The Pirates may have lost 6-1 to the Chicago Cubs this afternoon, but today certainly feels good to be a BUCCO Fan. With the second pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected
right handed prep pitcher Jameson Taillon
(click on his name to check out his BUCCO Fans player page). I’ve written a lot about Taillon in the past few days, and he’s been my pick since at least mid-April
, so you can certainly find a lot of information about him on the site (including the player page). Rather than rehash the scouting reports on Taillon, I’m going to take a look at what Taillon means to the Pirates, then we’ll get to the day two preview.
The Ace of the Future
It seems like you could look back at any conversation centered around pitching in the Pirates system, and the same comment is inevitably brought up: the Pirates lack a true ace in their system. You’d probably have to go back to Doug Drabek to find the last ace the Pirates had. Along the way they’ve had guys like Kris Benson and Jason Schmidt who had the upside, but never realized their potential. They’ve had guys like Kip Wells, Oliver Perez, and Ian Snell put up good seasons, only to totally fall off in the following season, and never return to their success.
The problem is so bad that the Pirates often see expectations of pitchers get elevated much higher than they should. Zach Duke
is probably a number four or five pitcher on a contender, but he’s expected to carry the Pirates’ rotation. Paul Maholm
was looked at as a top of the rotation starter, but truthfully he’s a number three at best, or a number two in a weaker rotation. Brad Lincoln
is a top prospect, but he’s a number three pitcher, or maybe a number two at best, but definitely not an ace, despite being looked at as the future for the top of the Pirates’ rotation.
Then there’s the prep pitchers the Pirates drafted last year in the middle rounds. Guys like Zach Von Rosenberg
and Colton Cain
have the potential to be top of the rotation starters, but they’re far from a lock. ZVR and Cain both throw in the low 90’s, with the potential to increase their velocity one day.
Now Taillon isn’t a lock by any means. No pitcher, or for that matter, no prospect is a lock. However, Taillon is what we want ZVR and Cain to be. He already throws in the mid-to-upper 90’s. He’s got two plus pitches, with his fastball and curveball being the best two pitches in the 2010 draft. He throws a great slider, and has a changeup that is raw, mostly because he never needed it in high school. Taillon could potentially have four above average to plus pitches, and all he needs to do to accomplish that is work on his changeup.
There has also been talk that Taillon could move quickly through the farm system, possibly as quick as a college pitcher. Taillon has a big frame, at 6′ 6″, 225 pounds. He doesn’t really need to grow, and I doubt he has any more to grow. He probably can’t add any more velocity. He pretty much is what he is, only he’s a rare case of being matured in high school, from a tools perspective. Taillon has been compared a lot to Josh Beckett. Beckett was drafted in 1999, made his debut in the minors mid-season 2000, and by September 2001 he was in the majors to stay. It’s not out of the question that Taillon could arrive before 2014, which would put him in the majors at the age of 22 or younger. How far back do you have to go to find a Pirates pitcher who broke in to the majors at the age of 22? I don’t even want to start researching that.
One thing is a lock in all of this: it will feel great finally talking about pitching in the system, and being able to point to someone who undoubtedly has the skills to be the ace the Pirates have lacked for a long time.
The Supposed Risk of a Prep Pitcher
A lot of talk now will be about the risk of prep pitchers. I’m not here to say that prep pitchers aren’t risky. They certainly are, as are most picks who aren’t top college hitting prospects. I looked at this yesterday
, but let’s review it again today. From 2001-2005 there were 140 players who went in to the drafts rated as first round prospects, who ended up signing. Here is the breakdown of those players:
You’ll notice that prep pitchers have the lowest success rate of reaching the majors, but is that what really matters? There are two other categories I looked at, both based on the average Wins Above Replacement Level (WAR) per year of players in the majors league level. Above average was anyone who averaged a 1.0 WAR per year or bet
ter. Star players were the top 20 in all of the drafts, which also worked out to be anyone with a 3.0 or better WAR per year average.
Prep pitchers were about the same risk as prep hitters when it came to producing above average and star talent. Both areas were ahead of college pitchers, and both were behind college hitters. So what does this mean? Simply put, the rate of prep pitchers reaching the majors is lower, because you see more replacement level guys reaching the majors after being drafted as college hitters, college pitchers, or prep hitters. When you take out the replacement level players, you see that the risk of prep pitchers isn’t considerably worse than any other position. Over a ten year period if you take prep pitchers every year in the first round you could end up with one less above average player, and maybe one less star player. While you’d feel the effects of that sort of blanket approach, taking a prep pitcher in just one year is a good risk, especially with a guy like Taillon.
Taillon was rated as the second best prospect in the 2010 draft by Baseball America. Looking back through the pre-draft rankings, the last prep pitcher to be rated in the top three was Scott Kazmir, rated second overall in the 2002 draft. I didn’t have any numbers prior to 2001, although I’m sure Josh Beckett was a top three prospect. In fact, Baseball America looked at the best draft prospects
of the last 20 years, and rated Taillon 17th, one ahead of Josh Beckett, and three behind Pedro Alvarez.
Prep pitchers are risky, but the reward is potentially much better than taking the “safer” college pitchers, and not as big of a disadvantage compared to prep and college hitters as you would think. In short, Taillon is not your average prep pitching prospect, and is definitely worth taking a risk on.
Validating the Tony Sanchez Pick
When the Pirates took Tony Sanchez
over prep arms like Tyler Matzek and Jacob Turner, everyone assumed that they just didn’t like the risk of prep arms in the first round. The Pirates insisted that Sanchez was the best player available on their board, but that was met with skepticism.
The wild card in all of this is James Taillon, the top high school pitcher in the draft. We assume that the Pirates won’t take a high school arm in the first round since they passed on Matzek, Turner, and company in 2009. The question we have to ask is: do the Pirates not like taking high school arms in the first round, or did they just not like those particular high school arms in the 2009 first round? One draft is a small sample size to make an opinion out of, so while I don’t think it’s likely that the Pirates consider Taillon, I’m certainly not ruling him out. There is the chance that the Pirates feel he is worthy of a first round pick, despite being a prep pitcher, and take him, which could totally surprise everyone come June 7th.
If anything, this selection shows that the Pirates aren’t against taking prep pitchers, and that they probably didn’t like the options available last year. Obviously it has nothing to do with money, since Taillon will likely cost more than guys like Matzek and Turner did last year. Both drafts are similar in that talent after the first two or three picks is pretty much the same throughout the rest of the first round, which explains a lot of the reaches we saw on day one, especially in the top 10, in both drafts.
I’ve seen a lot of “the Pirates will go cheap again this year” comments, which obviously won’t be the case with Taillon, and never really made sense to begin with considering the amount the Pirates spent in the rest of the draft. We’ve now seen three drafts, and three totally different approaches, which we can say even before seeing the remaining 49 picks in this draft. I think the selection of Taillon today only confirms the claim that the Pirates took their best available player in each draft, including 2009 when they took Sanchez over prep pitchers who were rated higher by other venues.
Day Two Could Bring Great Things
The Pirates have the following picks in the early rounds on day two:
2nd Round, #52
3rd Round, #84
4th Round, #117
5th Round, #147
6th Round, #177
7th Round, #207
That’s six chances to land a top 200 talent, although I think it’s very unlikely that the Pirates do that with most of these picks. In fact, I could see rounds three, four, and five going the signability route, with round six targeting a top prep prospect who was rated as a first or second round pick, and falls due to signability concerns, similar to what we’ve seen the last two years with Robbie Grossman
and Zach Von Rosenberg.
As for the second round…
An Amazing Opportunity
The end of the first day left a ton of top talent on the board, with the Pirates having their choice of several top prep players with their second round pick. Topping the list is Stetson Allie, who came in to the draft rated as the 15th best prospect, according to Baseball America. Allie tops my list of wants for the first pick in the second round, but there are definitely more guys to choose from. Austin Wilson is a hitting prospect with a lot of potential, but at the same time kind of raw in certain areas, such as pitch recognition and plate patience. Prep pitcher A.J. Cole and prep shortstop/pitcher Yordy Cabrera are also available, as are college pitcher Brandon Workman, and college pitcher/outfielder Brett Eibner. Here is a rundown of these top players that are still on the board:
Stetson Allie - Allie would be a huge steal for the Pirates. Allie tops out at 98-99 MPH, and reportedly touched 100 MPH yesterday. He has a hard slider that tops out at 88-89 MPH. Baseball America said that the only pitcher with comparable stuff is Jameson Taillon. Allie is 6′ 4″, 225 pounds, and is an excellent hitter as well as a pitcher. Allie was rated as having some of the best raw power in the draft by Baseball America. He reportedly wants to hit, and he will get that opportunity at North Carolina. One downside with Allie is that his control can leave him when his velocity is up. Allie has good control working in the low-to-mid 90s, but some reports make him sound like Nuke LaLoosh when he gets his fastball up to the upper 90s, and the Pirates don’t have a bull mascot for him to hit. Allie is an unpolished version of Taillon. He might cost a lot to sign, but if he works out he could give the Pirates a double threat when paired with Taillon. Allie is a riskier prep pitcher, so I could understand the Pirates passing him up.
Austin Wilson - Wilson is a right field prospect, with a 6′ 4″, 210 pound frame, a strong throwing arm, and good speed for a player his size. Wilson has also displayed power with wooden bats. Wilson isn’t very polished, as he has trouble with pitch recognition, lacks plate patience, and has trouble with balls down in the zone. He has a commitment to Stanford, and has no advisor, which makes it hard to determine if he will sign. Wilson seems to me like a Robbie Grossman type prospect, and I’d probably like him better in the middle rounds, rather than the second round.
A.J. Cole - Cole has been on scout’s radars since the age of 12. He was considered to be a potential first rounder in 2009, but struggled in 2010, due to the flu and poor weather that threw a wrench in to the early season schedule in Orlando. Cole’s velocity was down early in the season, sitting at 88-93 MPH. In late-April and early-May, Cole saw his velocity jump back to 92-93 MPH, hitting 95-96 on a regular basis. Cole is 6′ 5″, 190 pounds, and his projectable frame should allow him to add strength, which will lead to a consistent velocity. Cole projects for solid command, and has a potential plus pitch in his curveball, which has a hard, late break. Cole wasn’t expected to fall out of the first round with his late season rebound, and was rated the #25 prospect by Baseball America right before the draft. At his best, he’s one of the best pitchers available in this draft. He would be an excellent choice to pair with Taillon.
Yordy Cabrera - Cabrera moved from the Dominican Republic at the age of 14, and is currently 19 and a high school senior. Cabrera has above-average raw power, and one of the strongest arms in the draft for an infielder. He’s listed as a right handed pitcher and a shortstop, and has the hands and speed to remain at the position, although he might move to third base later in his career. Cabrera throws his fastball in the low-to-mid 90s. His hitting is raw, but the advantage is that he could move to pitching if his bat doesn’t develop. There are questions about Cabrera’s age, and even if the age is legit, he’s a little old to be starting pro ball. He would pretty much be advancing on a college time frame, which could be tough since he’s never faced pitching better than what he’s seen at the prep level.
Brandon Workman - Workman sits 92-94 MPH, and tops out at 96, with good movement on his fastball, and tailing life. Workman throws a spike curveball that ranges in the upper 70s, with a sharp downward break and two plane action, although Workman has trouble commanding the pitch. Workman has a high-80s cutter that acts as a strikeout pitch against left handers. He could be a future number two starter, and coming out of college, could be on a fast track. He would likely command a $1-1.5 M bonus, which would be a bit above slot for the second round.
Brett Eibner - Eibner is a great two way talent who wants to be drafted as a hitter, but who is good enough to be taken as a pitcher. As a hitter, Eibner has the potential to be a power hitter, hitting the ball hard to all fields, and improving his pitch recognition this past season enough to take the ball the opposite way. Eibner has the speed and athleticism to be a center fielder, although he projects as more of a right fielder. His arm makes him a great asset at either position. On the mond, Eibner throws 92-94 MPH, topping out at 97. He has a slider/cutter that sits in the mid-80s, and can be a plus pitch when it’s on. Eibner would need to work on his secondary pitches, as right now the only thing that works for him consistently is his fastball.
The Pirates pick second in the second round, but with Washington set to shell out $10 M or more to Bryce Harper, the Pirates should have their pick of this list. If I were drafting, I’d take either Allie or Cole. Allie would probably be my top pick, due to his similarities to Taillon, although the wildness is a concern. Cole may be the safer pick, and probably wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for his early season struggles. The question the Pirates need to ask is whether those struggles are a thing of the past, never to be seen again. In either scenario, the Pirates have a rare opportunity to add a potential ace in the second round, whi
ch paired with Taillon in the first would give them a significant boost to their pitching depth. The move to draft Allie or Cole would be costly, especially when considering what Taillon will cost, but the upside is definitely worth the price, even if the Pirates can’t sign as many guys in the later rounds. I’ll get back to this later.
Will There Be Many Opportunities in the Late Rounds?
In 2008 the Pirates took a new approach, going over slot for picks that fell to them in the later rounds due to signability reasons. The approach certainly wasn’t new to baseball, although it was something we hadn’t seen until Neal Huntington took over. In 2009 that approach went to the extreme. But are other teams starting to catch on?
Oakland saw Max Stassi fall to them in the fourth round, and gave him $1.5 M to sign him away from a college commitment at UCLA. Kansas City gave Chris Dwyer, a college freshman eligible for the draft, $1.45 M one pick before Stassi. Von Rosenberg’s $1.2 M bonus in the sixth round was topped by the $1.625 M that Daniel Fields received from Detroit five picks later. Boston gave their 7th, 9th, and 10th round picks $550 K or more each. Baltimore spent over $2 M after the tenth round. In fact, Baltimore went the signability route in the first round, and ended up spending about $1.2 M less than the Pirates.
One thing I noticed this year is that a lot of teams were passing up on the top talent, and instead going for huge reaches. There were a few players selected in the first round who weren’t even rated in Baseball America’s top 200, although some of those went to teams like Texas and the Los Angeles Angels, who had several day one picks, and probably can’t afford big bonuses for all of their selections. Still, you have to wonder how long the Pirates can go before other teams catch on that for a few million extra, they can grab a few first or second round talents later in the draft.
So what should the Pirates do? Should they risk it, and hope that the hard to sign players fall to them? They would be in a good position drafting second in each round, but might not get as many opportunities to steal some top 200 prospects in the later rounds. Or should they take a guy like Stetson Allie or A.J. Cole in the second round, spend the bulk of their money on the first two picks, and hope that one or two signability picks fall their way in the middle rounds?
My preference would be Cole or Allie in the second round, along with a lot of signability players in the middle rounds as insurance in case you can’t sign the second round pick. That gives you the opportunity to spend the money on a backup plan in the middle rounds if Cole or Allie don’t sign, and it also leaves open the possibility of adding a few extra top talents even if Cole or Allie do sign.
Who Are the Guys Who Could Drop?
A.J. Vanegas - Vanegas is considered the top talent from Northern California, and the most pro ready. He has a 90-92 MPH fastball that tops out at 94. Vanegas can put the ball anywhere he wants when his delivery is on. His frame should allow him to add velocity as he grows. Vanegas is committed to Stanford, and could be a tough sign.
Garin Cecchini - Cecchini is one of the top prep hitters in the draft, listed as a third baseman. He missed most of his senior year in high school due to ACL surgery. He has a commitment to LSU, and might have fallen to day two due to concerns over his injury, and signability. The knee isn’t a long term concern, and he would be worth a shot in the middle rounds, especially with his power potential when he returns to full health.
Kris Bryant - Bryant is a third baseman who has drawn comparisons to Troy Glaus with his power, although the power usually shows up during batting practice, or with a metal bat, leaving concerns over how he will handle wooden bats. Bryant would be a good gamble to take, as his power would be a steal in the middle rounds if it was legit.
Robbie Aviles – Here is an interesting scenario. Aviles was the 58th best prospect in the draft, according to Baseball America. He has a commitment to Florida, but recently came down with an elbow injury, and could require Tommy John surgery. Aviles is 6′ 4″, 193 pounds and throws in the low-90s with his fastball, hitting 93-94 in the late innings. He has a changeup that could be a plus pitch. The Pirates could have a good shot at signing him if they offer him an over slot deal, and offer to pay for his surgery. They may even get a discount on his deal by picking up the tab for the surgery to get him healthy. He would be a project, but it’s not like Tommy John surgery is a career killer anymore.
Reggie Golden - This is a favorite of mine, a five tool outfielder who could develop power in the future, and who might be a tough sign. Golden is the top prep player from Alabama, and the top recruit to the hometown Alabama Crimson Tide. This could be exactly like the Grossman signing in 2008, although Golden is rated lower than Grossman was.