Rounding Third: Those wacky Pirates grab the prize at MLB Draft

The Houston Astros pulled off a huge shocker to kick off Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft with the selection of Puerto Rico Baseball Academy standout Carlos Correa.

But that became a back-burner issue real quick, as the player most had the Astros taking, Stanford righty Mark Appel, slid down the draft board before finally landing with the Pittsburgh Pirates at No. 8.

Talent certainly wasn't an issue. Appel was one of the best pitchers in the nation this past year. Injuries weren't a concern either. There really was no overwhelming talent in this draft class, but just about every mock draft had Appel going one, or two at the latest. He was clearly the most major league ready talent in the draft.

So, what's the deal?

Well, there is this little nugget: Appel is represented by superagent Scott Boras. Somewhere along the process the Astros must have felt that there was no way they would be able to sign him, even though baseball's new collective bargaining agreement was supposed to curb these kind of situations.

After the Pittsburgh Pirates went berserk last season and spent a record $8 million for top overall pick Gerrit Cole, a maximum bonus pool was put in place for the first 10 rounds and no major league contracts can be handed out. Going over the pool would lead to penalties, financial at first, then leading to forfeiture of draft picks.

Houston may have felt that Boras had something up his sleeve to circumvent the new rules. Or they just didn't want to deal with him and take a chance of losing the player altogether.

Oddly enough the Pirates, the team who instigated these changes, wound up being the ones who landed Appel, who most feel is the closest to being major league ready as any pitcher in this draft class.

Now the question is, will the Pirates go over their allotted $6.6 million to sign Appel? My guess is, of course they will. No team has spent more over the past four drafts than the Pirates' $48 million. That includes franchise-record bonuses for Pedro Alvarez ($6.35 million), Jameson Taillon ($6.5 million) and, of course, Cole.

That total also includes the $5 million they spent on outfielder Josh Bell, who they chose with the top pick in the second round last season. Although he was clearly a first-round talent, teams shied away from Bell because he had made it clear to just about everyone that he was going to honor his commitment to Texas.

The Pirates though, made him an offer he couldn't refuse and the rest, as they say, is history.

The biggest crier in that whole mess were the Boston Red Sox. You know, the team that has a payroll nearing $175 million, well over $100 million more than the Pirates.

Depending on how much they go over by, the luxury tax could be severe, but who cares? And shame on MLB for that by the way. The Pirates are not going to be in the mix for Cole Hamels or any other big ticket free agent this winter. They have to be a little more creative with how they construct their team.

You tell me what the bigger problem is: the fact that the Bucs, a team that has endured a North American sports record 19 straight losing seasons, spent $17,005,700 in the draft a year ago or that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim paid out well over $300 million to two players last winter?

Don't feel so bad for the Pirates, though. In addition to other rules, starting next year there will be a new draft feature that will award six bonus picks - Nos. 31-37 overall - to lower-revenue teams by way of a lottery, as well as a cap on international signings that's staggered in inverse order of the standings.

So, even if the Pirates lose picks for going over this year, they'll probably still be able to recoup one next year.

By the way, it's no lock that the Pirates are going to get Appel under wraps. Boras is going to try and get every last penny out of them and Appel released a bit of a cryptic statement on Monday.

"I'm currently concentrating on winning a national championship and finishing my academic endeavors at Stanford," said Appel. "I will address the possibility of a professional career in due time."

Enjoy those negotiations. By the way it may not be the worst thing in the world if they don't sign him and get an extra pick near the top a year from now. By all accounts next year's draft class is loaded.

Should they land him, though, the Bucs have the makings of a potentially remarkable staff with Appel, Cole and Taillon, not to mention James McDonald, who is in the midst of a breakout season this year.

Lost in the Appel nonsense was the fact that the Astros did make a pretty solid choice in Correa, who is the highest player ever drafted from Puerto Rico. Anyone who draws comparisons to Alex Rodriguez stands a pretty good chance at making it.

Most thought that had it not been Appel, the Astros would turn to Georgia prep star Byron Buxton. A lot of people had him pegged as the top overall talent in this draft, but he wound up going No. 2 to Minnesota.

Other than the Pirates getting Appel at No. 8, the biggest steal of the draft may be California prep righty Lucas Giolito going to the Washington Nationals at No. 16. Giolito may have been in the mix to go first overall had it not been for an elbow strain early in his senior season.

One round down, 39 to go.