Top 10 Draft Picks of the Decade

With 2010 just around the corner, we’ve started to see a lot of “decade recap” articles around the web, including several Pirates related themes, such as the WHYGAVS All-Decade Team, Joe Starky’s recap of the decade, and Pirates Property’s Top 10 Pirates of the Decade.  I decided to take a look at some of the best and worst moves of the decade from a front office standpoint.  I will cover the draft, free agent signings, trades, and overall decisions.

To start things off, here are the top ten draft picks of the decade.  Note that in order to qualify for the list, a player not only has to be drafted, but has to be signed by the Pirates.  This means that Stephen Drew and Jeremy Guthrie don’t qualify, since the Pirates didn’t sign them, but that Chris Young does qualify, even though he was traded before ever playing a season in Pittsburgh.  A player also doesn’t have to have time in the majors yet, although I held off on 2006-2009 draft picks, with a few exceptions based off of minor league success and potential.  Now, on to the list…

10. Rudy Owens, LHP, 2006, Rd. 28, Pick 830

Owens was part of the last draft and follow class, and ended up signing the following May for $390 K as a 28th rounder.  Owens didn’t do much in 2007 or 2008, but broke out in 2009, with a 2.10 ERA in 124 innings between low-A and high-A, along with an 8.2 K/9, a 1.2 BB/9, and a 0.8 HR/9.  Owens carried his success over to the Carolina League playoffs, where he pitched two gems that helped Lynchburg capture the 2009 title.  Owens is slotted for AA next season and projects as a middle of the rotation starter, although his control and command of his pitches could make him a very special pitcher.

9. Nyjer Morgan, OF, 2002, Rd. 33, Pick 973

As a 33rd round pick, Morgan was a steal, no pun intended (actually I fully intended that).  He took awhile to reach the majors, spending six seasons in the minors with a career .293/.370/.365 line in 1980 at-bats, including 234 steals in 513 games.  Morgan had a .300/.357/.366 line in 486 at-bats at AAA, with 70 steals.  Morgan got his break in 2008 after the Jason Bay and Xavier Nady trades, and hit for a .294/.345/.375 line in 160 at-bats.  In 2009 he hit for a .277/.351/.356 line in 278 at-bats to start the season, including some league leading defense in left field.  He was traded to the Nationals for Lastings Milledge, where he caught fire, hitting for a .351/.396/.435 line in 191 at-bats with Washington.  On the 2009 season, Morgan recorded 42 steals in 120 games.

8. Matt Capps, RHP, 2002, Rd. 7, Pick 193

Capps had a great run with the Pirates up until the 2009 season.  He made a brief appearance in the majors in 2005, and spent the entire season in Pittsburgh in 2006, with a 3.79 ERA in 80.2 innings, along with a 6.2 K/9, a 1.3 BB/9, and a 1.15 WHIP.  In 2007 he moved in to the closer’s role mid-season, and posted 18 saves, along with a 2.28 ERA in 79 innings on the season, with a 7.3 K/9 and a 1.8 BB/9.  Capps returned as the closer in 2008, saving 21 games, with a 3.02 ERA in 53.2 innings, plus a 6.5 K/9, and an incredible 0.8 BB/9, leading to a 0.97 WHIP.  Capps struggled in 2009, posting a 5.80 ERA in 54.1 innings, with a 7.6 K/9 and a 2.8 BB/9.  He saved a career high 27 games, but blew five saves, and racked up eight losses with his struggles.  Capps was recently non-tendered, which will likely end his time in Pittsburgh.

7. Chris Young, RHP, 2000, Rd. 3, Pick 89

Young was a great pick by the Pirates, but was completely mis-judged by Dave Littlefield.  In 2001 Young made his debut in low-A ball, with a 4.12 ERA in 74.1 innings, including a strong 8.7 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, and 0.7 HR/9.  Despite the performance, Young repeated at low-A for the entire 2002 season at the age of 23.  In that season Young posted a 3.11 ERA in 144.2 innings, with an 8.5 K/9, a 2.1 BB/9, and a 0.7 HR/9.  Young was traded by Littlefield the following off-season along with Jon Searles to the Montreal Expos for Matt Herges.  The Pirates released Herges before the season even began.  Young was later traded to Texas, then eventually to San Diego.  In his career he has posted a 3.87 ERA in 731.2 innings, with a 7.8 K/9, a 3.5 BB/9, and a 1.1 HR/9.  I’d rate him higher, but his splits away from Petco Park aren’t that good, which makes me question whether Young is really a number 1-2 starter.

6. Zach Duke, LHP, 2001, Rd. 20, Pick 594

Duke made his major league debut in 2005, with an amazing 1.84 ERA in 14 starts and 84.2 innings.  In that time Duke posted a 6.2 K/9, a 2.4 BB/9, and a 0.3 HR/9.  From 2006-2008 Duke struggled, with a combined 4.82 ERA in 507.2 innings.  His control looked good, with a 2.5 BB/9, but his strikeouts dropped from his rookie campaign to a 4.3 K/9, and his homers rose to 0.9 HR/9.  Duke bounced back big time in 2009, posting a 4.06 ERA in 213 innings, with a 4.5 K/9, a 2.1 BB/9, and a 1.0 HR/9.  The big difference was his hit total, which dropped almost two hits per nine innings from his 2006-2008 seasons to his 2009 campaign.  Duke is an effective left handed innings eater with solid control, something any team would love to have.

5. Brad Lincoln, RHP, 2006, Rd. 1, Pick 4

Lincoln has yet to reach the majors, and his career has hardly been dominant in the minors.  Lincoln pitched just 23.2 innings in 2006 after signing, then went down with Tommy John surgery, missing the entire 2007 season.  Lincoln returned in 2008, splitting time between low and high A ball, and posting a 4.69 ERA in 103.2 innings, with a 6.5 K/9, a 1.5 BB/9, and a 1.1 HR/9.  Lincoln bounced back to top prospect status in 2009, starting off the season with a 2.28 ERA in 75 innings in AA, with a 7.8 K/9, a 2.2 BB/9, and a 0.5 HR/9.  Lincoln made the jump to AAA where he posted a 4.70 ERA in 61.1 innings, along with a 6.2 K/9, a 1.5 BB/9, and a 1.0 HR/9.  After Lincoln’s first four starts, he put up a 4.17 ERA in 41 innings, with a 6.4 K/9, and a 0.4 BB/9.  He is slated to arrive in Pittsburgh in June 2010, and could still become a top of the rotation starter.

4. Nate McLouth, OF, 2000, Rd. 25, Pick 749

McLouth was stuck in limbo on the bench in the majors his first three seasons, being blocked by guys like Matt Lawton in 2005, Jeromy Burnitz in 2006, and Xavier Nady in 2007.  McLouth saw more playing time at the end of the 2007 season, and emerged as the everyday starter in center field in 2008.  That season he broke out with a .276/.356/.497 line, with 26 homers, 23 steals, and won a Gold Glove award, although his UZR suggests he wasn’t anything close to the best defensive outfielder in the NL that year.  McLouth was traded mid-way through the 2009 season to the Atlanta Braves, fetching Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, and Gorkys Hernandez in return.  The move was a shocking one at the time, but has started to make more sense, as the Pirates have little need for McLouth going in to 2010 with Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones, and Lastings Milledge serving as outfield options, along with Jose Tabata in the wings.

3. Paul Maholm, LHP, 2003, Rd. 1, Pick 8

Maholm made a quick rise to the majors, making his debut in the middle of the 2005 season, although the debut could have been sooner had he not been struck in the eye with a line drive in early 2004, fracturing his frontal orbital bones.  Like Duke, Maholm got off to a great start in 2005, with a 2.18 ERA in 41.1 innings.  Maholm struggled some in 2006 and 2007, with a 4.89 ERA in 353.2 in

nings, although he had fairly respectable ratios, with a 5.6 K/9, a 3.3 BB/9, and a 1.0 HR/9.  Maholm had a breakout season in 2008, posting a 3.71 ERA in 206.1 innings, along with a 6.1 K/9 and a 2.7 BB/9.  Maholm’s ERA suffered in 2009 at 4.44 in 194.2 innings, although his ratios looked solid, and his FIP was 3.83, which means his ERA was likely a result of some bad luck.

2. Andrew McCutchen, OF, 2005, Rd. 1, Pick 11

McCutchen made his debut in early June, taking over center field for Nate McLouth after McLouth’s trade to Atlanta.  In his first season, McCutchen became one of the most exciting players the Pirates have seen in the majors this decade, and maybe since Barry Bonds left town.  McCutchen posted a .286/.365/.471 line in 433 at-bats, with 12 homers, 22 stolen bases, and nine triples thanks to his incredible speed.  This was all at the age of 22, which means we could be seeing a lot of potential from McCutchen in the years to come.

1. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, 2008, Rd. 1, Pick 2

Alvarez was regarded as the best prospect in the 2008 draft, and fell to the Pirates with the second pick.  The Pirates eventually signed him to a $6.355 M deal, and saw him make his professional debut in 2009.  Alvarez struggled to start the 2009 season in high-A ball, with a .247 average, but posted an .827 OPS and 14 homers in 243 at-bats.  Alvarez was promoted to AA at the end of June, at which point he caught fire, hitting for a .333 average and a 1.009 OPS for the remainder of the season, with 13 homers in 222 at-bats.  Alvarez is easily the best prospect the Pirates have had in their system since Barry Bonds was here, with the potential for superstar power numbers that have been rare in Pittsburgh.  After working on getting in shape this off-season, Alvarez will start the 2010 season at AAA, and is expected to be up in the majors by June 2010.

Honorable Mentions:

Tom Gorzelanny, LHP, 2003, Rd. 2, Pick 45
Rajai Davis, OF, 2001, Rd. 38, Pick 1134
Sean Burnett, LHP, 2000, Rd. 1, Pick 19
Jose Bautista, 3B, 2000, Rd. 20, Pick 599
Ian Snell, RHP, 2000, Rd. 26, Pick 779

Check back tomorrow for the 10 Worst Draft Picks of the decade…

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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, 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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