2008 Draft Picks: The First Full Year

The 2008 draft marked the first draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates under Neal Huntington. Right from the start it represented a major change, with the Pirates selecting Pedro Alvarez with the number two pick in the draft.

The selection would normally be considered a no-brainer, but for a team that selected Bryan Bullington over B.J. Upton, and Daniel Moskos over Matt Wieters, pretty much every Pirates fan was skeptical about whether the new management group would select the top prospect on the board.
Not only did the Pirates take Alvarez, and sign him to a franchise record bonus, but they also went way over slot to get several top high school talents to break their commitments to college. Robbie Grossman, Wes Freeman, Jarek Cunningham, and Quinton Miller all accepted over slot deals, passing up on college to start their professional careers early.
Below are the stats for all of the picks the Pirates signed from the 2008 draft. Matt Payne is the only player who is no longer in the system, which is why he is listed in italics. Click the table to see the larger version:

The Hitters: Alvarez started off slow in Lynchburg, but lived up to his hype after being promoted to Altoona. He should start the 2010 season at AAA, and could be in the majors as early as June 2010.

Jordy Mercer and Chase d’Arnaud both bolstered the middle infield depth, with both players stepping up to help lead the Lynchburg Hillcats to the Carolina League championship. d’Arnaud stepped up as the biggest breakout player from the draft, with solid defense, and good hitting skills from the top of the order in high A.
Robbie Grossman had a good first season, especially when you consider that he normally would have been a freshman at the University of Texas. Grossman’s biggest problem came via strikeouts, although he displayed a strong on-base percentage, thanks to a solid BB%.
Benji Gonzalez was advertised as having the best defense of all middle infielders in the Pirates farm system heading in to the 2009 season. That makes his solid offensive work very encouraging, although he’d have to do that at a higher level in order to emerge as a top middle infield prospect.
Matt Hague and Calvin Anderson both played first base in the 2009 season, with both players putting up solid numbers, but lacking the home runs desired from the first base position. Both hitters have power, and displayed that with a lot of extra base hits, although that has yet to translate to a lot of homers.
Jarek Cunningham, considered the top middle infield prospect of this draft group coming in to the season, went down in Spring Training with a knee injury, and missed the entire season, which is a disappointment after Cunningham’s solid 2008 debut.
Wes Freeman really struggled in his first year, especially with the strikeouts, although he’s young, and at this point the stats can’t be taken too seriously. Freeman is a five tool athlete, but his skills are very raw at this stage.
The big surprise of the later rounds was 36th round pick Kyle Morgan. Morgan put up great numbers in West Virginia, with a solid K/BB ratio, and some good power numbers. Morgan had the second highest OPS of the Pirates’ 2008 draft picks, falling only behind Alvarez.
The Pitchers: Justin Wilson played the whole season in Lynchburg. Wilson struggled in the first half, but really turned things on in the final two months of the season, and was a key factor in the Hillcats winning the Carolina League Championship.
Mike Colla also pitched for the Hillcats, mostly in a relief role. Colla looked good to start the year, but struggled a lot in the second half of the season. He capped off his season by winning the championship game, thanks to 3.1 lights out innings in relief.
Chris Aure, drafted out of Alaska, looked intriguing, although Aure was sidelined most of the season with an injury, and only pitched in 5.1 innings.
I grade Quinton Miller the same as I grade Robbie Grossman. Miller would have been a freshman at UNC, which means I’m waiting for his third season to see what he’s really made of. Miller has a lot of upside, but is still very raw.
Brent Klinger, taken out of the JuCo ranks, looked very promising in Bradenton, and had success in a limited amount of innings at State College. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start the 2010 season in West Virginia.
Brian Leach, Tyler Cox, Alan Knotts, and Mike Williams joined Mike Colla on the 2008 State College Spikes team that was infamous for the horrible pitching, thanks to the heavy dose of fastballs. The focus on commanding the fastball certainly worked for Rudy Owens, and it seemed to work for a lot of these 2008 draft picks as well.
The big surprise of the draft was 49th round pick Zachary Foster. Foster pitched 29 dominant innings, with a strong strikeout ratio, solid control numbers, and a very low batting average against. I could see Foster moving to the rotation in West Virginia next year.
Final Thoughts…

The Pirates rebuilding plan heavily depends on adding talent through the draft. The early return on the 2008 draft looks to be a success in that department. Pedro Alvarez will be the top prospect in the organization for a second year in a row. Chase d’Arnaud could end up in a lot of top ten lists, with Robbie Grossman also ending up in a few. Jordy Mercer, Quinton Miller, Justin Wilson, Matt Hague, Calvin Anderson, and a few other players have great shots at appearing in the top 30 prospect lists going in to next season.

The Pirates spent $9.8 M in the 2008 draft, which was $3.9 M more than their next highest season, which was 2006 when they spent $5.9 M. In fact, the $9.8 M was almost double the Pirates’ average spending in the draft from 2004-2007. The bulk of the spending came on over slot guys like Alvarez, Grossman, and Miller.
The Pirates should see a quick return on Alvarez, but the high school players like Grossman and Miller will likely take a few years to develop. We’ve seen potential from those two players in particular, although as I’ve said many times, I’m waiting until their 2011 seasons to judge them. After all, that’s the year they’d both be juniors in college, had the Pirates not signed them, with both players likely strong candidates to go in the first round of the draft.
Finally, my top ten prospects from this draft:
1. Pedro Alvarez, 3B
2. Chase d’Arnaud, SS
3. Robbie Grossman, OF
4. Quinton Miller, RHP
5. Jordy Mercer, SS
6. Justin Wilson, LHP
7. Jarek Cunningham, SS
8. Wes Freeman, OF
9. Matt Hague, 1B
10. Kyle Morgan, 1B

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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