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.

**Pirates Notebook: Pirates See Record Drop to .500.

**Bradenton Marauders 2012 Season Recap: Top Prospects.

**Bradenton Marauders 2012 Season Recap: Hitters.

**Bradenton Marauders 2012 Season Recap: Pitchers.

**Spikes Didn’t Offer Demands For Player Development.

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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  • TonyPenaforHOF

    Bye bye Neil…see you later Stark…good luck on your next job Smith…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

      I’d like to see how next year pans out. As for right now, I’d prefer to see how some of the GM’s draft picks actually fare at the major league level. This is a guy that’s primarily focused on building through the draft, then nursing players along. The minor league numbers don’t tell the whole story. The only real question I have is….why not trust these guys? Why is Mercer made to be a bench player when we have, in all due respect to defense, an awful SS? The questioning of the younger players’ abilities is not comforting to me when so much seems to ride on the draftees’ success. The major league team has steadily improved the last two years, regardless of collapses. I think one more year in order to judge whether or not Neil can continue to progress the team at the major league level, as well as to stock the minor league system would be a wise choice. If all signs point to nominal growth by that point, I say scorch the earth and start anew.

      • TonyPenaforHOF

        What more do we need to see?

        The players who came through our system in the last five years are really weak in the fundamentals. I see the AA team all the time and it shows. I watch the MLB team religiously and they look lost when they come up. That is Stark’s responsibility.

        We are the highest spending team in the draft over the last 5 years and we’re not the highest rated. You can blame some of that on luck, but the system should be rated higher by the majority of experts. That is Smith’s responsibility.

        At the MLB level they consistently struggle to successfully evaluate talent. They are awful at evaluating talent needed for bench depth. He has done ok with the pitching staff, but his position players have shown very little. Not just this year – look at the last 5. That is Neil’s responsibility.

        Enough is enough. When this management team was named I’m sure we were all pulling for them. Even during the purge – which I thought occurred a year later than it should have – I think most of us stuck with the GM and his team. But to keep repeating the same problems over a 5 year period with only marginal gains isn’t good enough. Sorry Neil, this isn’t a Syd Thrift situation. It’s time to go.

  • john.alcorn

    I have no real issue with the strategy employed. When you are drafting prep pitchers you have to be prepared for busts. It is by far the highest reward, highest risk approach. I’d argue that Tony Sanchez still has significant ceiling if his defense is as good as advertised. His plate skills haven’t completely disappeared, he can take a walk and doesn’t K a ton. A very good glove, .700 ops catcher would be quite valuable.

    • Rob

      I’m trying to figure how Sanchez would be a downgrade from Barajas?
      Maybe Sanchez needs some veterans around to show him how to behave.
      We are thin at the position through the minors, but he is the best we have.
      There isn’t alot out there as far as free agency goes, so let’s give him a shot!

      • john.alcorn

        Rob, I would have given him a look this fall as the backup to McKenry

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

          I think serious consideration should be given to him this coming season. He barely got a taste in AAA this year. However, I think he should get an actual opportunity in Spring Training ’13. I mean, he’s a college guy taken with a 4th overall pick. At the very least, lets start exploiting his defensive ability to Pittsburgh’s advantage. It seems as though if he were on a team with some more reliable offensive players at the positions you’d expect to have production from, that his relatively low average/power would go unrecognized. Let’s say, if he played for Washington, or the Brewers, or even the Cardinals, while I realize they possess catchers with offensive upside, you could stick him 7th or 8th in the order and let him progress at his own pace.

          I just feel like the Pirates continue to rely on predominantly defensive positions for their offense; centerfield and second base are not usually considered to be the hot bed positions for offensive production, but if not for McCutchen and Walker, where would this team be? Even offensive production is down at the third base position, and it could be argued that Pedro is far exceeding expected production amongst average 3Bs. If not for Jones stepping up this season, they’d really be devoid of corner power/general offensive production. I just feel that in regards to a legitimate defensive catcher, that having a legit bat is just a pleasant surprise. Yes, Sanchez was a fourth overall pick, and we’d all love to have a superstar from that draft, but in all honesty, if he comes up and plays comparatively to other average MLB catchers, that was a good pick.

          • ecbucs

            I wouldn’t mind giving Sanchez a chance if his defense is good enough. The Bucs have shown throughout NH’s tenure that they value defense more at catcher anyway. Sanchez can probably hit better than Barajas and is probably better defensively too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Stauffer/1288991380 Scott Stauffer

    Where I work our CEO has a saying, we appreciate effort and we reward results. Seemingly doing the right things or employing a plausible strategy only has value to organization if it works and drives results. It’s not that the FO wasn’t trying but they certainly should not be rewarded for the lack of results. In this case, the problems are systemic and they have to make a change. It’s simply not working.

  • Lee Young

    Just to refresh everyone’s memory of what our Top 10 list looked like in 2007

    1. Andrew McCutchen, of
    2. Neil Walker, c
    3. Brad Lincoln, rhp
    4. Yoslan Herrera, rhp
    5. Josh Sharpless, rhp
    6. Steven Pearce, 1b
    7. Brian Bixler, ss
    8. Brad Corley, of
    9. Todd Redmond, rhp
    10. Mike Felix, lhp

    The argument is made many times that NH is not supposed to miss picking that high. Well, so far, only potentially Tony Sanchez is a miss and you can’t write him off just yet.
    DVL certainly missed a lot, didn’t he?

    Also, pls remember that Walker was a bust but this ‘development team’ brought out his skills (I’d imagine calling him a utility player lit a fire under his butt?)

    Foo

    .

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=759082507 Stephen Stull

      LOL, Yoslan Herrera…

    • john.alcorn

      I know the point you are going for, but that list includes our only star player and our only other established MLB player. That doesn’t say much.

      • Lee Young

        The point is, that is only TWO players. Look at our Top 10 now! We have a legitimate TOP TEN, not just 2 players and a reliever!

        AND, at the time, Walker’s star was tarnished. He went on to hit .242 in 2008 and then got tagged with the utility label (and rightly so).

        He got a fire lit under him and responded.

        Not sure what else you want, John. To me, that is GREAT progress!
        .

        • john.alcorn

          Yes I agree with your point, but my point is that under NH we have 2 established MLB players and they both came from DL’s drafts. A nice top 10 is great, but if they fail to produce in the bigs its meaningless. Ask KC about their best ever farm system last year.

          • Lee Young

            Under NH, we also have Pedro. That’s one.

            I have used KC’s farm system in some arguments, so I see YOUR point. But, you have to admit that OUR Top 10 is more promising than the one I posted.

        • F Lang

          We have a legitimate 10-20 also and talent now compared to the DL days is better all the way down into the 50′s but is this FO any better at fielding a legitimate winner. That’s the big question.

    • TonyPenaforHOF

      So are you justifying Neil by saying Littlefield stunk worse? How does Neil compare to Doug Melvin with the Brewers? They have a smaller market, better players and spend $80 million + a year – with real results.

      I think we have been so bad for so long we forgot what excellence looks like. We are mistaking a little below average for good.

      • RandyLinville

        ‘I think we have been so bad for so long we forgot what excellence looks like. We are mistaking a little below average for good.’

        Agree with that 100%. In several of my handful of final posts on the blog part of this site, that is the conclusion I come to. NH is better than DL. But he has not done a good enough job. Yep, the team is in better shape. But I’m not particularly impressed with the job he has done overall.

  • Pittcat90

    Of course, the overall 2009 draft was extremely weak. With the exceptions of Stephen Strasburg and Mike Trout (and 22 other teams missed on Trout), the first round is a litany of mediocrity. As strange as this may sound, it is still possible that Sanchez will be one of the better first-round picks, given his competition.

    • Lee Young

      It was indeed weak, which is one of the reasons we employed the strategy we did.

      Throw enough $h!t at the wall and hope some sticks. we musta built a teflon wall!

      :):):

  • ElGaupo77

    Does it matter if we get “impact”? I think between Sanchez, Irwin, Holt, Black, ZVR we’ll probably get 5+ WAR out of this draft. Isn’t that good? You should take the time to inform your base what a good draft is in WAR value.

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

      If they get quantity, that’s not a bad thing. But that’s counting on a lot of players to reach the majors and realize their ceilings. Far from a guarantee. It’s hard enough predicting one player making it and realizing his ceiling.

      I’ve taken a WAR approach to the draft in previous years. Usually that’s an off-season topic.

  • TonyPenaforHOF

    I wish every one of my fellow Pirate fans would read these three articles today:

    1) The one from Tim about the 2009 draft class.

    2) From Dejan at the Trib: http://triblive.com/sports/pirates/2573386-85/nutting-pirates-draft-league-collapse-questions-team-baseball-america-director

    3) From MLBTradeRumors:
    MLB.com’s Peter Gammons wrote about the Brewers and GM Doug Melvin, who has made moves to help bring the club back to contention during his ten years at the helm.

    We Pirates fans need to understand:
    - it should not have taken this long to rebuild the organization
    - our minor league players are not that good.
    - when they get to the pros they are not prepared.

    This is tough medicine but we need to take our dose and hope the Pirates leadership does the same!

    • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

      It’s not so tough, it’s kind of obvious! Look, of course every draft pick doesn’t pan out. But for the amount of bonus money the Pirates threw around, SOME of these guys have to pan out, or you get fired. The glaring fact that 5 years in, guys coming up from the minors STILL aren’t good at fundamentals, says a lot about the player development skill of the people in charge. More work on holding runners, and bunting, less Navy Seal training. Get rid of Stark, what on earth has he done to earn a promotion?

  • ecbucs

    the thing about the 2009 strategy is that the Bucs must have rated Sanchez pretty high. They signed him for slot. Aside from liking Sanchez there was no reason to take him. The strategy could have worked just as well for any player willing to sign for slot (or even above) no one is saying that Sanchez signing saved the Bucs a million dollars to play with later in the draft.

  • http://twitter.com/jfranco77 John Franco

    If they actually get a startable catcher, a 4 and a couple of lefty relievers, that’s a win. They still need to hit home runs once in a while, but a few singles can move the offense along too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.ross Jon Ross

    It’s drafts like this that make you wonder how we were ever in a position to take the division or one of the two WC spots. This draft is Littlefield bad. Why did we not take the best player available in the first round? A mock draft had us taking Aaron Crow and why did we not take him? Was it the money thing? If so, how much more would he really have cost us?
    I looked at the drafts in the past and notice that ’09, ’07, ’06, and ’02 were just horrendous. We bypassed elite talent to take guys that seemed to have a career in the bullpen only. I would give each of those drafts an “F” if I were grading them. After drafts like that, maybe we should actually feel lucky that we had any success this year at all.

    • Lee Young

      We were also high on Tyler Matzek and (if he slipped to us) Donavan Tate…two more duds! And yet, both of them were highly thought of. additionally, we were supposedly ‘in’ on Kyle Gibson, before he got hurt.

      C’est le vie. The stategy to draft lots of projectable pitchers. And, looking back at my pre-draft material we supposedly snared some good ones. You would’ve tought that at least ONE would’e made it

      Bucco Bad Luck?

      .

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

      One thing to remember that year is that there was no consensus after the first 2-3 picks. It was Stephen Strasburg, Dustin Ackley, and if you liked his athletic upside, Donovan Tate. After that no one stood out.

      There were a bunch of prep pitchers, all asking for high prices. The pitchers included Zack Wheeler, Tyler Matzek, Matt Purke (who didn’t sign), Shelby Miller, and Jacob Turner.

      There were a few college arms who looked intriguing. Aaron Crow didn’t sign in 2008 and returned to the draft in 2009 after pitching Indy ball. Kyle Gibson looked good until getting hurt. Alex White entered the year as a top prospect, but fell due to a poor junior year.

      Because of this, a lot of teams in the 4-10 range “reached” for signability picks. The Pirates were the first, with Sanchez. The Orioles followed at number five with Matt Hobgood. The Giants took Zack Wheeler sixth, which was appropriate for his rankings. The next two picks were considered reaches at the time, but have turned out well. The Braves took Mike Minor seventh, and the Reds took Mike Leake eighth.

      The demands, and the fact that no one stood out at the time, caused players to drop. Shelby Miller didn’t get picked until 19th overall.

      A team picking in the top ten might have picked Miller. But they could have just as easily taken Matzek, who was considered the same at the time, and hasn’t done as well as Miller so far.