Drafting For Need Is A Mistake

Should the Pirates take a hitter due to their 2011 offensive struggles?

A few weeks ago, James Tate, a high school senior from Shelton, Connecticut, was banned from attending his senior prom.  Tate was banned for trespassing on school property prior to the event.  Why was he trespassing?  Tate snuck on to school property at 1 AM to tape a cardboard sign up, asking his potential date to the dance.  His date accepted, but unfortunately for Tate, he was unable to attend the dance, as he was suspended for trespassing, and due a strange rule by the school, was banned from the event.  The rule was that any student suspended after April 1st would also be banned from prom.

Clearly Tate should have hung the sign on March 30th, since the violation becomes much more serious the closer you get to the actual event.  Instead, Tate was punished because his school was short sighted, elevating any behavior that was closer to the big event.  It’s much of the same thing we see when the MLB draft comes around.

The Pittsburgh Pirates lost their third game in a row today, losing by a score of 4-2.  Their previous games saw them lose by a score of 2-0 each time.  It’s only three games, and those three games shouldn’t get any more attention than the three game stretch last week that saw the Pirates combine for 21 runs.  However, because it’s close to the draft, Pirates fans are taking the same approach as Shelton High, focusing way too much on behavior close to the big event.

The biggest mistake you can make in a draft is selecting based on need.  The reason it is such a big mistake is because a need on May 25th, 2011 might not exist on June 1st, 2013, which is the earliest we can expect to see the 2011 first round pick in the majors.  Granted, the pitching for the Pirates this year has been outstanding, even if a few starters are on the lucky side.  I’ll also admit that the hitting has been disappointing.  Andrew McCutchen is the only player with an OPS of .800 or better.  After a hot start, Jose Tabata has really fallen off.  Pedro Alvarez has had an extremely disappointing start to his 2011 season.  Even Neil Walker has struggled lately.

Coming in to the season, the Pirates were banking on those four players leading their offense.  When we looked at the draft, we had dreams about a lineup that included all four of those players, plus Anthony Rendon, making up one of the best young lineups in the league.  It was only a few months ago that pitching was the big need for the Pirates.  People were suggesting that the Pirates should pass on Rendon, who was still the consensus number one prospect, because the team needed pitching.

Now the Pirates are to the point where Brad Lincoln is looking impressive in AAA, and the Pirates don’t even have a spot for him in the major league rotation.  In just two months of the regular season, we went from people wanting to sign Jeremy Bonderman to fill out the rotation, all the way to the point where people feel good enough about the pitching staff to let it affect a long term decision like the first pick in the 2011 draft.

If the opinion about the pitching staff, as well as the opinion about the hitting staff, can change in just two months of the regular season, then what will happen in the two whole years that we have to cover between now and the time the 2011 number one pick arrives in the majors?  That’s plenty of time for Alvarez, Walker, Tabata, and McCutchen to prove that this is just a poor start, rather than a sign of a bleak future.  It’s plenty of time for guys like Tony Sanchez, Starling Marte, Chase d’Arnaud, and maybe even Matt Curry, to make the jump to the majors.  On the flip side, maybe the pitching doesn’t hold up over those two years.  Maybe a year from now we’ll be talking about pitching as a need again, with the hitting being set.

If James Tate had been suspended for trespassing back in November, he would have been able to go to prom.  Instead, he was suspended in May, and while the violation was no different, the timing caused the school to make a short sighted ruling.  The same thing is happening with the draft.  It’s getting close to the dance, and the hitters are being rung up on violations.  Unlike the actual dance, this decision has a long term impact.  We can’t predict whether hitting will still be a need in a few years, which is when the 2011 draft picks should start arriving.  Because of this, rather than making a long term decision on short term performance, the Pirates should just take the best player available, which gives them the best chance of long term success.  Maybe that best player available happens to be a hitter.  If it is a hitter with the first pick, that hitter would only be a good selection if he’s the best available.

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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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steve-Zielinski/100000181161454 Steve Zielinski

    Rendon is the right player available at the right time. The Pirates need a hitter who can hit for power and average. They need a middle of the order hitter. The team has other needs. But adding a power-hitting corner play is a glaring one.

    A strong case can be made for Rendon having the highest ceiling of any player in the draft. He’s also a position player, and thus less likely to suffer the kind of career threatening injury that a pitcher faces as a matter of course.

    To my mind, taking Rendon with the first pick was uncontroversial last winter and it’s uncontroversial now. My preferences for the first pick:

    1. Rendon
    2a. Bundy
    2b. Starling
    3. Bradley
    4. Hultzen

    This is a deep draft class. The player taken with the first pick has to have a ceiling that’s well above average. Rendon is such a player, one who has excelled while playing at the pinnacle of the college game. He’s the best player, has the lowest risk of any of the top players and even meets a team need.

  • Anonymous

    Your logic is sound except for one thing. The draft is the only way to acquire a young hitter. Since the Pirates refuse to sign a bonifide hitter as a FA they must develope the player from the farm. If you big foray into FA is the Overbays, Diazs, and Burnitz of the world you will continue to lose. The best player is Bubba Starling in this draft. Bucs your on the clock.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2E3XK7BOTFPQKDI7TK6CPKQMGE Orlando Underground Radio

      OK, this is a good argument/bad argument situation.  Yes, you don’t draft on a need basis of the current team.  HOWEVER, when a player can be pushed through the system quickly and be an impact player, you almost have to look at the current team and figure out which hole that player would best fit.  Granted, our pitching might completely bottom out with the current staff and we all assume some trades from that staff are coming(Maholm) or released(Ohlendorf) or moved back to the bullpen(Karstens).  That leaves Morton who was awful last season but very good this season so far and McDonald who is finally settling in and pitching well enough to win most games.  However, I look at 3 things when making my decision on who to draft.

      1. What is the strength of this upcoming draft class?
           A.  Simple, it’s a very deep pitching draft and even though the Pirates don’t have their 2nd pick until #61 which is basically the start of Round 3, there should be plenty of arms and “tough to sign” guys that could make up for not drafting a pitcher 1st.

      2.  What is the organizational depth?
           A.  I would say that we have arms all over the place at every level that could be in our rotation.  We have everything from Aces(Taillon), Potential Aces(Allie, Heredia) to #2-#3 guys(Von Rosenberg, Cain, Locke, Owens, Wilson, etc) to Depth guys(too many to name).  Positional players, I think we are a bit light on with the closest to making an impact might be Presley, Lambo, and S. Marte.  Sure, you can say guys like d’Arnaud, Harrison and Hernandez but they are far from sure things.  I don’t want to mention T. Sanchez because we aren’t looking at catchers anyhow.

      3.  What is the biggest need on the current roster right now?
            A. This is where you have to look at a guy who can help in a year or two and both of the guys linked to the Pirates as being selected 1st could be with the team even by the end of 2012 with Rendon and Cole.  Other guys might take another year or two after that with Hultzen and Bundy.  So, in some respects, you have to look at the current roster and figure out if your team could be that much closer to a championship caliber team sooner or figure that you are saving up for 1-3 years of a solid run.

      My draft pick choice?  3B Anthony Rendon – Rice

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

        Even if a player goes through the farm system “quickly” you have to consider what “quickly” means.  For baseball, it means the player won’t arrive until June 2013.

        Also, looking at the roster right now and projecting needs in 2013 is very flawed.  It was only three months ago that the strength of this team was hitting, and the weakness was pitching.  By the time the #1 pick comes up to the majors, we will have passed two trade deadlines, two off-seasons, and possibly two drafts.  It will also give the current young hitters two years to prove themselves, and it will provide two years for additional hitters to emerge from the minors.

        It’s impossible to look at the current team, and suggest that a two month strength and a two month weakness will still exist in two years.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OGCKUSO5MA5VUCJHW2YSJ2K3TM Bob

          Let’s face the facts, players never move “quickly” through our system for some reason.  

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

      But by the same logic, it’s the only way to acquire a top of the rotation pitcher.

      And I’d say it’s easier to acquire a top hitting prospect via trade than it is to acquire a top pitching prospect.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OGCKUSO5MA5VUCJHW2YSJ2K3TM Bob

      Starling is not the best player available.  If anyone is it’s Bundy but he doesn’t want to play for Bucs.  

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2E3XK7BOTFPQKDI7TK6CPKQMGE Orlando Underground Radio

        I agree with you Tim but it HAS to be a somewhat factor for the long-term of where a player could be plugged into the current system of young, core players.  In this case, Rendon would make all the sense in the world because for the long-term, Pedro is seen as more of a 1B anyhow.  If that is true, plugging Rendon into 3rd and moving Pedro to first, not only begins that process but adds another impact bat to our current line-up.  You have to figure these young guys are all here for many years yet so to have someone plugged in, even in 2013 makes this pick, almost a no-brainer at this point.  However, if you are concerned that your pitching isn’t going to be an area of strength by the same time, then, you might go with a pitcher.  Again, I look at #1 and #2 on my list as the bigger of the 2 factors on who to draft but #3 has to be somewhat considered as well.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2E3XK7BOTFPQKDI7TK6CPKQMGE Orlando Underground Radio

        I agree with you Tim but it HAS to be a somewhat factor for the long-term of where a player could be plugged into the current system of young, core players.  In this case, Rendon would make all the sense in the world because for the long-term, Pedro is seen as more of a 1B anyhow.  If that is true, plugging Rendon into 3rd and moving Pedro to first, not only begins that process but adds another impact bat to our current line-up.  You have to figure these young guys are all here for many years yet so to have someone plugged in, even in 2013 makes this pick, almost a no-brainer at this point.  However, if you are concerned that your pitching isn’t going to be an area of strength by the same time, then, you might go with a pitcher.  Again, I look at #1 and #2 on my list as the bigger of the 2 factors on who to draft but #3 has to be somewhat considered as well.