Pittsburgh Pirates GM Neal Huntington spoke with the media recently about the Pittsburgh Pirates approach with this upcoming draft. The Pirates are in an unfamiliar position, making their first pick with the 24th overall selection.

The team’s focus remains the same, but the amount of work going into that first pick definitely increases. There is more uncertainty the further you get from the top and it makes it tougher to get a solid prospect with that pick.

In the past, you could expect a higher priced player to drop due to bonus demands, so you had a chance to get someone with huge upside and a price tag to match, later in the first round. Now with the draft bonus pool cap in place, once a player drops past a certain point, there is no sense in wasting a first round pick on him.

We saw what could happen just two years ago when the Pirates gambled on Mark Appel and he stuck to his bonus demands. It ended up working out okay with the extra pick in 2013, but when you’re picking 24th in a strong draft class, there is no guarantee that you will get anywhere close to the same talent the following season with the compensation pick.

What that all means is that it is important to make the right selection this year for where they are picking and hopefully it’s a “problem” that the Pirates have every year in the future. Huntington broke down his thinking on the draft and the Pirates plans of attack to make sure they do make that right selection.

“It’s a lot easier when you’re pick one, two or four to have a pretty good feel for who is going to get to you, so it’s a bit more of a challenge this year picking 24, which we’ll gladly take and hopefully figure out a way to start picking 28th, 29th and 30 at some point here in the near future.”

Huntington praised the work that the scouts have already done up to this point and acknowledged the amount of work they still have to do as the draft gets closer.

“Our guys are after it, they do such a great job. They’re doing the best you can to narrow down to make sure you get deep looks at the guys you think are going to be in the mix not only at 24 but the competitive balance pick and second-round pick. Again, I just can’t say enough good things about the scouting department.”

The type of player the Pirates will likely get, won’t match the talent/reputation of the top names that Huntington has picked himself since taking over the draft in 2008. That doesn’t mean you ignore those players, but the majority of the time spent scouting them is better spent elsewhere.

“It’s a little bit mixed in that teams picking 24th aren’t taking Pedro Alvarez and they weren’t taking Gerrit Cole. You do your due diligence in case a guy falls for some unexpected reason, but you’re not wearing out a guy that’s going to go in the Top 5. So it’s a different number of looks, maybe a larger number of guys you’re trying to get good looks at, but you don’t have to wear out the guys who are going to go 1, 2, 3, 4. You do your homework and make sure you’re comfortable that if they get to you, you’re happy and you know why you’re happy and you know maybe why they got to you.”

That means that the Pirates aren’t concentrating on the players that have been at the top all season, such as Tyler Kolek, a big prep righty that has no problem throwing high 90’s and dominating lesser competition. Kolek won’t last longer than the first five picks and could very well go first overall. He has been in that general area all year. Same for Alex Jackson, a catcher out of high school in California. He has been a top five pick all year and only cemented his place with a strong performance in his senior year.

Players like prep outfielder Braxton Davidson, prep righty Scott Blewett and college lefty Sean Newcomb have been in the Pirates range all year. They are examples of players that are meeting, but not exceeding expectations. Assuming the Pirates feel the same way about those players as the general consensus does, they are being heavily scouted at every opportunity. Last year, we heard that Huntington himself went to scout Reese McGuire multiple times, so there was a good idea that the Pirates honed in on him and really liked him.

The scouts are concentrating more on a group that has been mentioned later in the draft, players that may start out as second round type picks, so if they do well, you consider them first round and if they hold ground, you have those 65th and 74th overall picks that are almost as important as that first round pick.

“It doesn’t mean we’ve gotta see more guys, we’ve got a great number of scouts out there and our area guys get after it. We’ve got a large number of national and regional supervisors that get after it, so we’ll have deep looks at, typically we get almost double-digits with guys we’ve got the supervisor looks at and not just our area guys which is a good thing for us as an organization. Different set of guys, you shift your focus a little bit.”

What he doesn’t mention, but should be pointed out, is that those players that look like they are obvious top 5-10 picks, have been seen by their scouts in the past. So while they haven’t seen a lot of them this year, they already have a good sense of what they are looking at. If there is buzz that a certain player is dropping, they will get some extra eyes on them for late looks.

An example of a player that was dropping is shortstop Trea Turner from North Carolina State. He was ranked top five early this year, then he started hitting a lot of singles and wasn’t hitting for average. Then some scouts questioned his defensive ability. There is a huge difference between a future shortstop and future second baseman, or a third baseman not hitting for power. Turner has turned things around recently, so his fall has probably halted. The Pirates scouted Turner in high school and even drafted him in the 20th round in 2011. Since then, his NC State team has been scouted for three years, so they have a great idea of what he is as a player.

That also means that they got a look at Turner’s teammate Carlos Rodon, who was picked by many as the first overall pick this year. He has dropped a little, but not much. A late injury or real bad stretch could happen, you don’t want to get a player that way, but they already know about Rodon and it won’t matter much that they didn’t see every single start. If they feel he, or a similar player could drop to them, then there is information out there and still time to get a better look.

As the draft gets closer, we will get a better idea of who the Pirates might take. For now, as Huntington mentioned, it’s obviously a big group that has to be narrowed down into their own rankings, so as players go off the board, they can cross them off their list and go with the best player available. The key is to get their best player available and from the sounds of things, the Pirates are putting in the work to make sure that is what they get.

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John Dreker
John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.