By most measures, Bryce Harper is the pick of the 2010 draft class. He is a multi-tool offensive player that is also believed to be able to play several positions. There is a chance the Pittsburgh Pirates will be able to draft him. There is a larger chance that they won’t.

Based on their 2009 records, the Pirates have the second overall draft pick in 2010, with the Washington Nationals coming in first. Washington is believed to prefer Harper, just as it selected Steve Strasburg with last year’s first pick.

Coming up through the minors in just about a year, Strasburg is clearly a “phenom.” This (or most other years’) class, might not produce someone quite so exceptional. Hence, Harper probably isn’t quite as clear-cut a first draft pick as Strasburg.

One of the people challenging Harper for the top spot in the draft sweepstakes is Manny Machado. Machado is a strong hitter, but isn’t believed to be as versatile as Harper.

On the other hand, Machado does project as a future shortstop (a key defender), who can also hit better than the average position player, never mind an average shortstop.

A great player in that position, the modern equivalent of the New York Yankees’ Derek Jeter, is something either the Nationals or the Pirates could use. The current incumbents, Ian Desmond and Ronny Cedeno, are adequate, but by no means outstanding in the position.

In the past, the Pirates would have declined to pay the multi-millions required to sign either of them. They opted for less expensive (presumed) mediocrities like Bryan Bullington in 2002, and Daniel Moskowitz in 2007. But that changed with the signing of Pedro Alvarez in 2008.

And with the lowest payroll in the majors, the Pirates have saved enough for the draft. In order to get the players they need to win, the Bucs will have to spend money somewhere.

The Nationals, on the other hand, have been more consistent about picking what they believe to be the best available prospect. That was clearly the case with Strasburg. They’ll draft Harper too, if they believe that he is best. If they don’t, it will reflect a belief that he’s second best.

With the second draft pick, the Pirates will not get “first dibs” on these players. But they can count on “one or the other” (or a choice of third parties), because Washington isn’t going to get both picks.

Some rankings put Machado ahead of Harper in overall draft desirability. Which is why the Washington Nationals might draft him instead of Harper. Which is why the Pittsburgh Pirates should draft him if Washington doesn’t.

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