Pirates Notebook: The value of signing early

If you’ve been checking out the daily prospect watch articles, you would notice that two Pirates 2008 draft picks have really been tearing it up lately.

First round pick Pedro Alvarez has gotten off to a hot start at AA, hitting for a .333 average, a .981 OPS, and an 18.30 AB/HR ratio in 183 at-bats. Since the start of July, Alvarez is hitting .367, with a 1.046 OPS, and a 19.75 AB/HR ratio in 158 at-bats. Alvarez was hitting .235 between high A and AA before July, with a .802 OPS and a 16.75 AB/HR ratio in 268 at-bats.

Fifth round pick Justin Wilson has a 2.14 ERA, a1.15 WHIP, and a 0.66 HR/9 ratio in 54.2 innings pitched since the start of July. Before that he had pitched in 53.1 innings, with a 6.58 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, and a 1.69 HR/9 ratio.

Coincidentally, both of those players signed late, and neither got a chance to start their careers in 2008. Or maybe that’s not a coincidence. Consider this:

-Players who don’t sign until the August deadline usually go two months without playing baseball
-Due to the long layoff, these players can’t get ready in time to play in the minors during the season they were drafted
-Also due to the long layoff, most of these players aren’t ready to play in the winter leagues

Combine all of that, and you’ve got about a nine to ten month layoff, which can really affect the initial development of a prospect, playing a bigger role for those prospects coming out of college who could otherwise be on a fast track to the majors.

Last year the Pirates had five players drafted who waited until the deadline arrived to sign. Here are the 2009 results so far for those players:

Pedro Alvarez: Alright, so there was the whole issue of when Alvarez signed. That’s not the point here. The point is that Alvarez started off slow in Lynchburg. He’s hit for power all season, with a respectable on-base percentage. Despite this, his average was struggling at the start of the season, making him look like a three outcome player (strikeout, walk, or homer). Not only has he started hitting in AA, but he’s also lowered his strikeouts recently, from 29.9% of the time through June, to 24.7% of the time in July and August.

Justin Wilson: As mentioned above, Wilson has really turned things around the last two months. Wilson did pitch late in the 2008 season in college, leading Fresno State to the National Championship. However, that’s still a long layoff from that final game where Wilson pitched his team to victory.

You could look at the placement and say that played a role in his early struggles. Wilson went from being a junior in college to starting in high A ball. That’s not too big of a jump though, as I don’t think anyone would have expected Wilson to start below West Virginia. The biggest change in Wilson’s game the past two months has been fewer home runs allowed. The past few weeks he’s also cut down on the walks, which is encouraging.

Robbie Grossman: Grossman is an interesting case. He started off doing very well the first three months of the season, batting for a .286/.377/.393 line in 252 at-bats. He did have 89 strikeouts, which is an ugly 35% ratio. Since the start of July he’s been struggling, with a .229/.358/.306 line in 144 at-bats, including 54 strikeouts (37.5%). He hasn’t struggled at getting on base, and hasn’t shown any improvement in the strikeout area. That said, he didn’t start off slow at all.

Wes Freeman: Freeman is playing in Bradenton, which means he’s only been playing since late June. He did sign early enough to play last year, although he only received 24 plate appearances in Bradenton. In 149 at-bats this year he has a .193/.262/.316 line, with 56 strikeouts for a 37.6% ratio. Like Grossman, Freeman came out of high school, although his numbers are a disappointment since he’s two levels lower than Grossman, where it’s more common for high school players to get their start.

Quinton Miller: Miller didn’t start until June, playing briefly in State College before being moved to West Virginia. He has struggled for the most part in West Virginia, with a 5.49 ERA in 41 innings. He might be turning things around lately, with a 3.50 ERA in his last four starts, spanning 18 innings.

So what about the players who signed early? Here are the picks from the top 20 rounds last year who signed well in advance of the August 15th deadline:

Jordy Mercer: Hit for a .250/.297/.366 line in 216 at-bats between State College and Hickory last year. Hitting for a .252/.313/.387 line in Lynchburg this year in 465 at-bats.

Chase d’Arnaud: Hit for a .286/.333/.423 line in 168 at-bats at State College last year. Hitting for a .291/.394/.427 line in 213 at-bats between West Virginia and Lynchburg this year.

Benji Gonzalez: Hit for a .207/.331/.223 line in 121 at-bats in Bradenton last year, although he was mostly projected to be a defensive shortstop with a weak bat. That classification may have changed, as Gonzalez is hitting .292/.368/.343 this year in Bradenton.

Jeremy Farrell: Hit for a .287/.351/.381 line in 202 at-bats in State College last year. He’s struggled in West Virginia this year, with a .248/.337/.359 line in 270 at-bats.

Matt Hague: Combined for a .322/.386/.467 line in 242 at-bats between State College and Hickory last year. This year he’s hitting for a .283/.348/.383 line in 399 at-bats in Lynchburg.

David Rubinstein: Hit for a .249/.342/.343 line in 169 at-bats in State College last year. Hitting for a .263/.304/.353 line in 190 at-bats in State College this year.

Calvin Anderson: Hit for a .265/.337/.453 line with six homers in 170 at-bats in State College last year. This year he’s hitting for a .281/.351/.465 line with 11 homers in 327 at-bats in West Virginia.

Michael Colla: Colla only pitched four innings last year, despite signing at the beginning of July. This year he has a 4.10 ERA and a 40:18 K/BB ratio in 52.2 innings pitched, although he’s struggled lately, with a 9.98 ERA in his last ten appearances, spanning 15.1 innings.

Chris Aure: Aure pitched 27.2 innings last year, with a 3.90 ERA in Bradenton. This year he’s only pitched 5.1 innings in Bradenton, with a 1.69 ERA, although he’s currently on the DL.

It’s hard to draw any conclusions based off of five players who signed late, versus a handful of players who signed early. There are so many questions to ask. Did Alvarez start off slow because of the time off, or was he just getting bad pitches in high A? Did Justin Wilson start too high in the minors? How do you explain Robbie Grossman having success, or Jordy Mercer failing to hit over .250?

The only thing we can do is look at the facts and draw an assumption based on those facts. The facts are that Alvarez and Wilson each held out and signed late. Neither played in the minors in 2008, and neither played in a Winter league. Both struggled to start the 2009 season, but both have rebounded
well, putting up very impressive numbers the last two months. It could just be a coincidence. Then again, it could show the cost of signing late.

The MVP Tracker

The MVP Tracker is updated through the 8/21 win. Here are the top performers for tonight’s win:

1. Zach Duke: .172 WPA
2. Andy LaRoche: .115
3. Ryan Doumit: .108
4. Garrett Jones: .102
5. Lastings Milledge: .057

Other Stuff

-The Pittsburgh Pirates Prospect Watch for 8/22 is up.

-I’ll be going to Lynchburg tomorrow to see Rudy Owens pitch, and I’ll be taking some videos. I doubt I’ll have any video up tomorrow night, as it takes forever to upload to YouTube. Hopefully it will be uploaded by Monday. And when I say by Monday, I mean by Monday of next week. Anything sooner than that would be a bonus.

-Speaking of videos, Jim at North Side Notch has some videos of Brad Lincoln, Jose Tabata, and some other Indianapolis players from the 8/19 game.

-I didn’t do a notebook yesterday, but I did update the 25-man roster with the addition of Phil Dumatrait. To make room on the 40-man roster, Evan Meek was moved to the 60-day DL, ending his season. Jeff Karstens was placed on the bereavement list to make room on the 25-man roster.

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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