If Major League Baseball decides to install a hard slotting system in the draft after this year, it will be a massive blow to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have spent the most on draft bonuses in the last three years, and look to spend big again this year. For the second year in a row, the Pirates saw a projected top 10 pick fall to them in the second round, entirely due to signability issues. For the second year in a row, the Pirates took that player, ignoring the high price tag that caused him to fall to them.
Josh Bell was ranked as the 15th best prospect in the draft by Baseball America coming in to this week. He’s a switch hitting outfielder who has a great bat, with plus hitting skills and plus power from both sides of the plate. He was rated the number five hitting prospect in the draft, and the top corner outfielder. So why would such a talent fall all the way to pick number 61? It’s very simple: Bell told teams not to draft him.
The Pirates didn’t listen.
Pittsburgh took Bell with the first pick on day two, despite his claims that he will be honoring his commitment to the University of Texas. Opinions on how serious Bell actually is about college are mixed. A big reason for skepticism is that he’s chosen Scott Boras as his adviser. If Bell really didn’t want to be drafted, why would he even bother getting an adviser? And the fact that his adviser is infamous for his negotiating tactics, it’s really hard to buy Bell’s claim that he won’t sign as anything other than a method to drive up value.
If that is the goal, it’s working. Keith Law was asked how much it would take to sign Bell, and responded by saying that the sense he’s gotten, $6-8 M wouldn’t do it. Yesterday, Kevin Goldstein guessed it would take $6.5 M. Let’s just put these numbers in perspective.
The biggest bonus of all time goes to Stephen Strasburg, who signed a $15.1 M major league deal, with a $7.5 M bonus. The biggest straight-bonus deal (not included in a major league deal) goes to Jameson Taillon, who got $6.5 M from the Pirates last year. In the entire history of the draft, only 11 players have received a bonus of $6 M or more. None of those players went lower than fifth overall.
I don’t buy that Bell is absolutely 100% going to college. I also don’t buy that he’s going to require $6+ M to sign. Last year only five players got more than $3 M. The lowest was prep third baseman Nick Castellanos, who signed for $3.45 M as the 44th overall pick. Bell would have a tough time getting $3 M or more if he went to school, especially if MLB introduces a hard slotting system. Last year, only the top three picks were slotted at $3 M or more, and no pick had a slot price of $4 M.
While we’re at it, let’s be honest about school. You ultimately go to college to get a good job. We often hear from the signability players the line “college is important”. That’s one of the biggest myths there is. College is important to most, but to a certain few it has no value. Bill Gates dropped out of college. Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of college after inventing Facebook. These are extremely rare cases of people who obviously didn’t need college to go on and be successful. Bell is in that same position.
If he “only” gets $3 M, that’s enough to set him up for life. According to a report by the US Census Bureau, published in 2010, a bachelor’s degree is worth $2.1 M over the average adult’s working life. You don’t need a college degree to know that $3 M today is worth more than $2.1 M from now until the age of 65.
If the Pirates do sign Bell, it would be a massive boost to the system. For a system that now has four potential top of the rotation pitchers, adding a switch hitting power bat is a great complement. Last year I talked about how the additions of Jameson Taillon, Luis Heredia, and Stetson Allie could change a franchise. If the Pirates can sign Gerrit Cole and Josh Bell, we could be looking at World Series contenders sometime in the future. Seriously, how many systems have this many top of the rotation prospects, plus a guy like Bell, and that’s not even counting guys like Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, and Jose Tabata already in the majors.
It just doesn’t make sense that Bell is absolutely going to college. I also don’t think the Pirates draft him in the second round without making a huge push to sign him. While I wouldn’t feel it was a failure if they didn’t get him signed, I do feel there’s at least some reason for optimism in thinking that a deal gets done. After all, we’re talking about the team that has spent more on draft bonuses the last three years. If there’s one thing the Pirates have excelled at over the last three awful years, it’s making the tough sign in the draft.
Tons of Prep Pitchers and Center Fielders
If there’s one thing the Pirates have done a lot of over the past few years, it’s draft a ton of projectable prep pitchers. That didn’t change this year. The Pirates used 10 of their 29 picks on day two drafting prep pitchers, including nine of their first 18 picks of the day. That number would be one higher, but they drafted 17th round pick Aaron Brown, a two way player, as a right fielder.
Two of the pitchers selected were rated in Baseball America’s top 200. They were Kody Watts (#139) and Clay Holmes (#140). Holmes, the 9th round pick, has a commitment to Auburn. He’s 6′ 4″, 225 pounds and throws 90-93 MPH. He has an inconsistent slider which can show signs of being a plus pitch at times. Watts, taken in the 15th round, has a commitment to Portland, just like fifth round pick Tyler Glasnow. Watts throws 89-93 MPH, touching 95, and has a hard curve, and an above average splitter. He has a strong interest in college, and will be a tough sign, especially as a 15th round pick.
As for Glasnow, he was the second prep pitcher selected in a row in the 4th and 5th rounds, joining Colten Brewer in the fourth round. Glasnow is a huge pitcher. He grew rapidly, dealing with some growing pains in his high school career, but now is to the point where he is 6′ 7″ and wears a size 17 shoe. With the growth came a velocity increase, from the upper 80s to 93 MPH. He also throws a slider, curve, and changeup.
Brewer, drafted in the fourth round, works in the 87-91 MPH range, touching 93 with a sinking fastball. Like most Pirates’ targets, he’s 6′ 4″, 200 pounds, which gives him a projectable frame to increase his velocity. He has a commitment to Weatherford Junior College in Texas, which doesn’t seem like a strong commitment. He kind of reminds me of Zack Dodson, at least in terms of pre-draft hype. He’s not a top 200 prospect, but he’s a talented pitcher that seems like he’d be very open to signing an over-slot deal and starting his pro career.
There was one change in the strategy this year, and that was an excess of center fielders selected in the middle rounds. The Pirates drafted five center fielders today, including four in rounds 10-14. They also took shortstops late, selecting four in the 20-30 rounds. Despite this trend, don’t assume they’re trying to fill any specific needs.
Three of the center fielders were high school players, as were two of the shortstops. In the prep ranks, teams are going to put their best athletes up the middle, usually at shortstop, center field, or if they can handle it, catcher. That doesn’t mean these players won’t stick at the positions they’re drafted at, although it does mean you shouldn’t rule out a position change. The Pirates might not sign all of these guys, but if they do, expect a few of them to move to the corner outfield spots, with the best athletes playing center field.
Looking at the guys the Pirates took, there’s definitely different varieties of talent. Tenth round pick Taylor Lewis is a line drive hitter with power potential due to good forearm and wrist strength. He’s projectable, although he doesn’t profile as a center fielder in the long term, due to poor arm strength. Jo-El Bennett-Lowe, taken in the 11th round, is athletic with good bat speed, but might lack the leg speed to stick in center field. If we’re looking at leg speed, 12th round pick Candon Myles has it. Myles has a motto that if he gets on first base, he already has third base. Jordan Dunatov, selected in the 14th round, has a bigger frame than the rest at 6′ 5″, 200 pounds. He has good bat speed, good speed on the bases, and power potential. To top it off, he has a strong arm, throwing 85 MPH as a pitcher.
The Pirates didn’t take a bunch of center fielders because they’re trying to corner the market on the position. They took athletes who play center field because of their skills. As they move up in pro ball, most will inevitably lose the “top athlete” status on their team, forcing a position change. That’s why you see so many prep center fielders and shortstops drafted. You don’t want to take a right fielder out of high school, unless he has some amazing power. If he’s not athletic to play at the best position for his high school, then how will he cut it against the best players from every other high school?
Below are links to all of the player profiles from the players drafted in rounds 1-30:
|1. Gerrit Cole||11. Jo-El Bennett-Lowe||21. Alex Fuselier|
|2. Josh Bell||12. Candon Myles||22. Michael Jefferson|
|3. Alex Dickerson||13. Brandon Platts||23. Jordan Cooper|
|4. Colten Brewer||14. Jordan Dunatov||24. Brian Sharp|
|5. Tyler Glasnow||15. Kody Watts||25. Josh Martin|
|6. Dan Gamache||16. Eric Skoglund||26. Nicholas Flair|
|7. Jake Burnette||17. Aaron Brown||27. Ryan Hornback|
|8. Jason Creasy||18. Josh Poytress||28. Brandon Zajac|
|9. Clay Holmes||19. Taylor Nunez||29. Kirk Singer|
|10. Taylor Lewis||20. Trea Turner||30. Matt Benedict|
A lot of former unsigned Pirates draft picks went off the board today, and one of them was selected by the Pirates for a second time. That was right hander Jordan Cooper, drafted in the 23rd round as a sophomore out of Kentucky. Cooper was drafted out of high school in the 17th round in 2009, but ultimately honored his commitment to Kentucky. He throws an 89-94 MPH sinker, along with an effective slider and changeup. The problem is that he’s been very inconsistent, and that’s an issue that was present in high school.
Cooper started the year in Kentucky’s weekend rotation. He was removed after struggling, with his velocity on the low end of the previously mentioned scale, and his slider and changeup not so effective. Cooper started dominating again in the middle of the week, and was moved back to the weekend, pitching on Sundays. He struggled again as a Sunday pitcher, once again dealing with the same consistency issues. The Pirates obviously like Cooper enough to draft him twice, so maybe they see something they think they can fix. It will be interesting to see if he signs this time around. He has some leverage, since he’s only a sophomore, and can re-enter the draft two more times.
Other former Pirates picks that were drafted today:
Andrew Gagnon – 2008 10th round pick, taken by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 3rd round.
Zach Wilson – 2008 26th round pick, taken by the New York Yankees in the 21st round.
Scott McGough – 2008 46th round pick, taken by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 5th round.
Matthew Dermody – 2009 26th round pick, taken by the Colorado Rockies in the 29th round.
Matt Taylor – 2009 50th round pick, taken by the Baltimore Orioles in the 5th round.
Drew Muren – 2010 35th round pick, taken by the Houston Astros in the 22nd round.
Stephen Lumpkins – 2010 42nd round pick, taken by the Kansas City Royals in the 13th round.
Connor Sadzeck – 2010 45th round pick, taken by the Texas Rangers in the 11th round.
It’s notable that Sadzeck was throwing 93-98 MPH this past fall. I’m not sure if that carried over in to the season. Gagnon and McGough were rated among Baseball America’s top 200 prospects.
What to Expect for Day Three
In the last two years the Pirates have signed a total of 12 out of 40 picks from day three. In 2009 they only signed four players, and all four players were either college juniors, college seniors, or JuCo players. The best from that group, and the only one remaining in the organization, is 34th round pick Zac Fuesser, who signed for $125,000, well above the norm for that late in the draft.
Last year the Pirates signed eight players. Only two were from the prep ranks: 41st round pick Bryton Trepagnier and 49th round pick Logan Pevny. Both were signed in early July, and I don’t think it’s coincidental that this came right after 8th round pick Dace Kime decided to go to Louisville, just like I don’t think it’s coincidental that the Pirates shelled out big bonuses on middle round picks Jared Lakind and Ryan Hafner when Austin Kubitza, Zach Weiss, and Jason Hursh decided to go to college.
For the most part, day three is going to be made up of backup plans and organizational depth. It’s a guarantee that any college seniors will be signed. Some JuCo players might also get signed. However, if you’re looking for top prospects who have fallen all the way to rounds 31-50, and hoping the Pirates shell out the cash to sign them, don’t expect it to happen. Once a prospect reaches this stage in the draft, they’re most likely going to school to try again at a later date, especially if they’re a prep player. It would take a lot of players at the top of the draft refusing to sign before we see some of tomorrow’s prep players inked.
As for the total amount of players signed, a big deal gets made when teams sign 40-50 picks. That’s not something the Pirates need to do. The Pirates have added a ton of players to the system the last few years via trades. They’ve also graduated a lot of Latin American players to the majors in the last two years. Teams that sign 40-50 players are adding guys to fill out the lower levels. Due to the trades and the amount of Latin American prospects that will be making the jump to the US, the Pirates don’t need as many organizational guys. I’d expect the Pirates to be in the 20-30 signing range for the third year in a row.
Of course none of this means the third day is meaningless. The Pirates got Fuesser on day three. Last year’s 31st round pick, Jason Townsend, has been a surprise in West Virginia’s bullpen this year, with a mid-90s fastball, and much improved control. 2010 39th round pick Kevin Decker has also been a surprise with his numbers. Trepagnier and Pevny are both tall, lean, projectable pitchers. We’re more likely to see guys from the top 30 rounds signed, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t follow day three, and we definitely will be following it again on Twitter. Follow @pirateprospects for all of the updates.