The Pittsburgh Pirates have taken two very different approaches in the MLB draft under General Manager Neal Huntington. In the 2008 draft, the first for Huntington, the Pirates selected Pedro Alvarez with their first pick, second overall. The Pirates ended up giving Alvarez a $6 M bonus to sign, which was the biggest bonus in franchise history. They didn’t stop there, also signing Robbie Grossman, Quinton Miller, Jarek Cunningham, and Wesley Freeman away from college commitments, spending $1 M on the sixth round Grossman, and $900 K on the 20th round Miller.
In 2009 the Pirates took a very unorthodox approach, especially when compared to their 2008 draft. The Pirates drafted Tony Sanchez in the first round, opting more for signability, rather than going for top prep pitchers like Tyler Matzek or Jacob Turner. The Pirates claimed to have Sanchez on the top of their board, and the signability factor allowed them to lure prep pitchers Zach Von Rosenberg, Zack Dodson, Colton Cain, and Trent Stevenson away from college commitments, not to mention an over-slot deal to Jeffrey Inman, a former first round talent before suffering an injury filled 2009 season and falling to the Pirates in the 12th round.
The Pirates have outspent every team in the majors in draft bonuses in the last two years combined. That big spending approach shouldn’t change this season. Last week I took a look at the 2010 draft budget, noting that the Pirates had up to $11.3 M remaining in their three year, $25-30 M budget. That amount of money would allow them to take an expensive talent in the first round like in 2008, and several signability picks in the later rounds, like we saw in 2009.
The First Round – Jameson Taillon vs Manny Machado
For about a month the Pirates have been mentioned in almost every mock draft as taking either Manny Machado or Jameson Taillon. Drew Pomeranz has been mentioned, although in the last week the consensus opinion is that the pick is down to Taillon and Machado. Neal Huntington said on his Sunday radio show that it was between Taillon, Machado, and a college pitcher, which is believed to be Pomeranz. However, everyone pretty much expects Pomeranz to be out of the mix at this point.
The top player in the draft is Bryce Harper, although Harper is a lock to go to the Washington Nationals with the first overall pick. Taillon and Machado make up the next tier of players, with the drop off after those two being significant. Taillon is by far the top prep pitcher in the draft, as well as the top pitching prospect. Machado is the best prep hitter, and the best hitter after Harper. The problem the Pirates will run in to is deciding which one to select. Do they take the potential top of the rotation starter, who has drawn comparisons to Josh Beckett? Or do they take the potential All-Star shortstop who has been described as potentially being A-Rod Lite?
Taillon and the Risk of Prep Pitchers
Jameson Taillon is an amazing talent. He throws up to 99 MPH, and consistently works in the 93-95 MPH range, even in the late innings. In addition to his plus fastball, Taillon has a plus curveball and a plus slider, and a good changeup that he rarely uses. One downside to Taillon is his tendency to be hit around this past year. That’s not something you expect to see from a high school pitcher who can hit the upper 90s, and it does draw some concerns about his ability to be a future ace. Taillon also threw a no-hitter this year, striking out 19 of 21 batters in the outing, which shows that he wasn’t hit around all the time, and that he did show signs of dominance.
The biggest concern with Taillon comes from the risk of selecting high school pitchers. To give you an idea of the risk involved, I went back to look at the players taken in the first round of the 2001-2005 MLB drafts. I took out any players who didn’t sign, then broke the players who did sign in to four groups: prep pitchers, NCAA pitchers, prep hitters, and NCAA hitters. I then looked at how many made the majors, how many were above average (averaged 1.0 WAR per season or better) and how many were star players (the top 20 overall players, which coincidentally worked out to all of the players who averaged 3.0 WAR per year or better). Here were the results:
As you can see, prep pitchers had the lowest ratio of making the majors. However, prep pitchers were similar
to prep pitchers in the ratio of above average, and star players, and in both cases, NCAA pitchers had a worse success rate. The safest bet is a college hitter, but how big of a difference does it make in the short term?
In the five year sample that I took (and I picked those five years because 2001 was as far back as I could go with the Baseball America pre-draft rankings, and 2005 seemed like the latest without running in to a ton of prospects who could still make the majors) there were 30 prep pitchers who signed, and 33 NCAA hitters who signed. NCAA hitters were a better bet to produce an above average player and a star player, but the difference really isn’t that significant. The difference between the two groups is three more prep pitchers becoming above average, and one to two of those pitchers becoming a star. Over the five year sample, NCAA hitters have produced just two more star players than prep pitchers.
A lot of emphasis gets placed on who was selected first, and I absolutely disagree with that analysis. That approach isn’t looking at the top talent, but who was drafted where. The approach basically says that Jameson Taillon improves his chances of success if he falls to number ten, and that the pitcher who would have been drafted tenth hurts his career chances if he’s drafted second. What the “failure rate of prep pitchers in the top picks” analysis fails to realize is clearly obvious: perhaps the problem is that the top prep pitchers weren’t being selected with the top picks in the draft.
Take Kazmir for example. He was rated the number one prep prospect in the 2002 draft, and the number two prospect overall that year. Yet Kazmir fell to 15th overall, and was the fourth prep pitcher to go off the board, behind Adam Loewen, Chris Gruler, Clint Evers, and Zack Greinke. Everts was rated the 16th best prospect in the draft, and went fifth overall, one spot ahead of Greinke.
From 2001-2005 the top rated prep pitchers have seen the following results:
2001 – Gavin Floyd, 1.6 WAR per year
2002 – Scott Kazmir 3.5 WAR per year
2003 – Jeff Allison, highest level was AA
2004 – Homer Bailey, 1.4 WAR per year
2005 – Chris Volstad, 0.8 WAR per year
Compare that to the top college hitters from the same years:
2001 – Mark Teixeira, 4.7 WAR per year
2002 – Jeff Baker, 0.5 WAR per year
2003 – Rickie Weeks, 1.7 WAR per year
2004 – Stephen Drew, 1.2 WAR per year
2005 – Alex Gordon, 2.2 WAR per year
The worst pick for the college hitters was Baker, and Teixeira was the only star player. The worst pick out of the prep pitchers was Allison, and Kazmir was the only star player. So what does this mean for this year?
A lot of the selection process depends on the talent level. If the top talent is a prep pitcher, and you’re debating between that pitcher and a college player rated lower and on a different talent level, then you go with the pitcher. Last year the Pirates chose Sanchez over guys like Matzek and Turner, but the consensus on the draft was that after the first two picks, everyone was on the same talent level. That consensus doesn’t exist this year. There’s a big drop in talent from Taillon, the top prep pitcher, to Zack Cox, the top college hitter, rated sixth overall by Baseball America.
Over a long period of time, if you continue to select prep pitchers, you’re likely to feel the impact. If you go ten years drafting college hitters over prep pitchers every year, you’ll probably see one additional above average player, and maybe even one additional star player. But to have success in the draft, you can’t take a blanket approach. Each draft needs to be viewed based on the talent level available, which means that if you have a draft where the prep pitcher is on a higher level than the college hitter, you take the prep pitcher, and hope that this is one of those cases where you get a Scott Kazmir, or at least a Gavin Floyd.
Is Manny Machado Alex Rodriguez Pt. 2?
There hasn’t been much information released on Manny Machado, which isn’t a big surprise. I don’t know how long it took me to compile the unofficial stats for the Jameson Taillon tracker, but I do know it was easier that he was a pitcher, with a limited amount of games. It would be nearly impossible for a hitter, and that’s mostly because prep stats are very hard to find.
The numbers on Machado are impressive, but the skills are what will tell the true story. Machado hit for a .640 average in 86 at-bats this past year, with a homer every 3.19 at-bats, and 17 stolen bases. You could chalk that up to weak talent at the high school level, but it’s impossible to dismiss Machado’s tools.
At the plate, Machado has a good feel for hitting, with strong, quick wrists, and the ability to hit the ball on the sweet spot of the bat. When he strikes the ball, it’s quick and with force. Machado is thin, at 6′ 2″, 180 pounds, but he is expected to fill out as he gets older, which could give him more power.
The A-Rod comparisons are probably mostly due to Machado’s location in Miami, and his position as a prep shortstop. The best comparison I’ve seen was by Keith Law, who called Machado “A-Rod Lite”. Machado is projected with the potential to have average power, which definitely isn’t A-Rod like. However, that plus his potential to be a .300 hitter could make him an All-Star shortstop.
Machado is very strong on defense at the position, with a strong arm, and the ability to make routine plays with ease. Machado doesn’t have a lot of speed, with his speed grading out as average. As his frame fills out, that could become a problem at shortstop, forcing a move to third base. Machado projects for the stats to play third, although I’d imagine any team who takes Machado will try to keep him at short as long as possible, in order to get the maximum benefit of his numbers, especially the power numbers which are rare to the shortstop position.
Machado won’t be Alex Rodriguez, but he has a very good chance of being an All-Star shortstop, who is strong on both sides of the game.
Another Encounter With Scott Boras?
Selecting Manny Machado would put the Pirates in line with a long summer of negotiations with Scott Boras. We all remember how that played out last time. The Pirates agreed to a deal with Pedro Alvarez, Boras eventually filed a grievance that the deal was reached after the midnight deadline, and the grievance was eventually dropped once the Pirates re-worked Alvarez’s contract.
Don’t expect the same thing to happen this time around. Alvarez was the top client for Boras in the 2008 draft, and there were rumors that Boras and the Hendricks Brothers were competing to see who could get the biggest bonus. The Hendricks Brothers got a $6.2 M deal for Posey, while Alvarez got a $6 M deal.
I’ve always believed that the grievance was more about Boras trying to get the top bonus in the draft than it was about the Pirates. For one, Boras didn’t file a grievance over Eric Hosmer, who received the same bonus as Alvarez as the third overall pick. Hosmer also signed after midnight. Boras also dropped the grievance once the Pirates agreed to restructure the contract, giving Alvarez a major league deal which paid $155 K more than what Posey received. I just don’t think the extra $355 K meant much to Boras, outside of the fact that it was more than what Posey got.
Boras will be making his statement with Bryce Harper this year, which means Machado will be in the Eric Hosmer role: going for a big bonus, with no fuss after the deal is signed.
The Hendricks Brothers Are No Cake Walk
A lot of fans have suggested the Pirates will take Jameson Taillon in order to avoid Scott Boras. This is ridiculous for two reasons. One, it comes with the theory that the Pirates didn’t know what they were getting in to with Boras in 2008, and having seen the results, will now shy away from Boras clients. Considering the history between Boras and Frank Coonelly, there’s no way the Pirates didn’t understand what Boras was capable of.
What those fans probably don’t know is that the Hendricks Brothers can be just as brutal in negotiations. Take their 2008 negotiations with Aaron Crow and the Washington Nationals. The Hendricks Brothers wanted a big bonus and a major league contract. Washington ended up offering $3.5 M on a minor league deal, and the Hendricks Brothers and Crow passed over a difference of $500 K. The next year, Crow got a major league deal for $4.5 M from the Royals, drafted three spots lower than he was taken in 2008.
If you don’t have enough to read with this draft preview, why don’t you check out this massive recap of the negotiations between Washington and the Hendricks Brothers. Either way, the Pirates are in line for a tough negotiation process.
Potential Signability Picks in the Middle Rounds
The selection of the first round pick will be just the beginning. Day two of the draft will bring the inevitable top ranked prep players who will fall to the middle rounds due to signability concerns. Last week I posted a list of prep players in Baseball America’s top 200, along with their college commitments. While there’s no way of knowing who will actually fall to the later rounds, we can certainly take an educated guess.
For example, the Pirates have had one guy fall to them in the sixth round from the 40-50 range in the last two years. Robbie Grossman, ranked 49th overall, fell in 2008. Zach Von Rosenberg, ranked 41st overall, fell in 2009. A good thing to look for would be top recruits, or in state recruits, like Von Rosenberg and LSU. Some guys I’d keep an eye on:
Mike Foltynewicz - OK, I’ll admit that the main reason I have him here is because he’s a Texas recruit, and I think it would be kind of funny if the Pirates stole a top Texas recruit for the third year in a row. But Foltynewicz is the 44th best prospect in the draft, and throws 91-94 MPH, touching 96. He also has a good changeup, which could eventually be a plus pitch. Foltynewicz has a projectable frame at 6′ 4″, 190 pounds, and could throw consistently in the mid-90s one day.
Zach Lee – Lee is the 29th best prospect in the draft, and could easily go in the first round. However, signability concerns could see him drop, especially with a rumored $3 M asking price. Lee has a commitment to LSU to not only play baseball, but to play quarterback for the football team. Lee throws 90-93 MPH, with a projectable 6′ 4″, 195 pound frame. Lee also has a sharp slider and a changeup that shows promise. I don’t think Lee makes it to the sixth round, but he’d be great as a second round pick.
Randy LeBlanc - LeBlanc has shot up the draft rankings, going from an 87-88 MPH fastball last year, to a 90-92 MPH fastball that tops out at 94. He has a lean 6′ 5″ frame, with more projection that could allow him to add velocity. LeBlanc has the makings of a good breaking ball, but the pitch needs polish. He needs some work on his changeup, which is in the early stages. It sounds like LeBlanc will need some work, and he has a commitment to Tulane, which means he could fall in the draft and be harder to sign in the later rounds.
Reggie Golden - Switching over to a position player here, Golden is an Alabama prep player and the top recruit for Alabama next year. He’s a five tool outfielder who profiles best as a right fielder. Golden has good speed right now, but as he matures, his main strength will be power. Golden has impressive strength for a guy under six feet tall, and raw bat speed. Golden has an above-average arm, and lacks plate discipline. Sounds kind of like another Robbie Grossman type project to me.
Don’t Expect A Lot of Signings
In 2008 the Pirates signed 32 players, although a lot of the signings were late round players who were signed as organizational depth, and who have since been released. In 2009 the Pirates only signed just 23 players. That’s not a problem, as they didn’t have a need for the organizational depth signings, especially with all of the trades they made, which brought in a big wave of prospects.
This year the Pirates will see 16 players moving up from their Venezuelan Summer League and Dominican Summer League teams. They also still have a minor league system that is full of players from the trades and signings last year, to the point where none of the prep pitchers signed last year are on a full-season roster. At the moment there’s 43 players between the State College Spikes and the GCL Pirates, assuming the Pirates haven’t signed anyone else or released anyone on my list. Any early signings will likely join this group, which means there’s no big need to sign a ton of the organizational depth picks. Therefore, I’m expecting the Pirates to take the same approach as the 2009 draft: not a lot of signings, but almost every signing will be a legit prospect, with a focus on spending big to get quality players from day two of the draft.