Pirates ink No. 1 pick Cole, second-rounder Bell
Club spends record $17 million in signing bonuses on 24 players
PITTSBURGH -- Once again delivering on a promise to spend liberally on the Draft, the Pirates paid out more than $17 million in signing bonuses on 24 players. Such an amount is unprecedented in Major League history, but it was also very much necessary in order for the Pirates to sign No. 1 overall pick Gerrit Cole and second-rounder Josh Bell.
Cole and Bell both agreed to deals on the final day that players taken in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft were allowed to negotiate with teams. Bringing both into the organization was something most thought would be nearly impossible for the Pirates, even given Pittsburgh's commitment to paying above-slot dollars.
It took an $8 million signing bonus to sign Cole, who, according to a source, can make more than $9 million in guaranteed money if he reaches the Majors by 2013. Cole's deal was a Minor League one, though it is the highest-paying Minor League deal ever handed out.
Bell's deal is worth $5 million, a sum that is usually reserved for players taken at the very top of a Draft class. But given how strong a commitment Bell had to play at the University of Texas, the Pirates were well aware that it was going to take significant dollars to lure Bell away from that.
"We felt like we had a chance to have a terrific Draft in terms of adding talent to the system, and we've been able to do that." general manager Neal Huntington said. "We've added a lot of quality players, obviously headlined by Cole and Bell, but we believe in a lot of other players in our Draft. We obviously invested a significant amount in the Draft again, thanks to [owner Bob Nutting's] support."
Cole's bonus represents the largest the Pirates have ever given to a player. Jameson Taillon, the No. 2 overall selection in the 2010 Draft, previously held that distinction after signing for $6.5 million on this date last year. The last time the Pirates held the first pick in the Draft, they handed out a $4 million signing bonus to college pitcher Bryan Bullington in 2002.
Lauded for committing close to $31 million in signing bonuses over the past three Drafts, the Pirates exceeded their previous franchise high ($11.9 million in 2010) by more than $5 million this year.
The Pirates' investment in the Draft this year easily surpassed the $12 million in signing bonuses the Nationals spent on their 2010 Draft class. That had been the MLB record for signing bonuses given by one team to one Draft class.
Cole joins the Pirates after three years at UCLA. As a junior, the right-hander went 6-8 with a 3.31 ERA in 16 starts. He gave up 103 hits in 114 1/3 innings but also struck out 119.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-hander has a fastball that sits in the mid-90s deep into his starts. His two secondary pitches -- a slider and a changeup -- are also already advanced. This would all suggest that Cole has a chance to make a quick ascension through the Minors to Pittsburgh.
While Cole was always expected to sign, the same couldn't be said for Bell. Upon drafting the outfielder out of high school, the Pirates knew that he was going to be an extremely difficult sign.
The 19-year-old had made a commitment to play at Texas and had informed teams before the Draft that he intended to honor that college commitment. Such a stance persuaded many other clubs to pass on Bell, but it didn't deter Pittsburgh. With the first pick of the second round, the Pirates took a chance.
"We loved the player," Huntington said of Bell. "We felt like we could be aggressive in a contract offer to him. We felt like it was worth the risk of not being able to sign him. And we went into it with full respect of his commitment to Texas. We wanted the opportunity to explain who we were, how we do things and we were hoping that Josh was ready to take the step to professional baseball if we were to find a common financial ground."
Without such a public pronouncement of his college intentions, Bell would almost certainly have been taken in the first round. He was ranked by Baseball America as the fifth-best position player available in the Draft after hitting .548 with 13 homers, 54 RBIs and 54 runs scored as a senior at Dallas Jesuit High School.
With only three weeks remaining in the Minor League season, Cole and Bell are not expected to make their professional debuts this year. The two will travel to Pittsburgh sometime this week to take part in formal news conferences and to get acquainted with the organization.
"From there," Huntington said, "we've got to establish what they've been doing the last 10 weeks, and based on that information, we will put our plan in place for them from this point forward."
The Pirates signed one other player on Monday -- ninth-rounder Clay Holmes, a recent high school graduate who agreed to a $1.2 million signing bonus. That is the highest signing bonus ever handed out to a player drafted in the ninth round. It shatters the previous record of $750,000 given to Jason Middlebrook by San Diego in 1996.
At the time of the Draft, Holmes, a right-hander who had committed to play at Auburn University, had a 6-2 record and 2.06 ERA for Slocumb (Ala.) High School. He was valedictorian of his high school class and was ranked by Baseball America as the 76th-best prospect coming into the Draft.
With Monday's three signings, the Pirates ended up agreeing to terms with each of their top 10 picks.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.