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.

2008

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.

2009

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.

2010

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.

2011

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.

2012

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.

Trades

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.

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/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    This article gives me hope about Sanchez’ hitting. He worked with Miguel Cabrera on hitting to RF.

    http://triblive.com/sports/pirates/4166759-74/sanchez-catcher-hit#axzz2VjAoUmip

    Maybe Pedro should go this offseason?

  • elgaupo

    “When Alvarez was drafted, he was expected to carry the franchise. ”

    Was that smart? I’ll admit I was in the same camp, but this is the MLB draft not the NFL draft… or the NBA draft. The #1 pick in the MLB draft busts 50% of the time.

    Was it the power that made us think that Pedro was a sure thing?

    So if the Pedro expectations were more realistic wouldn’t he be much closer to reaching them?

    Keith Law was never sold on Pedro, even in AA/AAA. Maybe it’s because he’s seem too many Delmon Young’s and Matt Bush’s.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD

    Although the Pirates have a very strong system now, and few would argue with that, I think they have built that in spite of some spotty drafting over the past 5 years. The Latin American players now in the system have helped to offset that, as well as a few pleasant surprises (like Glasnow for example).

    When I read the above article, 2008 and 2009 look especially bad. Yes, they have picked up 2-3 major leaguers out of each draft (so far) – but no stars and only 1 regular (Alvarez). Considering how high they were drafting, that is not a strong return. 2010-2012 have been much better, based on progress to date of the prospects. Time will tell.

    • http://www.facebook.com/david.donahue.100 whiteAngus

      “Time will tell”…
      .
      exactly! it takes an average of 5 to 6 seasons for a draftee/signee to make it to the show for good. even then, it could take another season or two for them to get adjusted to world class competition.
      .
      you really cant judge the impact of the drafting just yet. sure there have been plenty of “misses” in the draft, but there are far more “incompletes”.
      .
      the top draft picks for NH have been Alvarez, Sanchez, Taillon, Cole, Appel, Meadows/McGuire. Could the Pirates have done better drafting? Of course. But theres nothing really wrong with the above list either.

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD

        Even though he could still end up being a regular MLB catcher and a contributor, the Sanchez appears to be what everyone said it was at the time – a reach. He was not expected to go anywhere near as high as he did in the first round…..who were the 10-15 picks taken immediately after him? Was that the same draft that the Angels got Trout?

  • danrb10

    I still feel that Allie’s cannon should be play somewhere other than 1st. The man throws 100. Place him in rf or back to 3rd base. If he has the agility to play 1st then his arm should project to play the hot corner. Btw I’m a local scout.

    • http://users.rcn.com/wtmiller/pirateprofiles.htm WTM

      I think they’re planning to revisit the possibility of him at third.

      • Y2JGQ2

        As wild as he was from 60 feet, i think we know why he isn’t at third…..just sayin

  • buster09

    BFSIMd : :” …but no stars ” With very few exceptions,if you look carefully,there may be 2 or 3 ” stars ” on any one MLB team. Example : how many ” stars ” do you see on the Cardinal’s 25 man ? And,even successful playoff teams will roll over 8 or so players every season. MLB is all about a reaching a certain level of play and being consistent at it.

  • maguro

    I think it’s fair to say that drafting Taillon over Machado was a pretty big mistake. An understandable one, certainly, since both were highly rated, but a mistake nonetheless.

    • Kevin_Young

      You could be right, but wayyyy too early to say pretty big mistake. Let’s wait to see Taillon in the majors. Still plenty of ace potential there. Machado would still be in AA with us, so we can’t jump the gun and evaluate now.

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD

        Sad the say, you are probably right – Machado, likely an all star this year, would still be in the minors in our system. The Pirates seem to be a little slow to trust some of their prospects – such as Wilson, Morris – both of whom could have helped us last year – instead of some of the retreads they signed and put out there.

        This year, they go out and sign guys like McDonald, Inge – Inge has helped a little, but who’s to say Mercer could not have filled the same role?

        • Kevin_Young

          See it’s true that Machado is performing, but you have to remember that we would be losing Machado after his age 26 season and potentially leaving some value on the table…such is life for a small market team

    • meatygettingsaucy

      If all you look at is who made the majors faster than yes (not saying you are maguro but a lot of people use that argument). Machado is really performing well while Taillon is in AA but there is nothing to suggest Taillon will not be the 1-2 starter the Pirates envisioned when drafting him. His fastball still hits the upper 90s and his secondaries have a ridiculous amount of movement. It isn’t like Taillon went the Lincoln route and his future is the bullpen.

    • Y2JGQ2

      I honestly don’t think that. Why would we draft another third baseman (since noone thought he’d stick at short) when we just drafted Pedro the year before? Makes no sense. We finally had a chance to draft an ace, we took it. No regrets!

  • https://profiles.google.com/116366873579930999690 Thom Kay

    Love this article. We no longer have to go into a draft filled with dread.

    Still, the five years after the Pirates made the best-of-all-possible-worlds pick of Andrew McCutchen, it hasn’t been nearly as good as it could have been.

    Brad Lincoln should have been Clayton Kershaw
    Daniel Moskos should have been Jason Heyward
    Pedro Alvarez should have been Buster Posey
    Tony Sanchez should have been Mike Trout
    Jameson Taillon should have been Manny Machado

    • meatygettingsaucy

      You could do that with just about any team to create a super-star team. It is what it is. Players don’t develop, some get injured, and so on and so forth.

      • https://profiles.google.com/116366873579930999690 Thom Kay

        Kinda, but the Pirates picked in the top 5 in each of those years (4, 4, 2, 4, 2). And each time, they passed on a major player who went later in the first round.

        My point is this; picking the best first round player who was available at your slot should not be a once in a decade occurrence. And it’s not like those were the only mistakes. I left off Wieters, Chris Sale, Matt Harvey, etc.

        • meatygettingsaucy

          They passed on a major pick for another major pick. The only two reaches amongst the ones you have listed are Moskos and Sanchez.

          Going to the 2006 draft, he was considered one of the top prospects in the country and had the makings of a legitimate No. 1 or 2 starter. Injuries derailed his career and pretty much forced him to the bullpen. There wasn’t an overdraft taking place. If Lincoln doesn’t blow out his arm right away, who knows what he becomes.

          2007, Littlefield goes cheap. Only positive here, this is probably the move that set the wheels in motion to get him fired.

          2008, Alvarez was considered the top college bat and the BPA at No. 2. No reach taking place, Posey took off with the Giants but several other top names taken have yet to produce as expected: Hosmer, Matusz, Alonso, etc.

          2009, Sanchez was an overdraft but there was no chance Pirates take Trout. He wasn’t considered a Top 10 talent then (which exposes the flaws of scouting in some departments). You can make an argument they should have grabbed Turner or Wheeler but Trout was probably not even considered by any of the top 10 teams.

          2010, Pirates made the conscience decision that Taillon was the BPA. While he hasn’t reached the ML yet, he hasn’t faltered at all. He has the plus fastball and plus curve and projects to be a 1 or 2. Can’t really be disappointed with that.

          What do these results show? That the MLB draft is a crap shoot. Regardless of all scouting and video watching organizations do, you never know what minor occurrence may lead to an arm injury, or a player not being able to fix his swing, or a once in a generation type talent being drafted after 21 other teams passed on him or an 18 year old taking a little longer to develop that the other high school player taken after him who’s already in the show. The draft is a massive crap shoot and you never know what you will get

          • Y2JGQ2

            No no no- I’m sorry Meaty but I was watching that draft in ’06 and noone…and i mean NOONE thought Moskos was a good pick there. Literally everyone had him tabbed as a closer and we were reaching on him to start. If you have anything to back up your statement, i’d love to read it. ….otherwise, everything else you said is dead on with the exception of Lincoln- I don’t think the arm surgery did anything but take a year away from him, at least not from a velocity standpoint, he still may make it as a starter…we shall see

    • smurph

      Ah, hindsight. It’s 50-50. Or is that 20-20? I forgot.

    • BuccosFanStuckinMD

      Moskos should have been Wieters!!!

      • smurph

        I think we all agree on that one, but that was Dave Littlechance.

      • https://profiles.google.com/116366873579930999690 Thom Kay

        Wieters was the logical choice, but Hayward, taken at 14th, would be my choice in hindsight. He’s just as productive and he’s still 23; Wieters is 27.

        • Y2JGQ2

          Heyward is hitting about .170 this year. Not sure if you got the memo.

      • Y2JGQ2

        Well yeah, we all know that.