There has been a common draft trend for the Pittsburgh Pirates under Neal Huntington, with a big focus and a lot of money spent on projectable prep pitchers. The results have been positive, with big breakouts like Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham coming from this approach. However, the worst results from this approach may have come from the draft that really started it all.
The Pirates took Quinton Miller in 2008 and gave him $900,000 as a 20th round pick. But they really dove in to the prep pitching pool in 2009, spending big on prep pitchers after the first round. This was controversial, since they passed over several highly rated first round prep pitchers to draft Tony Sanchez, and used the savings to get the middle round guys.
That 2009 draft has largely failed. Sanchez didn’t end up the starting catcher of the future for the Pirates, and has now been passed up by Elias Diaz, while continuing to experience throwing issues that will likely prevent him from ever being a starter in Pittsburgh. And the middle round prep pitchers, aka the main reason the Pirates drafted Sanchez, haven’t worked out.
Sure, they did get something from Colton Cain (8th round, $1.15 M bonus), trading him as one of three players for Wandy Rodriguez. But there were two other players in that deal who were either rated as better prospects than Cain, or on the same level. Trent Stevenson, taken in the 7th round with a $350,000 bonus, retired after a few years in pro ball, never really seeing his velocity go out of the mid-80s. Second round pick Brooks Pounders, who received $670,000, was traded for Yamaico Navarro, who was later traded for Jhondaniel Medina. And the highest profile guy of all, Zack Von Rosenberg, was released this spring after seeing his velocity decline over the last few years, and failing to make it out of A-ball.
Other parts of the 2009 draft have worked out. Aaron Baker, taken in the 11th round, was traded for Derrek Lee in 2012. Brock Holt, who went in the 9th round, was part of the trade that brought Mark Melancon to Pittsburgh, although Joel Hanrahan was the key guy there. Compensation pick Vic Black was one of two players traded for Marlon Byrd in 2013, with Dilson Herrera being the main piece in that trade.
That kind of shows how bad the 2009 draft has been. The best pieces have been the minor parts of trades (Cain, Black, Holt), or a player dealt for two months of a strong performing first baseman in a year where the team collapsed in those two months. That’s not what you’re shooting for in any draft.
The only hope for the draft at this point is that Zack Dodson, who I wrote about today, can make the majors, or that Tony Sanchez becomes a starter. In each case, it’s unlikely that this happens in Pittsburgh. As noted above, Sanchez is behind Diaz on the depth charts. Dodson’s upside would be Jeff Locke, but the quality of pitchers ahead of him will make it difficult for him to be more than a Triple-A depth option or a reliever for Pittsburgh.
The Pirates have had some good drafts in the following years, but with the book about to be completely closed on the 2009 draft, it’s safe to say that their approach last year was a major disappointment.