Time running out for Bucs to sign picks

Time running out for Bucs to sign picks

PITTSBURGH -- The clock is ticking to the Aug. 17 midnight ET signing deadline for amateur players selected in this June's First-Year Player Draft. And though the Pirates signed first-round selection Tony Sanchez just days after making him the No. 4 overall pick, subsequent negotiations haven't gone as smoothly.

The Pirates have so far signed 18 of their 51 picks, including all four chosen in the first three rounds. Yet the organization still has some significant targets, most notably three high school pitchers, that remain unsigned.

Those pitchers -- lefty Zackry Dodson (fourth round), right-hander Zachary Von Rosenberg (sixth round) and left-hander Colton Cain (eight round) -- are all still in negotiations with the club, according to general manager Neal Huntington.

That trio largely epitomizes the organization's Draft philosophy, which was to take high school players in early rounds with the intention of luring them away from college commitments with above-slot signing bonuses. Dodson has committed to Baylor, Von Rosenberg to Louisiana State University and Cain to the University of Texas.

Without addressing players individually, Huntington provided an update on the organization's ongoing negotiations with the three.

"There is ongoing dialogue and we remain optimistic on some fronts," Huntington said. "I think signing one of three would be a step in the right direction. I think two of three is very realistic. I think three of three -- and we'd be very happy.

"We're going to make every effort to get all three done. If not, we've set ourselves up to have other options. It was always part of our strategy that if we weren't able to sign those in Group A, that we would have plenty of others to go after."

Pirates -- Top five selections
4CJorge SanchezBoston Col
49RHPVictor BlackDallas Baptist U
53RHPBrooks PoundersTemecula Valley HS
84CFEvan ChambersHillsborough CC
115LHPZackry DodsonMedina Valley HS
Complete Pirates Draft results >

This setup, though, is also why the Pirates are not going to wait until Aug. 17 or even the days right before to negotiate with this upper crop of Draft picks. Doing so wouldn't give the Pirates the necessary time to reallocate that money to other players picked later in the Draft if they can't ink all three.

In fact, Huntington confirmed that the deadline set internally for this "Group A" to sign is coming soon.

"We have no interest in going up to the deadline with substantial money," Huntington said. "We're trying to be as aggressive as we can be, but we're getting to the point where we will have to move on if those in our first target group aren't signing soon."

There are another nine high school players that the Pirates drafted in rounds 10-30 that currently remain unsigned.

But what is holding up the process on additional signings? Huntington has admitted some frustration in the cumbersome nature of Major League Baseball's process to discourage teams from paying above-slot bonuses, which is clearly the Pirates' intention. MLB cannot stop the Pirates from doing so, but there is a process that can slow them down.

"We are still trying to be respectful of the process," Huntington said. "We still feel very confident that we are going to sign a number of talented players."

Some of the holdup, too, is believed to be a difference in players' bonus demands and the Pirates' initial offers.

Last season, the Bucs signed 31 of their Draft picks, a number that they are not expected to come close to matching this season. Huntington estimated that the final count will likely be in the low- to mid-20s.

Playing a large factor in that is the fact that the Pirates plan to sign significantly fewer college seniors than normal.

"More often than not, those are the guys who are good to have in your system, but guys who don't make it past Double-A or Triple-A," Huntington explained. "We've signed fewer of those than we've ever signed before. We are still shooting for quality over quantity."

The 18 signings so far have taken up only about half of the approximate $10 million Draft budget, leaving the Pirates with plenty of financial resources left to allot. Huntington said that the Bucs still anticipate being among the top five teams in spending on this year's Draft when all is done.

"Already," Huntington said, "we've spent more than some teams will spend in the end."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.