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Pirates Draft: Creech wants to build Pirates in middle

Thursday, June 06, 2002

By Paul Meyer, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Ed Creech, his first draft as the Pirates' scouting director behind him, left for home in Georgia last night feeling like one does the day after Christmas.

"It's just like Christmas," he said. "You get your presents -- and then all of a sudden the credit card bills start coming in."

For Creech, those "credit card bills" will amount to how much the Pirates have to spend on the 20 or so draft picks they'll wind up signing.

And then they'll begin seeing just how good this 2002 draft was for a Pirates organization sorely in need of young talent.

"Our goal is to have at least two or three [good] middle guys at every level of the system," Creech said. "You may not reach that goal, but I believe you build through the middle."

That means Creech wants the Pirates to have solid prospects in center field, at shortstop and second base and behind the plate at each affiliate in their minor-league system.

That includes Class AAA Nashville, Class AA Altoona, Class A Lynchburg, Class A Hickory and the two short-season teams -- Williamsport in the New York-Penn League and Bradenton in the Gulf Coast Rookie League.

The Pirates definitely haven't reached that goal yet. One has to look no further than Nashville to realize that.

Creech, however, will look further than that -- and soon.

"I'm going to jump into the farm system with both feet," he said.

Because he didn't join the Pirates' front office until November and immediately began concerning himself with the draft, Creech has seen very few of the Pirates' minor-league players.

He'll look at them off and on the rest of this season, and that will give him a better idea where to focus during the draft next year, which should offer a better and deeper talent pool than did this one.

"This was a thin draft," Creech said. "Names flew off the board pretty quickly."

The name that flew off the board most rapidly was Bryan Bullington, the junior right-hander from Ball State University the Pirates grabbed with the first pick overall Tuesday.

Rich Maloney, Bullington's coach at Ball State, compared Bullington favorably to Mark Prior, the right-hander whom the Chicago Cubs took with the second pick overall last year. Prior already has made three major-league starts.

"In our opinion, that would not be the case," said Dave Littlefield, the Pirates' general manager.

The Pirates project Bullington to be a No. 3 starter in the big leagues. Some scouts believe Bullington could be a No. 2 if his changeup develops. He also needs to work on his slider, which he just began throwing three months ago.

"The slider for me is what got him going," said Creech, who saw Bullington pitch three times this season. "It's something he needed. You've got to have a wrinkle. Big-leaguers can hit those 100 mph fastballs. That's why the slider helps, but he has work to do on it."

"He doesn't have the command of it, but when he does get command of it, it will be just masterful," Maloney said. "If Bryan throws strikes, he's not far off [from the big leagues] right now. He's really not. No question in my mind he could move up very quickly."

"He has a tremendous work ethic," said Casey Close, the IMG representative who is serving as Bullington's adviser in contract talks with the Pirates. "He's a stoic on the mound, but while you see the ice in his veins, he loves to compete. He has great bloodlines."

Bullington's father, Larry, was a tremendous high school athlete in Indianapolis and a standout basketball player at Ball State. Bullington's mother, Mary, was a swimmer at Ball State.

"I started taking him to the gym when he was two or three years of age," said Larry Bullington, a longtime high school basketball coach in Indiana. "A gym is a great place to grow up. Bryan would always find things to do with a baseball or a basketball.

"The thing was, a lot of kids just run around and don't pay attention. But Bryan would sit and watch the games. Ever since he was a little bitty guy, he seemed amazed by the ball."

Father coached son for three seasons at Madison High School, halfway between Louisville and Cincinnati on the Indiana side of the Ohio River.

"When you're the coach's son, you're always under a microscope," Bryan Bullington said. "If you're going to play, you'd better play well."

"He was well prepared for it," Larry Bullington said. "He knew that he was going to be under the microscope. To Bryan's credit, he always knew the line. He had a keen eye for that."

That couldn't have been easy for father or son in Madison, a small town which filled the 4,700-seat gym for every home game.

"He dealt with it," Larry Bullington said. "Bryan is 'Type A' on the field. But he's 'Type B' off the field. He's low-key. He always got along with everybody."

In his first three seasons at Ball State, Bullington had a 29-11 record with a 3.36 earned run average. But beyond that and his Mid-American Conference-record strikeout totals, perhaps he is known more for being hit in the face by a line drive in the MAC tournament at Ball State a year ago.

It was a Thursday.

"It had rained a bunch," Larry Bullington said. "He was warming up, and our grounds crew was working on the warning track. One of the guys was pushing a wheelbarrow, and he slipped and broke his ankle."

That caused a 30-minute delay, and Bryan Bullington had to warm up again before beginning the game against Miami of Ohio.

"His first pitch hit a guy," Larry Bullington said.

The second pitch turned into a line drive that smashed into Bryan Bullington's face on the right side of his forehead.

"I was kind of stunned, shocked," Larry Bullington said. "It was like a boxer's punch. It didn't knock him down. He started walking toward third base, and you could see the swelling starting. The thing was, he was more mad that he had to come out of the game."

Three days later, on a Sunday, Bryan Bullington went back to the mound and pitched in another MAC tournament game.

"That was the first time that he competed when I really didn't care if he won or lost," Larry Bullington said. "I just wanted him to walk off the mound at the end of the game and be healthy."

This is the second consecutive year the Pirates have dipped into the MAC for their first-round pick. Last year, using the eighth pick overall, they chose John VanBenschoten from Kent State.

Bullington faced VanBenschoten a few times in competition.

"I think he hit one [home run] off me," Bullington said. "And I struck him out four or five times. I don't know him very well, but there's a little bit of a comfort zone knowing he's in the [Pirates'] organization."

The Pirates also took a right-handed pitcher with their second pick in the draft -- Blair Johnson from Washburn Rural High School near Topeka, Kan.

"Another pitcher with a power arm, a power breaking ball," Creech said. "He has a lot of growing up to do, a lot of learning to do, but we like everything about him."

Through 41 rounds of the draft, the Pirates took a lot of pitching -- 17 right-handers and five left-handers.

One of the left-handers is Brian Holliday of Moon, plucked from the pool with the 12th pick. Holliday has signed with the University of Kentucky, but the Pirates think he'll sign with them.

"There's a lot of work to be done in his delivery, but we think this kid has a lot of potential," Creech said.

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