Let's move our amateur signing bonus to the Steel City…
- Jameson Taillon, $6.5MM (2010)
- Pedro Alvarez, $6MM (2008)
- Bryan Bullington, $4MM (2002)
- Brad Lincoln, $2.75MM (2006)
- Luis Heredia, $2.6MM (2010)
If there's any good that can come out of finishing with a below-.500 record for 18 straight years, it's that you'll have a ton of high draft picks. Unfortunately for the Pirates, they really didn't take advantage of those high picks until the last few years, as too many first rounders to count have flamed out since the team's last winning season. Neal Huntington has been dedicated to building the next great Pirates team through the farm system, so he's spent a ton of money on amateurs since taking over in late 2007. In fact, Pittsburgh has doled out close to $30.6MM on draft picks in the three years that Huntington's run the team, the most in baseball by more than $2MM.
Taillon was the best pitcher available in this year's draft class, high school or otherwise, so the Pirates gobbled him up with the second overall pick and gave him the second largest signing bonus in draft history, trailing only Stephen Strasburg's $7.5MM bonus. It's also the largest bonus ever given as part of a minor league contract. Taillon did not pitch after signing and will start his career next spring.
There was a bit of drama with the Alvarez signing after he was chosen second overall in 2008. Alvarez and agent Scott Boras agreed to a minor league contract worth $6MM, but the deal was struck two minutes after the August 15th signing deadline passed. The union filed a grievance on the player's behalf, and the issue was resolved a month later. Alvarez ultimately received the same $6MM bonus, though the second time around it came as part of four-year, $6.335MM major league contract. He reached the big leagues this summer and hit .256/.326/.461 with 16 homers in 386 plate appearances. Alvarez is expected to be a force in the middle of the Pirates' lineup for the next half-decade, at least.
Bullington was one of those dud draft picks we talked about earlier, taken with the first overall pick in 2002. The Pirates' brain trust famously referred to him as a solid mid-rotation starter not long after the draft (an opinion other teams agreed with), not exactly what you expect with the top pick. Even worse, Bullington failed to deliver on even those modest expectations. He pitched to a 3.32 ERA with 6.7 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in 288 innings in his first two pro seasons, then made his big league debut in September 2005 (two runs in 1.1 innings). Bullington missed the entire 2006 season due to shoulder surgery, and he was eventually lost to the Indians on waivers after being designated for assignment in July 2008. All told, he threw just 18.1 innings for Pittsburgh, posting a 5.89 ERA.
Lincoln was the fourth overall pick in 2006, but he ended up missing the entire 2007 season due to Tommy John surgery. He came back in 2008 and pitched well enough in the minors to earn his first taste of the big leagues this June. In 52.2 innings with the Pirates (nine starts, two relief appearances), Lincoln pitched to a Halloween appropriate 6.66 ERA. He figures to get a long look in Spring Training.
The draft isn't the only place where Huntington has spent big, he's also given out some huge bonuses on the international market. They heavily pursued Miguel Sano before he signed with the Twins, though they did sign the 16-year-old Heredia this past August. Since his rights were owned by the Mexican team Veracruz, Heredia received just 25% of that bonus ($650K). The other 75% went to Veracruz ($1.95MM). He'll start his pro career next season.