2009 Pittsburgh Pirates Draft Preview

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Nothing is more important to a baseball team’s success than the MLB Draft. Imagine how the 2008 Phillies would have been if they hadn’t drafted Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, and Jimmy Rollins. Think about where the Brewers would be if they didn’t select Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, JJ Hardy, Yovani Gallardo, and Corey Hart. Even the Red Sox would probably not be as successful if it wasn’t for drafting players like Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbon, and Jacoby Ellsbury.

For this reason, there’s no surprise that the Pirates have been so horrible the last 16 (going on 17) seasons. Looking at the Pirates draft history, the last superstar taken in the first round was 1985, when the Pirates took Barry Bonds. Since then there have been a few good picks (Jeff King, Jason Kendall), but the majority of the selections have either been total busts (Chad Hermansen), horrible picks (Clint Johnson), or derailed due to injuries (Bobby Bradley).

Last year the trend of poor drafting appeared to come to an end. With their first selection, the Pirates took top prospect Pedro Alvarez, considered to be the best prospect the Pirates have had since Barry Bonds. Alvarez is currently hitting .240 in Lynchburg, but has an on-base percentage of .338, and 10 homers in 196 at-bats.

Not only did the Pirates draft the best player available in the first round, but they also got some steals later in the draft. Their sixth round pick, Robbie Grossman, was ranked as the 49th best prospect in the draft, according to Baseball America. Their 16th round pick, Wesley Freeman, was ranked #138 by BA. Their 20th round pick, Quinton Miller, was ranked #158 by BA. All three were signed to above slot deals, with Grossman and Miller getting around $1 M each.

The only drawback to the 2008 draft was that the Pirates failed to sign their second round pick, Tanner Scheppers, who is projected to go in the first round this year. Other than that, I’d gladly take a repeat performance in 2009. Actually, the Pirates NEED a repeat performance in 2009, and every year after, if they wish to contend in today’s MLB. With that said, let’s take a look at the 2009 MLB draft.

The First Round

The Pirates hold the fourth pick in the first round of the MLB draft this year. The top prospect in the game is Stephen Strasburg, who has about as much chance of being drafted by the Pirates with the first pick as I do (although for completely opposite reasons, both involving the level of talent we each possess). Because Strasburg is all but a guarantee to go off the board with the first pick, I have been looking for three players who I would love to see the Pirates take with the first pick, with a guarantee that the Pirates could select one of those players.

In the last few weeks I have been eliminating prospects from the 2009 Draft Prospects Tracker, trying to find the top three players for the number four pick. I started out with 15 players and cut the list down to nine. I then cut that list down to six. From there I cut the list down to three players. Those players were Dustin Ackley, Aaron Crow, and Jacob Turner.

I ran some polls asking readers who they preferred. In the first poll, 43% of voters wanted Ackley over Crow and Turner. Crow received 32% of the vote, and Turner received 16% of the vote, with 8% wanting someone else (and since Stephen Strasburg was already off the board in this scenario, that other person wasn’t him).

In the second poll, with Strasburg and Ackley off the board, Aaron Crow led the way with 44% of the votes. Jacob Turner finished second with 21% of the votes. From there 8% of voters would have preferred another college pitcher over Crow/Turner. 14% of voters preferred another prep pitcher over Crow/Turner. 10% of voters preferred a hitter over Crow/Turner (which is kind of bold considering the lack of quality hitters in this draft with Ackley off the board).

So it’s safe to say that the readers who voted had my finalists in this order:

1. Dustin Ackley
2. Aaron Crow
3. Jacob Turner

I agree on Ackley. I rank him as my top choice, assuming a miracle doesn’t happen, putting Strasburg in our laps. Ackley is the top hitter in the draft, and a one of a kind talent. He’s the only hitter this year who could have gone in the top ten of the 2008 draft, and in my opinion stands above every other player not named Strasburg. Seeing Ackley fall to us with the fourth pick would be like when we saw Matt Wieters fall to us with the fourth pick in 2007. Fortunately this time we have a GM who would pounce on the opportunity.

I disagree on the remaining order. I have Jacob Turner ranked as my number two selection. The reason I favor Turner over Crow is due to his upside. Turner looks like he could be an ace, similar to Josh Beckett and Rick Porcello. I’m not saying this because Scott Boras, Turner’s agent, is asking for Beckett/Porcello money. I’m saying this because Turner has one of the best fastballs in the draft (92-94 MPH, topping out at 98), has a great frame (6’5″, 205 lbs), has two other solid pitches (big-breaking curve and a changeup), and great control (105:8 K/BB ratio in 52 IP this year).

I wouldn’t mind taking Aaron Crow with our pick, as he would be a great selection. A lot of sites have us taking Crow in mock drafts, assuming he makes it past San Diego. Crow is said to be major league ready now, although I don’t see him in the majors before this time next year. He’s got a great fastball (92-96 MPH with a hard sink) and great control. Crow has been pitching in the Indy leagues this year, going 3-0 in three starts, with a 1.06 ERA and a 17:5 K/BB ratio in 17 innings, showing that his skills are still intact.

So my preference for the Pirates, once Stephen Strasburg goes off the board, is:

1. Dustin Ackley
2. Jacob Turner
3. Aaron Crow

Drafting for Signability?

While I rate Turner higher, I don’t think there’s a huge difference between him and Crow. I also think that there are several other players at the top of the draft who would be worthy of our pick. Tyler Matzek is one of those players, considered the top left handed pitcher in the draft, and one of the top prep pitchers. Shelby Miller is another possibility, as one of the top right handed prep pitchers in the draft.

Once Ackley and Crow are off the board there are questions as to who is the best prospect in the draft. That becomes a problem for the Pirates as there is a strong possibility that Ackley and Crow could go 2nd and 3rd in the draft. Due to the fact that most of the players ranked 2-20 are around the same talent level, there have been many rumors emerging that the Pirates will draft for “signability”.

The reason for all of this is due to top Dominican prospect, Miguel Angel Sano. The Pirates are rumored to have the inside track on the top prospect, but
the cost will be at least $4 M. Therefore some sites (ESPN and Keith Law) have been putting out the rumor that the Pirates will draft a player based on signability, just to save money for Sano.

First I’ll let it be known that if Sano was eligible for this draft, I think he would be the obvious number three prospect behind Strasburg and Ackley. However, that doesn’t mean the Pirates should go cheap in the draft. The two biggest rumored names are prep third baseman Bobby Borchering, and top catching prospect Tony Sanchez.

Borchering wouldn’t be a horrible pick. He’s ranked as the 16th best prospect in the draft by Baseball America, and considered to be one of the safer prep bats in the draft, with the ability to become a power hitter from a corner infield spot. In fact, BA ranks Borchering as the best power hitter in high school.

I feel that Sanchez would be a bit of a reach. BA has him ranked #32, and the third best defensive player in the college ranks. Keith Law seems to think that the Pirates’ interest in him is for the #4 pick, rather than the #49 pick, which is the second pick the Pirates have. I don’t buy this, as Law insists this move is to save money, and I doubt Sanchez would save more than a guy like Shelby Miller, ranked much higher, and filling a more pressing need for the Pirates (pitching prospects).

It’s one thing if the Pirates see two top ranked players (let’s say Shelby Miller and Tyler Matzek as an example), view them as equal, and choose to draft the player who will be cheaper. It’s another thing if the Pirates reach for a borderline first rounder just because he comes cheap. Due to the fact that these rumors seem to be coming from one source, and every other source sees the Pirates taking a guy like Aaron Crow, I don’t think this “signability” scenario is likely.

Regret over Tanner Scheppers?

One hot button issue in the draft will be the regret over not signing Tanner Scheppers last year. Scheppers was considered a top 10 talent, but slipped to the Pirates in the second round. The Pirates had worries about Scheppers’ shoulder injury, but still offered him a contract. Scheppers wanted first round money, and the Pirates were unwilling to pay, which led to Scheppers re-entering the draft this year.

So far Scheppers hasn’t signed the papers to give the Pirates permission to re-draft him, which means some other team will get him, most likely in the first round. Should the Pirates regret this loss? I don’t think so.

Scheppers never had surgery on his bad shoulder. He rested the arm for almost a whole year. Then he made a few short starts in Indy ball to showcase his arm. The arm looked healthy, but I see two issues. First, I would imagine the arm would be healthy after a year of rest, but how will it hold up after five to ten starts, or even a whole season? Second, Scheppers won’t allow anyone to look at his shoulder until after the draft. I feel that if his shoulder was actually fine, he’d allow teams to confirm that information. It would only improve his draft stock. Since Scheppers refuses to let anyone check him out, I feel that the shoulder is still an issue, making Scheppers more of a project than a prospect.

Would it have been great to sign Scheppers last year for less than first round moneu? Absolutely. Would I want the Pirates to take him this year (that is, if he allowed them to)? Absolutely not. As far as I’m concerned, he’s damaged goods.

Two in the Second Round

Because the Pirates didn’t sign Tanner Scheppers with their second round pick last season, they will receive an additional second round pick this year. Technically their compensation pick is the last pick in the compensation round between rounds one and two. We’ll save the hassle and call the picks #49 and #53.

There is one stipulation to pick number 49: the Pirates receive no compensation if they fail to sign the player. They don’t get a pick in next years draft if that were to happen. That’s not the case with pick #53, as they would receive the 54th selection in the 2010 draft if they failed to sign that selection in 2009.

The Pirates have been linked to a lot of prospects ranked at the end of the first round. Some people assume the Pirates will reach for one of these players with their #4 pick. I feel that the Pirates are hoping one of these players will drop to them in the second round, just like Scheppers last year.

The most common names are Bobby Borchering, Tony Sanchez, Matt Hobgood, and Wil Myers. I wrote about Borchering and Sanchez earlier. Wil Myers is another top ranked catcher, ranked 31st in Baseball America’s top 200 draft prospects, and ranked as the second best pure hitter in high school by BA.

Matt Hobgood is ranked 40th by Baseball America. Hobgood is a high schooler at 6’4″, 240 pounds, and throws a 90-94 MPH fastball, which peaks at 95 MPH. He also has a curveball that has a late, sharp break. Hobgood would be a nice project, as his only drawback is spotty command with his secondary pitches.

There are also a few interesting names who could fall to the second round. Kyle Gibson recently was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right forearm, which will surely lower his draft stock. Gibson was ranked number four by Baseball America, and considered the best pitching prospect outside of Strasburg. BA also rates Gibson with the second best secondary pitch in college, the second best command in college (behind only Strasburg), and the third closest college player to the majors (behind Strasburg and Ackley). It’s unlikely that Gibson would fall this far, but getting him with the 49th overall pick would be incredible, especially if we could also get a guy like Aaron Crow in the first round.

Another player who could drop is Matthew Purke, a prep pitcher from Texas. Purke is 6’3″, 180 pounds, and ranked as the 10th best player in the draft by BA. The problem is that he is asking for Rick Porcello money, which will likely drop his draft stock. Purke throws a 92-95 MPH fastball, and has the third best secondary pitch in prep ball with a hard slider. The only reason Purke would slide would be due to signability issues over his asking price. If he was there at #53, I’d love for the Pirates to take him.

Dream Draft

My ideal draft in the top two rounds (using only scenarios that seem like they have a shot of happening):

#4 Pick: Dustin Ackley (could happen as the Mariners and Padres are reportedly shying away from his price)
#49 Pick: Kyle Gibson (could drop due to recent injury)
#53 Pick: Matthew Purke (could drop due to signability issues)

My projection on what will actually happen:

#4 Pick: Aaron Crow
#49 Pick: Matt Hobgood
#53 Pick: Nick Franklin (shortstop, draws comparisons to Aaron Hill, ranked #48 by BA)

Other Stuff

-In his recent Q&A on the draft, Neal Huntington said that “Bob Nutting has committed similar resources to the Draft this year (compared to 2008)”. The Pirates spent $9.8 M in the draft last year, with most of that due to the large bonus to Pedro Alvarez. That could be good for the second round, as the Pirates are unlikely to spend more than $4 M on their first round selection, and maybe less than that.

-Bud Selig has called for a 10% rollback on the slot prices this year, due to the economy. The estimated slot price for the #4 pick last year was $2.75 M, which puts the slot price for the #4 pick this year at $2.475 M, which coincidentally is what the Pirates gave Daniel Moskos in 2007.

-The #125 prospect, according to Baseball America, is named Mark Fleury. He’s a catcher from UNC. How ironic would it be if the Pirates select

ed him?

-Here is what the Mock Drafts have us doing:

Baseball America: Aaron Crow
MLB.com: Aaron Crow
Keith Law: Tony Sanchez
Baseball Prospectus: Kyle Gibson (Mock Draft was done on 5/21)
MyMLBDraft: Aaron Crow
Sporting News: Alex White

UPDATES:

Will the Pirates really take Tony Sanchez at #4?
More Draft Notes, including the signing deadline pushed back, and increased demands from top prospects.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • SteelCity G

    Well done, I've been looking for exactly that type of article on who the Bucs might be considering, Pat at WHYGAVS linked to your site and I'm glad he did, if you don't already you should check out WHYGAVS.com, Pat does a great job there also.

  • Tim Williams

    Thanks for your comments SteelCity, and thanks for checking out the site.

    I'm a fan of what Pat does at WHYGAVS, and appreciate him linking over to me for the draft coverage.