First Pitch: The 2009 Draft Class Lacking Impact Talent
Today we finished up the Bradenton Marauders recap, which means we’ve wrapped up all of the prep pitchers from the 2009 draft. There are still players from the 2009 draft to cover in the upper levels of the farm system. However, since a bulk of the draft was focused on those prep pitchers, this would be a good time to review the draft.
Before we begin, a reminder on my strategy for evaluating a draft. You can evaluate a draft at any time. There’s no correct way to make an evaluation, and no incorrect way, just as long as you realize that evaluations can change, and usually do change. I tend to wait three years before giving a serious evaluation of prep players. That’s the amount of time they would have been in college had they not signed. This gives some good perspective, as it allows us to think about how the player would be viewed if he was taken in the draft this year.
Prior to the season, I noted that this year was the year I’d be looking at the 2009 prep pitchers. Since they were such a big factor in the 2009 draft, you pretty much have to look at the entire draft. So here is a quick summary of all of the players who were drafted and signed. I left a lot of the later round organizational guys off this list, since most have been released by now.
1st Round: Tony Sanchez - The decision to take Sanchez was controversial. He was a reach for the fourth overall pick, being ranked as a late first rounder in the draft. The strategy wasn’t a bad one. It was a strategy used by a lot of teams high in the draft. So far, Sanchez has been disappointing as a high first round pick. He’s got the defensive skills behind the plate to be a major league catcher. He excels at blocking pitches, he’s got a strong arm, and he’s really improved his game calling and work with the pitching staff over the last two years. A lot of his defense has been rated based on his caught stealing numbers the last two years, although as we’re seeing in Pittsburgh this year, that’s not the fault of Sanchez as the Pirates don’t focus on the running game at all.
The problem with Sanchez has been his hitting. He’s lacked power the last two years, and hasn’t been hitting for average. He did see some pop return to his bat in Triple-A, hitting eight homers in 206 at-bats. That’s a pace for 19 homers in a 500 at-bat season, which is a good pace for a catcher. However, the lack of a strong average, and the lack of power in two years with Altoona is a concern. Sanchez has the defense to be a major league catcher, but his offense will determine what type of catcher he is. Right now it’s looking like he’ll fall anywhere between a strong defensive backup and an average starter with defense and power. There’s time for him to improve on that, but to do so he needs to continue hitting for power, and needs to find a way to hit for average.
Comp. Round: Victor Black - This year was a breakout year for the compensation pick in the 2009 draft. Black had dealt with injuries since being drafted, and this was his first year where he was fully healthy. The right-hander showed the potential to be a future closer, flashing a fastball that sat in the mid-to-upper 90s and has a lot of movement. He also has a great slider which he uses for strikeouts. The injuries are a concern, although he fared well in that department this year. Another concern is his lack of control at times, which could be an issue in the upper levels. Black has the upside of a late inning reliever who could close.
2nd Round: Brooks Pounders - Traded for Yamaico Navarro.
3rd Round: Evan Chambers - Chambers was a toolsy player when drafted, but not a lot of those tools have progressed. His stat line has been similar throughout his career. He doesn’t hit for average, hits for some power, draws a ton of walks, and strikes out too much. That’s a result of being too selective at the plate, sitting back and waiting for a pitch to drive. He received less than 300 plate appearances this year, and wasn’t really used like a prospect.
4th Round: Zack Dodson - Dodson was the first of the over-slot prep pitchers, signing for $600,000 (Pounders was the first prep pitcher, but signed for slot). The left-hander has shown some potential in his time as a pro, seeing his velocity increase to the 91-93 MPH range, and pairing that fastball with a nice big breaking curve. This year was a big set back for the lefty. He returned to West Virginia after missing time last year with a hand injury. Dodson struggled with his consistency at the level, sometimes looking like a potential middle of the rotation starter, and other times looking like no more than a relief prospect. To cap it off, he was suspended 50-games at the end of the year due to failing multiple substance of abuse tests. He’s still got some upside, but the repeat in West Virginia, the inconsistent play, and the suspension really hurts his stock.
5th Round: Nathan Baker - Baker struggled this year in the rotation in Altoona, dealing with control issues. He had a 36:38 K/BB ratio in 62 innings as a starter. His control issues were better after moving to the bullpen, with a 41:19 K/BB ratio in 43.2 innings. He also saw his ERA drop from 5.52 as a starter to 4.12 as a reliever. Baker could have some upside as a left-handed reliever in the majors.
6th Round: Zack Von Rosenberg - Von Rosenberg was the biggest over-slot signing, agreeing to a $1.2 M deal. He’s struggled the last two years in West Virginia, and while he showed some improvements this year, they come with the disclaimer that he was in his second year at the level. A big issue with Von Rosenberg has been his lack of fastball command. He has the tendency to flatten the pitch out and leave it up in the zone. That has led to homers the last two years, and led to him spending added time in extended Spring Training this year. He did cut his home run rate in half this year, but again that comes with the disclaimer of repeating the league.
Von Rosenberg is a projectable starter, at 6′ 5″, 205 pounds. He also has an easy delivery, with the chance to add velocity. That hasn’t come so far, as he’s remained in the 89-91 MPH range with his fastball. A potential increase in velocity isn’t as important as commanding his fastball. Even with more velocity, Von Rosenberg would be hit around leaving his fastball up in the zone. If he masters that, he won’t need the added velocity to be a good pitcher, as he can pair his fastball with an above average curve and changeup.
7th Round: Trent Stevenson - Stevenson signed for $350,000, but retired early in the 2012 season.
8th Round: Colton Cain - Cain was the second biggest over-slot signing, inking a deal for $1.15 M. He was one of three players sent to the Astros in the Wandy Rodriguez trade.
9th Round: Brock Holt - Holt has broken out this year with some great hitting in Altoona, Indianapolis, and now Pittsburgh. He’s hitting for a high average so far in the majors, but that average has been empty, with not a lot of walks and very little power. If Holt could become a .300 hitter with a good on-base percentage he could be a regular in the majors. However, his lack of power makes it more likely that he’ll end up as a utility guy, rather than a regular starter.
10th Round: Joey Schoenfeld - Schoenfeld was released in 2011.
11th Round: Aaron Baker - Baker was traded for Derrek Lee.
12th Round: Jeff Inman - Inman was signed for $425,000. He was considered a first round talent heading in to the 2009 season, but saw his stock drop due to injuries. Injuries derailed his first few seasons, similar to Victor Black. This year he was healthy for most of the season, after missing time early with an ankle sprain. He was rushed up to Altoona, where he pitched out of the bullpen. Inman can hit 98 MPH with his fastball, and works in the mid-90s, just like Black. However, he didn’t have the same numbers as Black in Altoona. He’s Rule 5 eligible this year, and while a team could take a chance on his arm out of the bullpen, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him go unprotected and undrafted.
18th Round: Ryan Beckman - Beckman is a sleeper relief prospect who was expected to make the jump to Altoona this year. He went down in his first outing, and had Tommy John surgery mid-season. The sidearm pitcher should return next year, and could get back on track as a relief pitching prospect.
21st Round: Phil Irwin - Irwin has been one of the better stories in the minors this year, putting up good numbers in Altoona and Indianapolis. The right-hander made the initial jump to Altoona last year, and had impressive results after relying more on his sinker to get ahead against the upper level hitters. He took the same approach this year, leading to a 2.93 ERA in 104.1 innings in Altoona, and a 2.57 ERA in 21 innings with Indianapolis. He also posted good strikeout numbers, with 83 in 104.1 innings in Double-A, and 28 in 21 innings in Triple-A. He’s got the chance to be a back of the rotation starter.
34th Round: Zac Fuesser - Fuesser was signed for $125,000. He’s spent time in the rotation in the lower levels, but profiles more as a reliever. He spent his second season in West Virginia this year, struggling with his numbers as a starter. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him moved to the bullpen next year.
As I said above, the strategy the Pirates used was a good one. But the implementation of that strategy hasn’t worked out this year. Sanchez has lived up to his defensive reputation. He’s not a Gold Glover in the majors yet, but he’s shown improvements the last two years, and has the skills to be a catcher in the majors. His offensive struggles the last two years definitely lower his value, and have prevented him from cracking the majors, despite the catching position being an issue in Pittsburgh each year.
The Pirates reached for Sanchez so they could go over-slot on middle round prep pitchers, rather than spending it all on one of the first round guys. So far that strategy hasn’t worked. We can’t expect any of the prep pitchers to be in the majors by now, and expecting them above high-A might be a bit much. But they should be putting up good results in the lower levels. The best results came from Cain, who was traded away. Von Rosenberg and Dodson both repeated in West Virginia, and neither put up the numbers you’d expect from a guy repeating the level. They also are each dealing with their own issues — continued fastball command for Von Rosenberg, and consistency for Dodson once he returns from his suspension.
It’s hard to say where the Pirates went wrong with the prep pitchers. The guys they took were highly regarded at the time of the draft. Baseball America had Von Rosenberg as the number 41 prospect in the draft, and the only reason he fell to the sixth round was because of a strong commitment to LSU. Colton Cain and Trent Stevenson were also top 200 prospects that year.
The fact that these guys were highly rated prospects would bring up issues with developing pitchers. If you look at the drafts that follow this one, that doesn’t seem to be an issue. Nick Kingham has done well with his development in the 2010 draft, and Tyler Glasnow and Clay Holmes both had great results this season as 2011 prep pitchers. So it’s not like this is a sign that the Pirates are struggling developing pitchers, since there are a lot of positives when you look at the prep pitchers, as well as some of the JuCo guys like Casey Sadler. You can’t exactly place the blame on development or scouting. The Pirates weren’t the only ones who had these players highly regarded at the time of the draft, and they’ve had success with other young pitchers, so it doesn’t point to a development issue.
The draft has produced a few trade pieces. Aaron Baker was swapped for Derrek Lee last year. Brooks Pounders was sent out for Yamaico Navarro, which hasn’t produced much this year. Colton Cain was part of the Wandy Rodriguez trade.
Some of the upper level guys look like strong bets to make the majors, although none profile as impact players. Brock Holt might have a chance as a starter, but is more likely to be a utility player. Phil Irwin could be a back of the rotation starter. Nathan Baker could make it as a lefty reliever. Victor Black and Tony Sanchez could have the biggest impact, although Black profiles as a late inning reliever and the upside for Sanchez is limited due to his offensive struggles. So neither would be impact players.
That’s about the best way to sum up this draft so far. The impact players were supposed to come from the prep pitchers. Not all of them were expected to break out, but the hope was that one of them could break out. Right now the draft is looking like an average catcher at best, a few potential back of the rotation starters, and a few relievers and bench players. There’s no impact talent from this draft, and the best case scenario is for the Pirates to get quantity over quality, with a lot of the guys above making the successful jump to the majors and realizing their ceilings.
The door isn’t completely closed on any of these players. Sanchez could improve his hitting. Von Rosenberg and Dodson could break out. Brock Holt could continue hitting for a high average and become a starter. But for now the results of this draft don’t look good. They’ll get some major league players, but when you’re drafting fourth overall you’d like to get an impact talent, and at this point that seems unlikely.
Links and Notes
**The Pirates lost 3-1 to the Brewers.