First Pitch: Revisiting the Idea That the Pirates Have Been Unsuccessful in the Draft

The 2013 draft is complete, and we’ll have our mid-season top 20 prospect rankings coming out this week. There are two things I noticed during these two events. During the draft I noticed the usual “the Pirates can’t draft” or “maybe this year will be better” comments. Then, when doing the prospect rankings, I noticed how there were so many top players that came from the draft. And when looking at the major league team, I noticed several key performers who came as a result of draft picks. So I wanted to re-visit the idea that the Pirates have been unsuccessful in the draft by looking back at all of the drafts under the current management group.


Pedro Alvarez - When Alvarez was drafted, he was expected to carry the franchise. He hasn’t done that, and he’s looking more like a Mark Reynolds type, or a platoon player. You can’t fault the Pirates for taking Alvarez. He was the top prospect in the draft that year, and it was one year after the Matt Wieters/Daniel Moskos draft. In hindsight, Buster Posey would have been a much better pick, but at the time there would have been a riot.

Five years after the 2008 draft, Jordy Mercer is starting to emerge as the possible shortstop of the future. (Photo by: David Hague)

Five years after the 2008 draft, Jordy Mercer is starting to emerge as the possible shortstop of the future. (Photo by: David Hague)

Jordy Mercer - Mercer is starting to step up this year as a potential starting option for the Pirates at shortstop. He has a .257/.276/.486 line in 74 at-bats, with most of his value coming from his power. He has the defense to be a starter at the position, but it won’t be as strong as the defense from Clint Barmes, and he’s going to need the bat to make up for that.

Justin Wilson - Wilson has been outstanding this year, with a 1.29 ERA in 35 innings, and a 34:14 K/BB ratio. The walk rate is the most impressive thing, since it is lower than Wilson’s minor league career 4.5 BB/9 ratio. He looks like he could be a dominant late inning lefty reliever, although I’d give him a shot to start, as he has the stuff for the rotation and could provide more value in that role.

Others Who Have Reached the Majors: Chase d’Arnaud, Matt Hague

The 2008 draft shows just how long it can take for guys to reach the majors and get established. Alvarez arrived pretty quickly, but he still hasn’t established himself. Or the alternative, and something no Pirates fan wants to hear, is that he has established himself, and what we’ve seen over the last two years is what you can expect. That’s not great, but it’s not horrible.

Mercer and Wilson both arrived in the majors four years after they were drafted, and in their fifth year they both look to be breaking out. The 2008 draft is looking like it will produce the left side of the infield over the next few years, plus a really good late inning reliever, or possibly a good starter if Wilson can make that transition.


Tony Sanchez - Coming into the season the pick of Sanchez looked to be really disappointing. He wasn’t hitting, wasn’t hitting for power, and only had his defense. That made him look like a strong defensive backup, which isn’t what you want with the fourth overall pick in a draft. This year he’s hitting for a .300/.392/.547 line in 150 at-bats, with seven homers. I wouldn’t say that he’s going to do the same in the majors. Saying that would be dismissing what he’s done over the last few years, all over 150 at-bats. If he continues this hitting, he could be a Russell Martin type starter in the future.

Vic Black - Prior to the 2012 season, Black looked like another bust. Then last year he was finally healthy, got his velocity back, and turned into the dominant late inning relief prospect he was projected to become. He’s doing the same with Indianapolis this year (although he’s currently on the DL), and could be a good option out of the Pirates bullpen later this season, or next season.

Phil Irwin - Irwin was taken in the 21st round of the 2009 draft, and has come a long way since then. He made it up to the majors this year for a spot start, and has thrown one outing since then, spending time on the Triple-A DL, and now the 60-day DL. He has the potential to be a strong back of the rotation starter, which is something you’d take any day from a 21st rounder.

The 2009 draft was centered around the prep pitchers, but all of those guys have struggled. The only one who has a chance of making the majors and providing an impact is Zack Dodson. The Pirates should get three major leaguers from this group. Just like the 2008 group, all of those guys could reach the majors four years after being drafted, and possibly start providing an impact the following year.

The one knock on this draft is that the Pirates could have had a talented prep pitcher instead of going with the Sanchez/over-slot prep pitcher approach. However, it’s not a guarantee that Shelby Miller or Zack Wheeler would have been the pick. At the time of the draft the first round prep pitchers also included Jacob Turner, Tyler Matzek, Matt Purke, and Chad James. So there was a 1-in-3 chance of getting a star pitcher from that group, and none of them were standing out at the time. I don’t know if I’d say the Pirates’ approach was better. I wanted Jacob Turner at the time. But there was a 2-in-3 chance that they would have ended up with one of those four pitchers that aren’t working out, so they wouldn’t have been a guarantee to be better off without Sanchez.


Jameson Taillon - Taillon is at the Double-A level and is on track with his progression. He hit a speed bump last year with Bradenton around this time, but seems to be better off now, and progressing well with his pitches and with his ability to pitch rather than throw.

Stetson Allie - He’s been a huge surprise this year in his move to being a hitter. I’m not sold that he’ll hit with these ridiculous numbers as he moves to the higher levels, and I’m not sold that he’s going to be an impact bat in the majors. But I do think he can make the majors, which is something I couldn’t say before this season.

Nick Kingham - The Pirates drafted a lot of prep pitchers in the middle rounds this year, and only signed one of them. Fortunately, that one looks to be the best of the group. Kingham is having a great season in Bradenton, and could find himself in Altoona next year, and in the majors by 2015. He’s got the potential to be a strong number three starter who can throw 200 innings a year.

Brandon Cumpton - Cumpton has been a surprise, making the successful jump to Triple-A and posting a 3.39 ERA in 58.1 innings so far. He’s an extreme ground ball pitcher, and throws with some good velocity. He works 89-93 MPH as a starter, but I’ve seen him touch 97 in shorter outings. He could be a good back of the rotation option, or a strong reliever.

Casey Sadler - Sadler was a 25th round pick who got a $100,000 bonus. He’s been outstanding since moving to the rotation last year with Bradenton. Like Cumpton, he’s another extreme ground ball pitcher who has good velocity as a starter (90-93). He’s got a 3.20 ERA in 81.2 innings, although he doesn’t have a ton of strikeouts. His upside is the same as Cumpton — a back of the rotation starter or a strong reliever.

Other Notable Prospects: Matt Curry, Adalberto Santos

You can start to see a change with the 2010 draft. The first two drafts are looking to produce some good results, but the Pirates aren’t getting a lot of impact players. In this group you’ve got Taillon and Kingham, who could be two really good options to put behind Gerrit Cole. You’ve got some rotation depth that is already starting to put up numbers in the upper levels. And Stetson Allie is the wild card.

Then you factor in all of the guys who didn’t sign. Sixth round pick Jason Hursh went 31st overall this year. Seventh round pick Austin Kubitza went 126th overall. Eighth rounder Dace Kime went 79th overall. Tenth rounder Zack Weiss went 195th overall. 19th rounder Kent Emanuel went 74th overall. 40th rounder Harrison Cooney went 187th overall. That’s six players from the 2010 draft who went in the top six rounds of the 2013 draft. Even without those guys the 2010 draft is looking promising, but if we’re considering evaluating talent and drafting skills, you have to include those picks.


Gerrit Cole - We’re about to see Cole make his major league debut this week, and he’s still got a lot of upside. He probably won’t come up as an ace, but he could finish his development in the majors and get to that point one day.

Josh Bell - He missed a year with a knee injury, but is back now and is showing off some good power in low-A. Bell has a lot of potential with his bat, and we’re starting to get a glimpse of that this year.

Tyler Glasnow - It’s rare to see someone like Glasnow break out so quickly. In fact, that’s one knock you can make on the previous drafts. They’ve seen later round picks break out, and middle round picks, but no one has broken out so quickly like Glasnow. He’s got the potential to be the best prospect in the system, and could be just as good as Cole and Taillon. All of that from a fifth round pick.

Clay Holmes - Holmes has struggled with his control this year, but has a lot of things similar to Glasnow. He’s a big right hander who can touch 96 MPH with his fastball on a consistent basis.

Colten Brewer/Jake Burnette/Jason Creasy - All three are promising arms. Brewer has hit 95 MPH with his fastball, Creasy has been hitting 94 this year, and Burnette works in the 90-93 MPH range and has a similar build and similar stuff to Holmes.

Other Notable Prospects: Alex Dickerson, Dan Gamache

It took some time for the first two drafts to produce results. The 2010 and 2011 classes are going to be more about potential and less about results. In the case of the 2011 group, you’re going to see more guys with upside at this point. Down the line you will see more players start to fade out of the system as they move up the levels. So just because there’s seven players listed here doesn’t mean there will be seven major leaguers.

I think this draft has the most potential for impact. Cole, Bell, and Glasnow could all be high impact guys. Holmes also has that potential, although with his control issues this year he’s more potential than results. There’s a very real chance that this group could have three of the top 100 prospects in baseball with Cole, Bell, and Glasnow. Cole will probably graduate from prospect status this year, and Bell and Glasnow will probably be in the back half of the lists. But that’s still incredible to have that result two years after the draft.


Barrett Barnes - Barnes has missed some time this year with a few injuries. He has been limited to 45 at-bats on the season, and the results during those at-bats haven’t been strong, with a .200 average and a .488 OPS. He’s got a lot of tools, and he hit well last year with State College, so this is most likely a slow start.

Wyatt Mathisen - Mathisen was aggressively promoted to West Virginia in his first year after being drafted out of high school. He’s very raw defensively, but has a lot of good skills. Offensively he’s got some good potential with the bat, but that hasn’t shown up in the stat line. With Tony Sanchez playing well, and with the recent pick of Reese McGuire, the Pirates can take their time with Mathisen. He’s got the tools to be a two-way catcher, but is going to need some development time.

Eric Wood - Wood got off to a great start with West Virginia, but has since cooled. He’s shown flashes of power, and the ability to hit for average at times. He’s a sleeper infielder to watch, and one of few third base prospects in the system.

Max Moroff - Moroff isn’t hitting for average, but is showing advanced plate patience at the plate. He also shows the skills to be a long-term option at shortstop. Like Wood, Moroff falls more in the “sleeper” category.

Other Notable Prospects: Adrian Sampson, Jon Sandfort, Hayden Hurst, John Kuchno

All of the 2012 picks are in their first full season, and are prospects more for their potential than results. Expecting them to break out as top prospects this soon would be too much, especially when we’ve seen from the previous drafts how long it takes for guys to break out, and even to reach the majors and start having success. The good thing is that the Pirates have such a strong system now that they can take their time with this group, and any group to follow. They aren’t desperate for Wyatt Mathisen to be the future catcher. They don’t need Barrett Barnes for the outfield. There might be more urgency with Wood and Moroff due to their positions, but the Pirates still have Pedro Alvarez for several years, and Jordy Mercer and Alen Hanson could provide options at short, so there’s not a lot of pressure on Moroff.


Robbie Grossman (2008)/Colton Cain (2009) - These two were dealt, along with Rudy Owens, for Wandy Rodriguez.

Brock Holt (2009) - He was part of the Joel Hanrahan trade.

Aaron Baker (2009) - Traded for two months of Derrek Lee during the 2011 season.

Brooks Pounders (2009) - Traded with Diego Goris for Yamaico Navarro.

Drafts don’t only have value in the guys that you graduate to your own major league team. They also have value in producing trade chips to add major league players. The biggest example of this is the Wandy Rodriguez trade. The Pirates dealt the potential of Grossman, Cain, and Rudy Owens to get Rodriguez. The best value in this group was the Baker for Lee trade. Lee was injured, but was extremely productive when healthy.

Showing Improvement

A year ago, this writeup would have been totally different. You didn’t have Justin Wilson and Jordy Mercer making an impact in the majors. Tony Sanchez was struggling, and Vic Black and Phil Irwin were only starting to look like major league options. Nick Kingham and Tyler Glasnow have opened some eyes this year, going from potential to results. Plus there was the trade of two draft picks for Wandy Rodriguez.

If there’s something we can take from this, it’s that it takes some time to judge a MLB draft. It’s not like the NFL where you draft someone and they’re starting the following season, or two years from now at most. It’s not like hockey where you have minor leagues, but guys don’t spend nearly as much time there. It can take several years for a player to go from being a draft pick to a major leaguer. And in most cases a successful draft is going to produce just three major league players.

The 2008 and 2009 drafts are looking better now than they previously did. However, you can also see some improvement in 2010. The Pirates look like they’re getting much more upside in the middle rounds, with potential impact guys like Kingham and Glasnow. Maybe they got better at identifying prospects after the first two drafts? It could also be that guys like Kingham and Glasnow haven’t had the time to fade out, although none of the 2008/2009 middle round guys ever had this hype or potential. Robbie Grossman would be the exception, and there were a lot of split opinions about him.

Overall I think the idea that the Pirates can’t draft is incorrect. It’s either assuming that drafts should produce much sooner than they actually should, or it’s just a case where people are ignoring the results, or removing first round picks (any system looks bad when you remove all of the first rounders), or pointing to a team that had the best draft results over the last few years and saying the Pirates can’t draft because they aren’t the best (kind of the Ricky Bobby “If you ain’t first, you’re last” approach). But the system has a lot of talent right now, and that talent had to come from somewhere. If you look above, you’ll see it was from the draft.

Links and Notes

**Save $8 On The Pirates Prospects Books With the MLB Draft Sale. The sale only runs for one more week, so act quickly!

**Check out the latest episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 8: When Should Gerrit Cole Join the Pirates? We know now that Cole will come up on Tuesday. However, we also talk about what Cole could become, as well as the state of the offense.

**Draft Day One Recap: Pirates Go With High Upside Prep Players.

**Draft Day Two Recap: Lefty Pitchers, Shortstops, Groundballs, and Upside.

**Draft Day Three Recap: Ten Players to Highlight the Day Three Picks.

**Prospect Watch: Glasnow Continues to Dominate; Lambo and Hanson Homer.

**Draft Signing Rumors: Reese McGuire, Taylor, Kuhl, Carle And More.

**Minor League Schedule: Kingham Looks to Continue All-Star Success In Lakeland.

**DSL Prospect Watch: Both Affiliates Put Up Ten Runs Each.

**Reese McGuire Decides To Go Pro.

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, 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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