First Pitch: Why the Pirates Should Repeat the Appel Pick With Aiken

About once a year I take a look back at the Mark Appel situation in order to see how the move played out for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Typically this look involves comparing Appel to what the Pirates would have had to give up in order to go above slot and sign him. If you’re scoring at home, the list would have been Austin Meadows, Reese McGuire, Blake Taylor (the key to the Ike Davis trade), Cole Tucker, and Mitch Keller. Or, in other words, 40% of the current top ten prospects in the system.

The other comparison would be David Dahl vs Austin Meadows. The Pirates passed on taking Dahl when Appel fell to them. They drafted Meadows with the compensation pick they received for not signing Appel. Dahl rated as the better prospect coming into the year, although he’s currently struggling at the Double-A level.

There’s another thing to consider in this situation, and that’s the 2012 Plan B for Appel. A few days before the signing deadline, the Pirates moved on from Appel and started spending their extra bonus money elsewhere. Specifically, they spent it on three players in the middle rounds of the draft. Those three players? Max Moroff, Hayden Hurst, and John Kuchno, who were taken in rounds 16-18, respectively.

Hurst was in the news today after retiring. He showed horrible control in his one outing as a pitcher, then was placed on the disabled list and eventually converted to a position player. As a first baseman he showed poor range, and was over-matched at the plate, with too many strikeouts. He received $400,000, of which $300,000 counted toward the bonus pool. So far he has been the only Plan B pick that hasn’t worked out.

The other two picks are currently having success in Altoona. John Kuchno moved to the bullpen this year, and is doing an amazing job as what he does best: getting ground balls. A year after posting an amazing 62% ground ball rate, Kuchno is following that up with a 73% ground ball rate in 2015. Granted, this is only in 17.2 innings, but so far his sinker is working very well in the higher level. He looks like a guy who could develop into a Jared Hughes-type reliever in the majors one day.

Perhaps the biggest success story from the Plan B picks has been Moroff. That wasn’t the case up until this year, but the second baseman is now having a breakout season. He was signed for $300,000, with $200,000 coming from the leftover Appel money. Scouts have loved Moroff from day one in the GCL, and that didn’t stop prior to this year. We’re just now seeing what it was that scouts loved. Sean McCool had a look at Moroff yesterday, questioning if his skills will put him in line to be a starting second baseman in the future. He is currently showing the ability to hit for average, limit strikeouts, draw walks, hit for some power, and provide good speed and defense. That combination of tools and abilities usually leads to good things.

It’s impossible to say whether the Pirates would have had the same success if they had taken Dahl. Slot value for their pick was $2.9 M, and Dahl signed two picks later for $2.6 M. Maybe they would have had an extra $300,000. Maybe they would have also been able to draft guys who weren’t signability picks in rounds 6-10, although a few of those guys are looking like interesting prospects (mostly Jacob Stallings and Eric Wood, who are both in Altoona).

Here’s what we do know: The Pirates drafted Appel, he didn’t sign, and they ended up with Meadows, Moroff, and Kuchno as a result. Getting Appel would have been a positive result if he would have signed for the amount offered, and didn’t require draft picks to be forfeited. But the Plan B approach worked well, as the Pirates got a comparable prospect to the one they passed over, along with two other interesting prospects.

This is important to remember, because the scenario could come up again next month. A lot of mock drafts have Brady Aiken falling past the Pirates. The left-hander was the first overall pick last year, but ended up going unsigned after the Astros had issues with his elbow and tried to get him under a lower bonus. He ended up needing Tommy John surgery this year after his first start with IMG Academy.

Any team drafting Aiken would be taking him with the knowledge that he might not be pitching much until the second half of the 2016 season. There’s also the chance that he doesn’t sign, opting to try and rebuild his value again for next year’s draft. This would result in the team losing a draft pick, although they would get a compensation pick the following year.

This wouldn’t be a bad gamble for the Pirates. They’re currently not a team or a system that desperately needs a 19th overall pick in 2015. Drafting a high risk, high reward guy like Aiken is the perfect thing to do with the system they have. If he doesn’t sign, they can afford to wait until 2016 to get their first rounder. And if they take the same approach as Appel, and go with a few Plan B options, they could get some interesting talent in the system in 2015 while they wait.

The Pirates have a contending MLB team with very few long-term needs. They have a strong farm system that has the potential answer to the positions that do have long-term needs. And the lower levels have prospects who could be the next wave, replacing some of the current long-term options when they get too old or expensive. The Pirates are in a perfect position to go for a guy like Aiken if he’s available. Despite the mock drafts, I’m still skeptical Aiken will fall. Then again, Appel was a lock to go first overall up until the draft.

**2012 Over-Slot Draft Pick Hayden Hurst Retires

**Prospect Watch: Second Solid Start From Clayton Richard

**Jose Tabata Has a Very Unlikely Road Back to the Majors

**Morning Report: Some Prospects Lacking Extra-Base Hits This Year


  • I have no problem with this thinking

  • Kinshuk Rajan
    May 14, 2015 4:59 pm

    Anyone else pinch themselves while reading this sentence? “The Pirates have a contending MLB team with very few long-term needs.”

  • Tim – just wanted to say that John’s draft coverage alone has been worth my subscription. Simply no other place to get the breadth, depth, and quality he’s provided.

    • There’s a reason why he’s our draft guy. He follows this in insane detail. If a local newspaper somewhere has an article about a player who is rated near where the Pirates pick, John will be telling me about the article within a day of it being posted.

      • I think it’s great that you’ve kept costs so low, but you guys are putting out a great product. Definitely opportunity for more revenue if you need it.

  • I would never invest a #1 pick on someone who has already had a TJ surgery just on principle. Let others take that risk.

    • The other side of that coin is that he already had TJ, so some may say he has less fear of it popping up in the future. With so many arms having TJ at some point in their career, its possible a team could see him having gotten it over with before they got him as a plus. that ignores the chances of a 2nd TJ, but its there.

      I dont really 100% agree with it, but i’ve heard it floated as an argument. If you trust TJ surgery as being more likely than not to fix the issue and have it last without another injury, maybe.

      • Interesting. Never thought of it that way.

      • Well if you only have them for 7-10 years before they are gone via free agency, the 2nd TJ likely becomes someone elses problem

        • I wonder what the average time between TJ surgeries is for players whom have needed a 2nd one

        • Another factor in the decision. Again, im not sure i agree with it totally (its playing the percentages) but i get the logic.

  • Like the idea, but without seeing the medicals I’d rather grab Mike Matuella. Nearly as high of a ceiling with considerably less risk; and could be an easier sign.

  • I don’t like Clay Aiken as a singer…why would I want him as a pitcher?
    oh wait….my bad.

  • I agree. If Aiken’s medical reports lack red flags, then he is a no-brainer choice when the Pirates make their first pick. In other words, if Aiken poses no greater risk than a pitcher commonly has after TJ surgery, it would be a mistake to pass over him.

    I doubt the Nats regret drafting Giolito.

    • Except that Aiken isn’t nearly the talent of Giolito, or even Jeff Hoffman last year.

      • I was wondering about that. Was Giolito seen as a better prospect back in 2012 than Aiken was last year pre-injury? I hate the Nats by the way.

        • Giolito was borderline legendary as a high school prospect. I remember him being up to like 95 as a freshman or something ridiculous like that, with perfect size, a plus curveball, and was hitting triple digits before hurting his elbow.

      • Aiken does not need to be Giolito’s equal to make the comparison apt. He only needs to have top shelf talent, and he does.

        • I personally disagree.

          Many guys can be said to have “top shelf talent”. That potential has to be balanced by the risk involved. Just not as simple as looking at what a given player *could* turn out to be.

          • NMR, what are your thoughts on Matuella?

            • I’m partial to him and Tyler Jay more than any other arms in this draft, at least of the guys that have a chance of falling to #19.

              Matuella is exactly the type of guy the Pirates *hope* their tall, projectible prep pitchers turn into, and even got a Tyler Glasnow comp earlier this year.

          • What, actually, are you disagreeing with?

            • Your insinuation that Giolito’s situation is the same as Aiken’s.

              It is not.

              • Actually, they are comparable. Both were clear 1-1 picks until Giolito’s injury and Aiken’s medicals. Giolito may be the better talent, but that fact does not diminish Aiken’s projection as a top of the rotation starter. Nor does their TJ surgeries. Both belong to the same talent class.

                • You’re free to think that; I just don’t think you’ll find many in the industry who agree.

                  • Who are these people? No one made a face palm when the Astros took Aiken? Why?

                    • Every analyst I’ve read has said that Giolito>Hoffman>>Aiken when asked the same exact question you pose.

                      No one made a face palm when the Astros took Aiken because no one knew he’d blow out his freaking elbow. How is this so difficult?

                    • Reread what I wrote and get back to me when the light of comprehension goes on.

                    • I have to admit steve, i think nmr is a little lost or confused. Typically he is more on point

  • Appel is not a sure thing at this time, either. He hasn’t exactly been setting the minors on fire.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    May 14, 2015 8:09 am

    I’d prefer the Pirates pursue HS position players who have high upside with the bat – especially power potential. That is where the system is the weakest, especially at the lower levels.

    • HS position players that have high ceilings tend to go before the 19th pick.

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD
        May 14, 2015 1:11 pm

        Not all, there are quite a few projected in the 20-40 range

        • You’re correct…those ones are just usually ridiculously risky.

          Think about the debate between Jake Gatewood and Cole Tucker last year. Many Pirate fans were upset that Tucker was taken instead of Gatewood; after all, Gatewood was the showcase hero with all the outlets gushing over his power and ranked as a Top 50 draft prospect. The only *minor* caveat was that he couldn’t actually hit baseballs. At all. He now owns a strikeout rate north of 40% in A-ball after striking out in a third of his appearances last ear and not even getting to his power in games enough to notch a meager ISO over .100.

          • Was really hoping they’d get Gatewood or Harrison last year. Just checked the stats on Monte Harrison…….early but pretty awful.

            • Then boy did you love the Brewers draft!

              I liked Harrison much more than the other two top picks and would credit his struggles this year to being so new to the sport in general. Brewers also seem to know how to develop a hitter or two.

          • sounds like he should convert to pitcher, do an opposite allie

  • I’m sure the Pirates have a clue as to the long term prognosis of Aiken’s unusually “small” UCL, which is the ligament replaced in TJ surgery. Does TJ surgery completely eliminate the issue in this case? If not I wouldn’t touch him with a ten foot pole, nor will the Pirates.

    • The surgery replaced the ligament, so that’s no longer an issue.

      • Tim…if so, then, I agree…take him.

      • FWIW, I’m not sure many would agree with you:

        “McDaniel ranks Astros unsigned 2014 No. 1 pick Brady Aiken the No. 24 prospect in the draft, noting that many in the industry feel that Aiken’s arm issues go beyond Tommy John surgery and that he could have further injury problems later in his career.”

        • Most pitchers who make the MLs have injury problems later in their careers….

          It would help if these industry sources stated in public what Aiken’s other problems are. Lacking details like this makes these sources originators of FUD.

          • “There is persistent, consistent and detailed buzz coming from many sources that there is more to Aiken’s injury than just a clean surgery like Erick Fedde, Jeff Hoffman or Lucas Giolito from recent years

            I won’t repeat the specific rumors, but the worst versions of it say there are career-threatening issues at play, while others say it’s merely an increased risk of further injury going forward. All 30 teams will get Aiken’s medical before the draft, the details will likely leak to the media and the answers that no one has at this point will come out before decisions have to be made. Either these rumors are bunk and Aiken will go 7th-10th overall as some expect, or he’ll get taken off a bunch of draft boards altogether and I’ll be forced to rank him somewhere around 40, with no telling where he’ll go or how much money he’ll get.”

            What possible incentive would any team have for disclosing information?

            • Every one of those players you mention have a higher risk of another injury going forward now that they have had one TJ proceedure.

            • Incentives:

              To cause him to fall in the draft.

              To destroy his bargaining position.

              To muck up the situation for a competitor.

              These are a few that come to mind.

              • And you believe that a significant number of Major League ball clubs are colluding to do this to Aiken, but not Matuella or Fedde, Hoffman, and Giolito before him?

                Ok. Sure. Whatever you want to believe.

        • If the concern was that his ligament was small, then that’s no longer a concern since that ligament has been replaced.

          • Tim, I’m going out on a limb and guessing the medical staff’s of the clubs that Kiley references above know more than you or I.

            As he said, this could be nothing. But it’s inarguable that the vast majority of guys who get TJS don’t come out of the surgery with whispers of career-threatening issues.

            • If they have other concerns, then that’s a different subject. But there’s no way the Astros concern of a small ligament is still a concern, unless they replaced the old ligament with another small ligament.

  • Looks like a good case you have there tim I’m sold, only prob is I don’t have any over-slot money or any slot money for that matter and even more important I have zero input with the gm. Send ole nh an e-mail for us and maybe he’ll listen to you, heck ya have a better shot at it than any of us, all I ever get from the pirates is a thank you for your letter.( in other words a screw u letter)

  • If they have the chance to take the most talented pitcher in the draft at # 19, they’d be foolish not to choose him. Signing him is a whole nuther matter though. Going to take a mammoth sales job.

  • pantherfan83
    May 14, 2015 1:59 am

    In theory its a net gain to not sign a player. ex. Year A=$10million, Year B=$10 million(hypothetical slot value number). Failure to sign first pick, year A, still results in $10million value overall spent in the draft. Year B now = $10million plus slot value for failure to sign(Say $2Million additional)=$12 million. Now A+B=$22million. Lets say Year B fails to sign the first round pick, now year C has +$2million=$12million. Now A+B+C=$34million instead of $30M. The path can continue every year. At the cost of basically not having a first round pick in year A and one lower draft position every year. For all I care they could sign Joe Blow with their first round pick every year just to not screw over the future of a young kid. The key to this method is trusting your scouting and being able to sign players overslot throughout the next ten rounds of the draft. Correct me if i’m wrong with the rules.