players as possible into this organization."

Littlefield then paused.

"You look at that baby face of his and you realize he isn’t even close to reaching his full physical maturity yet," Littlefield said with a smile.

Bullington will begin his professional career by participating in the Pirates’ minicamp in Bradenton, Fla., in early January. He will also be a non-roster invitee to the Pirates’ major-league spring training camp in Bradenton in February.

Most likely, the Pirates will start Bullington off with one of their full-season Class A clubs next season, either Hickory in the South Atlantic League or Lynchburg in the more advanced Carolina League.

"I’m really not worried about where I’m going to be at this point, I just want to get my feet wet," Bullington said. "I’m sure the organization will now what is best for me. I’m not putting any kind of timetable on myself as for when I should be at this level or that level."

Littlefield declined to put a timetable on when Bullington might reach the major leagues.

"Bryan will dictate his progress based on how we he performs and develops," Littlefield said. "He is a talented guy, though, and talented guys often speed up their timetables."

Bullington has not pitched since the MAC Tournament in May, eschewing the opportunity to pitch in summer leagues for fear of possibly being injured during the negotiations.

However, Bullington has stayed on a consistent workout regiment since the college season ended. He has been throwing, running and lifting weights.

"I did the things I normally do and feel my arm and body are in as good of shape as ever," Bullington said. "I don’t think laying off playing baseball is going to hurt me at all. I missed the competitive aspect of the game, definitely, but taking time off could be a good thing because it gave my arm some time to rest."

Bullington is looking forward to getting back on a mound next spring. As he looked around PNC Park on Wednesday, he couldn’t help but think what it would be like to pitch in a major-league game.

"I’ve only ever been to Pittsburgh once before, and I was 3-years-old so I don’t remember it," Bullington said with a laugh. "But it looks like a beautiful city and the ballpark is absolutely beautiful, really impressive.

"Hopefully, I’ll be able to call it home for a long, long time."

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