Morning Report: A New Focus For the 2014 Draft Picks

Yesterday we focused on the excellent control shown by all 14 college pitchers that the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted. On the offensive side, it looks like they focused on some hitters that could take walks. Jamestown had four batters in the top 21 in the league in walks, while the only college hitter from the 2014 draft on Bristol(Jerrick Suiter) finished second in the league in walks.

Luplow led Jamestown in walks this year (Photo Credit: David Hague)
Luplow led Jamestown in walks this year (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Jamestown had catcher Taylor Gushue and outfielder Jordan Luplow tied for the team lead with 27 walks. Right behind them, outfielder Michael Suchy and third baseman Chase Simpson had 26 walks. In fact, the league had 13 players with either 26 or 27 walks and three batters finished with 28 walks, so those four Jamestown players were actually near the top of the league leaders.

On the flip side, the hitters they drafted also showed some strong contact skills when they swung the bat. The highest Jamestown batters in strikeouts was tied for 25th most in the league. Michael Suchy struck out 53 times to lead the team. He was the only Jammers hitter that finished in the top 50 in the NYPL in strikeouts. Suchy was considered a raw player, he also played football, so it’s no surprise that he led the team in strikeouts.

As a side note, the only college draft pick that didn’t play at all this year, might have the best plate patience. Connor Joe, who was taken 39th overall in the draft, came with a scouting report that praised his plate patience. This year at San Diego, Joe had 32 walks and 24 strikeouts. Before he could play a game this season, he strained his back and spent his summer in Bradenton at Pirates City rehabbing his injury.

Getting back to Jerrick Suiter, he is an interesting case in that he’s the only draft pick that went to Bristol. The Pirates sent catcher Chris Harvey there after he signed as a non-drafted free agent, so he could also qualify as a draft pick since he had a year of college eligibility left. Suiter’s .403 OBP was only surpassed in the Pirates organization by three DSL players and Chris Dickerson, who was traded back in early July. Harvey didn’t get nearly as many plate appearances as Suiter, but his OBP was just eight points behind Suiter’s mark.

The focus on better plate patience seems to be a new one, at least compared to last year. Even first round pick Cole Tucker showed strong plate patience, finishing seventh in the GCL in walks. Last year’s class does have some strong cases for players with good contact skills, but then again there were three college picks that finished among the top eight in the organization in strikeouts, JaCoby Jones with 132, Jeff Roy with 118 and Erich Weiss with 117 strikeouts. You also have HS players with poor ratios in short-season ball, namely Nick Buckner with a 72:25 K/BB ratio and Trae Arbet with a 69:11 ratio.

Just two 2013 draft picks finished in the top 15 in the organization in walks this year, Weiss and Justin Maffei. Only Mike Fransoso finished in the top 20 in walks last year in the NYPL. So it doesn’t seem like the focus last year was on players that got on base and as a group, they didn’t do a great job of it last year or this year. You could even add in 12th draft pick Beau Wallace, who did such a poor job of getting on base in the lower levels last year that he was released less than a year after he signed.

As mentioned yesterday with command pitchers, showing one particular skill doesn’t make you successful, but it’s a good starting point. Except for seventh round pick Nelson Jorge, who looked lost at the plate in the GCL, the Pirates seemed to focus on players that either drew walks or made decent contact. Whether that approach works out or not, won’t be known for a few years, but it’s a plate approach that would help a number of players who were already in the organization before this year, reach their full potential.

Pirates Game Graph

Source: FanGraphs

Playoff Push

Pittsburgh: The Pirates are four games behind St. Louis for the NL Central lead and two games behind Milwaukee for the second Wild Card spot. They are 4.5 games behind San Francisco for the first spot.

Bradenton: The Marauders lost game one of their best-of-three series against Fort Myers on Tuesday night. Game two is tonight in Fort Myers.

Today’s Schedule

Minor League Starter of the Day:  The minor league regular season is over. Bradenton was the only affiliate to make the playoffs, which started last night. The game recap can be read here. Tonight, Shane Carle will take the mound for the Marauders. He made one start against Ft Myers on August 19th, giving up three runs(two earned) on eight hits and a walk, with five strikeouts. The DSL season ended last Saturday. You can read the season recap here complete with scouting reports for each player and the top ten players to watch list can be found here. We will post other season recaps soon.

MLB: Pittsburgh (71-67) @ Cardinals (75-63) 1:45 PM
Probable starter: Edinson Volquez (3.45 ERA, 109:58 K/BB, 159.1 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (73-71)

AA: Altoona (61-81)

High-A: Bradenton (0-1) @ Fort Myers (1-0) 7:05 PM
Probable starterShane Carle (3.60 ERA, 36:13 K/BB, 55 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (54-81)

Short-Season A: Jamestown (35-40)

RK: Bristol (22-46)

GCL: Pirates (20-40)

DSL: Pirates (34-36)


With the minor league season over, it’s time to take a look back at some recent video from the GCL, which we will do over the next few days. All videos are courtesy of the GCL Pirates fan page. Below is a video of Nick Hutchings throwing a bullpen prior to one of his last starts. The 18-year-old, 6’2″ righty from Australia, made 12 starts for the GCL Pirates. He had a 4.53 ERA in 47.2 innings, with a 24:13 K/BB ratio, a .275 BAA, a 1.34 GO/AO ratio and a 1.36 WHIP. Hutchings finished his season with his best start, one run on four hits over five innings. He also showed improved velocity in that outing, hitting 91 and holding his velocity later than he was early in the season.

Recent Transactions

9/2: Pirates recall Gregory Polanco, Jeff Locke, John Holdzkom, Casey Sadler and Bobby LaFromboise.

9/2: Chase d’Arnaud added to 40-man roster and promoted to Pittsburgh. Michael Martinez designated for assignment.

9/1: Pirates recall Gerrit Cole and Tony Sanchez. Stolmy Pimentel activated from the disabled list

9/1: Pirates designate Chris McGuiness for assignment. John Holdzkom added to 40-man roster.

8/30: Brent Morel promoted to Pittsburgh. Jeff Locke sent to Indianapolis.

8/30: Blake Davis activated from disabled list.

8/29: Stolmy Pimentel assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.

8/29: Tommy Field sent outright to Indianapolis.

8/29: Andrew Lambo promoted to Pirates. Gerrit Cole sent to Bristol.

8/28: Jayson Nix claimed by Kansas City Royals.

8/28: JaCoby Jones activated from disabled list. Adam Landecker placed on disabled list.

8/28: Brett McKinney promoted to Bradenton. John Kuchno placed on disabled list.

8/28: Charlie Morton sent to Altoona on rehab.

This Date in Pirates History

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players have been born on this date, including the best hitter on the worst team in franchise history. There were some bad teams during the recent 20-year losing streak and some very bad teams in the early 50’s, but no team in franchise history comes close to the 1890 squad. That year, the Pirates(then known as Alleghenys) finished the season with a 23-113 record. Their catcher that year was Harry Decker, who was born on this date in 1864. He led that team with a .274 average, adding in 52 runs scored for a team that had a lot of trouble scoring runs, but more trouble keeping runs off the board.

Also born on this date is 1914 first baseman Ed Konetchy, who was part of the unpopular December 1913 trade that sent Dots Miller to the St Louis Cardinals.

Finally, along with the five bios of players born on this date, we have a game recap from the 1978 season, which can be read here. The Pirates were in the midst of an incredible streak and Dale Berra made sure that streak stayed alive with some late game magic.

  • It makes you think – if you value and agree with the approach described – is Conor Joe the leader of this group of OPS prospects? I was a huge fan of the pick and thought that he will prove out (health permitting as with anybody) as a Nick Swisher kind of guy with excellent pop, beyond excellent plate awareness, and solid defensive skills. I also do NOT see him as a catcher or a 1b – I do see him as a 3b or corner guy… preferably 3b. He has the gun, athletic skills, and enough pop and patience to have strong OPS numbers. My personal favorite of the draft – although I’m probably alone in that. Hope he gets healthy and doesn’t struggle like Barnes to stay on the field.

    • I have killed the pick of Joe and it hasn’t changed with him being out the whole season. The thing was, I followed him all year because Draft expert Dan Kirby brought him up early in the year and the more I looked into, the more I liked him. The problem wasn’t the pick of Joe, it was where he was picked. Most people saw him as a late second-early third round pick, some sources even said he could go as late as the fifth round. If they got him in the 3-5 range, I would have loved the pick, but not 39th overall. I actually like Jordan Luplow better than Joe because he is 13 months younger and the overall package/value is very similar, even if they aren’t similar players. Luplow had a little bit of injury history, but Joe evened that out after that draft. Joe is old for his draft class, just for comparison, he’s older than Alen Hanson.

      • Nice explanation, John. Do you happen to know what the historic difference in value is between a late-30s pick and late-90s pick?

        The whole value argument makes sense in the abstract, but I’d personally rather have baseball people picking their guys based on who they like and not playing this little game. If the difference in talent ends up being significant then I’d certainly reconsider.

        • I think you may have hit the problem I saw with the draft on the head with the “who they like” quote. I think with the amount of players out there, teams fall in love with certain players and it blinds them to what’s going on. They will select players earlier, believing they might not be around when they pick again. I’ve heard that quote numerous times and it kills me every time. It means they wanted to pick them later, but had to pick them early just in case. The Pirates said that with Tucker and Joe this year and it made me cringe. I don’t like when teams focus on certain players, you fall in love with them and start overlooking their flaws, plus lose focus on other players. You get comfortable with a pick, then you hear whispers and jump to get them. All it takes is one whisper to ruin a plan. I think you need to lay out the draft picks and take the best player available every time, with some leeway regarding the bonus pool, but NEVER jump on a player because you think he might not be around where he fits. NEVER.

          • Interesting thought, and I can definitely believe it.

            Similar idea as when you hear about a team or GM targeting a specific prospect in trades over and over again (Stolmy Pimentel is the last guy I can think of that fits the bill).

            • That’s a good point. Usually when a team says that, they are talking about a player that has underperformed and there is a good reason that they’re always available, either performance or their current team doesn’t see the same upside

  • Striking out is a product of the times, finding guys that don’t strike out is nearly impossible, yes you will find a couple of good contact hitters, but you will find more that strike out a lot. Pitchers are taught speed separation early in their careers and it is very difficult to hit a pitch that is separated by 10-20MPH. Also I think the plate umpiring is awful throughout baseball, how many times have Pirates been struck out by the umpire and not the pitcher.

  • Nice write-up and good to see maturation within the organization.

    This change in philosophy started at the Major League level with the acquisitions of Snider, Sanchez, Martin, and Davis. To see the philosophy extend all the way down to the draft is a sign of coherence throughout the organization.

    These guys aren’t showcase heroes. They aren’t going to wow scouts with batting practice power or turn heads running the 60. But the same thing could be said of most low to mid round draft picks that go on to have success at the highest level.

    • There was definitely a big change at the major league level, Martin, Davis, Snider being the best examples. I’d add McCutchen and Alvarez, McCutchen pull rate is the lower than both past two seasons. Alvarez’s rate is down closer to his 2012, after being pull crazy last year, so maybe this change in approach isn’t for everyone, but I think Alvarez maxed out as 10-15% above average hitter selling out for pulled power, where he goes from here should be interesting.

      I want credit the removal of fastball hunting Jay Bell, but it appears to be an organization wide thing, though it is hard to know based on just looking two draft classes. I generally think for later round picks teams should find a player type they are good at developing and try and find those guys.

  • I guess the high walk rate and the low K rate are good signs for many of these players, but you can’t get to the majors just drawings walks – you have to be able to hit.

    Other than Luplow, the rest of these guys were spotty at best. Gushue and Anderson started out very hot, and both tailed off significantly.

    Suchy is an interesting prospect, only because he is very athletic and has good size and speed. Simpson is another guy who may have possibilities – showed some power.

    Obviously time will tell with all of these guys, but there wasn’t one position player at Jamestown to get excited about based on what they did this season.

    • “…you have to be able to hit.”

      Jamestown had three of the top 30 hitters in the league.

      • I only see two – Simpson at .286 and Luplow at .277 – who did I miss?

        Anyway, none in the top 15 and none with a .300 avg or higher. We also did not have anyone among the NYP leaders (top 10) in runs, doubles, triples, HRs, or RBIs. Again, some decent pedestrian numbers. but nothing to get excited about. IMHO, Bristol had more real prospects – although admittedly younger and raw.

        • Kevin Krause put up the best production of all with a .414 wOBA, although he was limited to 160 PA which probably didn’t make the “qualified” cut.

          And yes, if you’re one who is excited by counting stats in A-ball, I can’t imagine any of these players will excite you. Jacoby Jones is your guy. What research has shown is that a prospect’s performance in the areas which John has focused this article. walks and strikeouts, correlates better with future success than home runs, doubles, and singles.

          That certainly doesn’t have to change your objective definition of excitement, but something to think about nonetheless.

          • I like Jacoby Jones a lot. Does he strikeout a lot? Yes, but that doesn’t mean he cannot cut down on those as he progresses through the system. You can teach someone the strike zone and how to work the count….you cannot teach God given athletic ability.

            Jaff Decker gets walks, Starling Marte strikes out a lot. I would much rather have someone like Marte.

            • And that is exactly what is said about every toolsy guy to be drafted. They’re everywhere.

              The question is what is the likelihood of that actually happening? How many prospects with very poor plate discipline improve significantly?

              • I don’t know the answer to that question, but the major leagues is filled with guys who strike out 100 times or more in a season. Sometimes you take the bad with good – as long as the good exceeds the bad.

                Guys who can hit for average, hit for power run, draw walks, seldom strike out, etc, etc – those are Hall of Famers. Not many of them around.

                • I don’t think many people will argue with you there, certainly not me.

                  Where we object is that even those guys who do strike out a lot in the show mostly struck out less than a lot in the low minors.

    • “…you have to be able to hit.”

      Jamestown had three of the top 30 hitters in the league.