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A Draft That Could Change a Franchise

If there’s one thing that I’m certain about, it’s that Neal Huntington and the Pirates’ management group know how to draft.

In 2008 they landed Pedro Alvarez, which was a no-brainer decision, although we’ve seen those types of no-brainer decisions get passed up in previous years, so Alvarez was a refreshing change.  In 2009 they took an innovative approach, going against the consensus scouting reports to take Tony Sanchez with the fourth overall pick, then loading up on hard-to-sign high school pitchers in the later rounds.  Those moves appear to have paid off, as Sanchez looks good in the lower levels, and projects to be a future All-Star catcher.  We should start to see the prep pitchers next month.

So how did they top the 2009 draft?  By executing a draft that could potentially change the face of the franchise, assuming the right players get signed by the August 15th deadline.  Let’s take a look at who has been drafted so far through the first two days before we continue (click on their names to check out their BUCCO Fans Player Pages):

2010 Draft Picks

The Pirates took their potential future ace in the first round on day one, drafting Jameson Taillon with the second overall pick.  A lot of what I’ve heard on Taillon says that he could move like a college pitcher.  He has the size, and has the stuff, which means there’s not much for him to learn at the lower levels.  Give him a year to master his fastball command, and he could move through the system like Stephen Strasburg.  Even if he doesn’t throw a pitch this year, I could see him arriving in 2013.

Things only got better on day two, and it’s hard to imagine topping a day where the Pirates selected their future ace, and a guy who will be their top prospect once Alvarez arrives in the majors.  The Pirates were given a gift when Stetson Allie fell to them in the second round.  Allie is considered to be one of the best prep arms in the draft outside of Taillon.  He has similar stuff to Taillon, although he’s wild when he gets his velocity up, making him an unpolished version of Taillon.  Allie comes with a demand of $3 M, and reportedly passed up a $2 M offer from a team interested in him on day one.

If the Pirates can sign Allie and Taillon, they could have two ace pitchers on their hands.  Allie is obviously less of a guarantee than Taillon (not that Taillon is a guarantee at all) due to his wildness, but he hit 100 MPH with his fastball this past weekend on several occasions, which makes him a talent you have to take a chance on.

The Pirates also went the prep pitcher route again in the middle rounds.  They drafted several players off of Baseball America’s top 200 list, such as Nick Kingham (#186), Jason Hursh (#173), Austin Kubitza (#153), and Zachary Weiss (#132).  All four players have commitments, with Kingham committed to Oregon, Hursh committed to Oklahoma State, Kubitza committed to Rice, and Weiss committed to UCLA.  Kubitza is Rice’s number three pitching prospect commitment, with Taillon being their number one commitment.

The Pirates also grabbed more prep pitchers with college commitments, including Dace Kime (Louisville), Ryan Hafner (Missouri State), and Kent Emanuel (UNC).  In fact, 18 of the 30 players drafted by the Pirates were pitchers, including 9 of the top 10 picks, and 14 of the top 20 picks.

On the offensive side, the most promising prospect is Mel Rojas Jr., son of former Montreal Expos closer Mel Rojas.  Rojas Jr. was a third round pick, and the number 135 prospect by Baseball America.  He’s a five tool athlete who profiles as a future right fielder, and could be a strong prospect if his power comes along.

Another interesting prospect is 15th round pick Drew Maggi.  Maggi, a shortstop from Arizona State University, looks like a great leadoff hitter.  He seems like he could be another Chase d’Arnaud, which is definitely a good thing for the middle infield depth in the Pirates’ system.

I have two main thoughts on the focus on pitching.  First, you can never have enough pitching.  Just look at this year for the Pirates.  I’m not talking about all of the issues that caused Jeff Karstens and Brian Burres to enter the rotation and make several starts.  I’m talking about the lower levels.  The Pirates were supposed to have a ton of pitcher depth in the lower levels, which included Brett Lorin, Aaron Pribanic, Hunter Strickland, Jeffrey Inman, Quinton Miller, Victor Black, and all of the prep pitchers taken last year.  Pribanic and Strickland have been very disappointing this year, and the rest of the players have been injured for most of the season, or in some cases, all year.  That’s not to say they won’t pan out, but it goes to show how frequently pitchers can get injured.

I’ve never heard an organization say “we’ve got way too much pitching”.  Anytime you hear that an organization has a ton of pitching, it’s usually followed with “so they will be able to put together the most attractive package to land (insert star player on the trade block)”.  The decision to focus almost the entire draft on pitching might land the Pirates a C.C. Sabathia rental one day, or maybe a Roy Halladay, without having to sacrifice a ton in the minors, thanks to the depth.

The other reason I don’t mind the lack of offense is because of who will be arriving in the lower levels this year from the international leagues.  The Pirates will be bringing up international prospects like Exicardo Cayonez, Eric Avila, Jorge Bishop, and Jonathan Barrios.  Those guys will provide the talent that you would have seen from a middle round draft pick, and in some cases, maybe better.

The best thing about this draft is the pressure it takes off of the young pitching prospects in the system.  Last year the Pirates selected top pitching prospects like Zach Von Rosenberg.  Those guys had a lot of projectability, but they aren’t number one pitchers at the moment.  Taillon, and maybe even Allie, are already top of the rotation prospects.  Now, guys like ZVR and Colton Cain won’t have the pressure on them of being the hope of the organization.  It’s also an added bonus if any of those guys do eventually become top of the rotation prospects, as that will only further increase the strength of the Pirates’ pitching depth.  As the title of this post says, this is a draft that could change the franchise.  The Pirates went from being a team without an ace since Doug Drabek, to a team with two top of the rotation prospects in their 2010 draft, plus a ton of guys who could potentially be added to the wealth of pitching depth already in the system.

The biggest thing now will be spending.  There has been no word on the demands of Taillon, although Allie is asking for $3 M.  It’s likely that the two could cost at least $8 M, and maybe more.  If the Pirates can sign both pitchers, it would probably take up the bulk of their $11.3 M that is remaining from the three year draft budget they have.  This is a case where the Pirates should increase the budget, due to special circumstances.  They were blessed with a gift when Allie fell to them.  It’s almost like they received two picks in the top 10 of the draft.  This isn’t like Tanner Scheppers, where they aren’t sure about his future due to his arm.  This is a situation where Allie has the talent, and fell to them because of a high price.  That’s usually a situation the Yankees and Red Sox find themselves in.  The Pirates need to step up with the extra money to not only sign these two top pitching prospects, but to also sign a good amount of guys in the middle rounds, and maybe a few guys in the later rounds.  If that happens, the Pirates could very well see this draft change the future of the franchise.

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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 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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