Are the Pirates Moving on From Kubitza and Weiss?

Yesterday it was announced that the Pittsburgh Pirates had signed 17th round pick Ryan Hafner, a prep pitcher with a commitment to Missouri State.  Today, Baseball America announced that Hafner received a $450,000 bonus, which is about $300,000 over the normal maximum “allowed” by Major League Baseball after the fifth round.

Hafner’s bonus is currently the second highest bonus so far in the draft for the Pirates, falling just $30,000 behind fourth round pick Nick Kingham, and topping third round pick Mel Rojas Jr. by a little more than $25,000.  Recently we’ve also heard rumors that the Pirates could also be close to a deal with 15th round pick Drew Maggi, a sophomore shortstop from Arizona State.  The reported deal could be in the $460,000 range, according to Keith Law, which would be another “over-slot” deal.

Nothing is official with Maggi, but the sudden increase of attention to the late round players suggests one thing: the Pirates may be moving on from seventh round pick Austin Kubitza and tenth round pick Zach Weiss.  I interviewed Kubitza last week, and in the interview he had the following to say about his bonus demands:

What was your asking price before the draft, and has that number changed at all as the signing period gets closer?

My asking price was between $1.5 and $2 million. I am planning on sticking to that range. If I have to wait 3 years to start my road to the majors then so be it. I’ll just be better and stronger, especially with the coaching staff at Rice.

The Pirates have only topped a $1.2 M bonus once after the first round, and that was in 2000 with third round pick Chris Young receiving $1.65 M.  The current management group, which has a focus on over-slot deals in the draft, hasn’t topped $1.2 M after the first round, which is what 2009 6th round pick Zach Von Rosenberg received.  That’s not really out of the ordinary.

Last year, only three players received $1.5 M or more after the first round.  Those players were Wil Myers, a Kansas City third round pick who received $2 M, Max Stassi, an Oakland fourth round pick who received $1.5 M, and Daniel Fields, a Detroit sixth round pick who received $1.625 M.  Stassi and Myers were rated the number 30 and 31 prospects in the draft, respectively, by Baseball America.  Fields was the number 148 prospect in the draft, according to Baseball America.

Kubitza was rated the 153rd best prospect in the draft by Baseball America.  By comparison, Von Rosenberg was rated the 41st best prospect in the draft in 2009.  Colton Cain, the 109th best prospect in the 2009 draft, got $1.125 M from the Pirates.  The main thing that matters is the rankings that the Pirates have, as that determines their value for each player.  The last two years the Pirates have gone heavy with the prep pitchers, including backup plans in the later rounds.  Last year they didn’t have any issues with the top ten picks, which might be why we didn’t see many later round picks signed.

Kubitza has the high bonus demands this year, and according to his interview, isn’t willing to come off of those demands.  Usually that can be viewed as posturing, although it gets a little bit of credibility with the recent moves by the Pirates towards the later round picks.  Weiss, on the other hand, has a strong commitment to UCLA, located about five miles from his hometown.

You could view the money given to Hafner as the money which would have normally gone to Dace Kime.  However, the rumored Maggi talks suggest that it’s more than just Kime’s money that is being re-allocated.  The Pirates will spend the bulk of their draft on Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie.  If you estimate $8 M combined for those two (and some may think that’s low), you bring the Pirates up to $10 M.  That leaves very little room for other signings, and the budget room only gets smaller for guys like Kubitza and Weiss as the Pirates sign more and more players.

This is the point where the usual question of “why can’t they just spend whatever it takes” gets brought up.  The problem with this approach is that it kills the Pirates going forward.  If the Pirates were to just give out whatever it takes to sign guys like Kubitza and Weiss, then they have no shot of negotiating with players in future drafts.  Those players can take the same approach, until eventually the Pirates have to call someone’s bluff and leave them unsigned.  This is why no team in the majors takes the “spend whatever it takes and get everyone signed” approach.

The whole plan of drafting prep players and signing them to over-slot deals has two benefits.  First, it allows the Pirates to lock up a player before they have the chance to go to college and break out in to a top round talent.  If they’re going to break out, they will break out in the Pirates’ system.  Second, it takes a buckshot approach to finding the talent that will break out.  There’s no rhyme or reason to finding out which players will take their game to the next level.  Stephen Strasburg wasn’t even drafted as a high school senior, while many first round prep pitchers have failed turning pro.  Kubitza may be the higher ranked prospect, but he’s no guarantee to have a better career than a lower rated pre-draft player like Hafner.

Obviously you aim for talent and projection, as that gives you some indication of which players will succeed at the higher levels.  That’s why Kubitza and Weiss are my top two players to sign after Taillon and Allie.  However, the talent levels between a guy like Kubitza and a guy like Hafner are very small.  Both are big framed pitchers who throw in the high 80s to low 90s.  The main difference between these two is that Kubitza has a good slider, while Hafner needs work on his breaking ball.  That’s something that can be developed and worked on in the minors.

There’s no guarantee that the Pirates are passing on Kubitza and Weiss.  They could definitely sign both players, along with Taillon and Allie.  However, the Pirates will need to make one of two choices.  They either need to sign Kubitza and Weiss, or they need to use that money on more later round picks, similar to what they’re doing with Hafner and possibly with Maggi.  It wouldn’t be a bad thing if they pass on Kubitza and Weiss, so long as they use the extra money to sign guys like Kent Emanuel, Dale Carey, Jared Lakind, and Brandon Pierce.

Tim Williams

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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  • Anonymous

    I was reading this and it got me to thinking about exactly how much the Pirates have to throw around cash wise. From what I’ve calculated on the Pirates Draft Signing Tracker page, there is a total of $1,651,900 that has been announced. There has also been reports of Drew Maggi signing, as noted on Pirates Prospects. From what one source has indicated, Maggi will receive a bonus slightly above $435,000. This brings the Pirates total up to about $2,086,900. This total does not take into account the 17 late round draft selections who do not have reported bonuses available to the public. The estimated slot for after the fifth round is $150,000 from what I understand. So, if you take $150,000 and multiply that by 17, you come up with $2,550,000. Add that number to the existing reported $2,086,900, and you come up with $4,636,900 that the Pirates have spent so far in draft bonuses.

    Last year, the Pirates had a draft budget reported to be $10,000,000. They spent about $8,919,000 in last years draft. That means that they had about $1,081,000 that they didn’t spend. Assuming that Bob Nutting is allowing for another $10,000,000 draft budget this year, we can add that $1,081,000 to the 10 million and come up with a flexible number of $11,081,000 for this years draft. Some people say it will cost in the ballpark of $8,000,000 to sign both Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie. If you add that $8,000,000 to the existing estimated $4,636,900 spent so far in this years draft, you come up with $12,636,900. That is about $1.5 million over the budget.

    Here’s to hoping Nutting spends a little more for quality talent. Not just for Taillon and Allie, but also for 15 year old Mexican pitching prospect Luis Heredia.

    I really am actually starting to believe in our front office. Get it done NH.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      As a rough estimate, the Pirates had 10 players last year who signed in the later rounds with unannounced bonuses. The amount of the announced bonuses was $8,606,900, which means those ten players received a total of $312,100.

      So I’d say an average of $30,000-35,000 should be used for the 17 players who don’t have reported bonuses this year. That increases the total spending about $500-600 K.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PVAKXR37WWO6OKYOEJUCYA45M4 jonathan

    very low draft selections aren’t guaranteed to get anything but a plane ticket and a locker… i think your assumption of what they got is a bit high which would pull that budget back down to normal… also don’t expect money from last year’s budgets to be added to this years, businesses just don’t do that, Nutting could have allowed for more money but it would have nothing to do with last year’s budget ( and in reality spending under the allotted amount would lead to having a smaller budget next year in most cases… just forecast wise )