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.