The 2015 draft received a lot of attention for the amount of college players the Pirates drafted in the top ten rounds. They took just one prep player in those rounds, going with college guys with 10 of the first 11 picks. That was a surprise to everyone who associates the Pirates with focusing big on prep players — a reputation that was well deserved after they spent record-setting money on high schoolers from 2008-2011. But since the new draft rules have been in place, the Pirates have had to change that approach.
After day two, I talked with Neal Huntington, who confirmed that their old approach of taking prep pitchers in the middle rounds and signing those guys was impossible. He repeated the same thing in the conference call with the Pittsburgh media the next night after the draft. Basically, if the Pirates don’t take prep players in the first few rounds, they won’t be taking prep players. And if you need proof of this, just look at the last three drafts leading up to this year, under the new system.
2014 – They took Cole Tucker in the first round, and Mitch Keller and Trey Supak in the second round. After that, the only top ten pick that went to a prep player was seventh rounder Nelson Jorge, who signed for almost $30,000 under slot out of Puerto Rico. They did save up to sign Gage Hinsz for $480,000 over slot in the 11th round.
2013 – They went with two prep hitters in the first round with Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire. The second round pick was prep pitcher Blake Taylor. They did go with two over-slot prep guys in the top ten rounds, giving over-slot deals to fifth rounder Trae Arbet and eighth rounder Neil Kozikowski. This was mostly due to their high drafting position. They signed McGuire and Taylor under-slot, with that money going to those two picks. They created some additional room for Nick Buckner ($35,000 over slot) and Billy Roth ($90,000 over slot) after the tenth round.
2012 – They took Wyatt Mathisen and Jon Sandfort in the second and third rounds respectively. They took a prep hitter in Kevin Ross in the eighth round, although this was an under-slot move, saving about $8,000. This draft was a bit of an outlier, since they took Mark Appel in the first round, and went ultra-signability in rounds 6-10 to create room in their bonus pool for him. When he didn’t sign, they used that money on 16th rounder Max Moroff ($200,000 over slot) and 17th rounder Hayden Hurst ($300,000 over slot).
The differences between the 2015 draft and the previous three drafts are that:
1. The Pirates went with only one prep guy in the first three rounds. These were the only rounds that they took high-priced prep guys in most years.
2. They didn’t draft any easy signings like Ross or Jorge. It should be noted that these guys haven’t really worked out too well since they’ve joined the system.
3. They didn’t have two first round picks like 2013, which didn’t give them flexibility to go over-slot with some middle round picks.
The Pirates took a lot of college players, and that was similar to their approach in previous years. But there’s another thing that really got left out of the discussion this week — how have the previous college players performed? It seemed like the idea behind prep players was that they’re the only ones with upside, and that college guys are a waste of a pick. Prep players give you the ability to dream about massive upsides and potential, even if there is only a small chance the player reaches that level. But college guys can have similar upsides, and can work out just as well. Here are a few of the guys who have worked out so far (note that I’m leaving the top three rounds out, so no Barrett Barnes or JaCoby Jones).
Adrian Sampson – He went in the fifth round in 2012, and could make his way to the majors this year, with the upside of a middle of the rotation starter.
Jacob Stallings – He was one of the signability guys for Appel, but has emerged as a solid defensive catcher who works great with pitchers. He could make it as a backup catcher one day.
John Kuchno – They went slightly over-slot with him in 2012, and he’s emerged as a Jared Hughes-like reliever in Altoona, living off the easy ground balls that he generates with his fastball.
Buddy Borden – The Pirates traded the 2013 7th rounder for Sean Rodriguez.
Shane Carle – Another guy who was traded this off-season. He went in the tenth round in 2013, and was traded for Rob Scahill.
Chad Kuhl – He has been solid in the Altoona rotation, and could be a starter in the majors if he can get more consistency with his slider and changeup — two things he’s working on this year. If not, his sinker and mid-90s four seamer will give him a shot to make it as a reliever.
I didn’t mention a lot of the guys like Adam Frazier, Erich Weiss, or Cody Dickson in 2013 who have done well so far, or the guys with potential in the 2014 group like Austin Coley, Taylor Gushue, or Tyler Eppler. It’s probably too early for them to be noted as success stories, since they all fall into the “interesting prospect” category.
That said, the Pirates have gone college heavy in rounds 4-10 in all of their drafts under the new system. They ended up with trade pieces for a bullpen and bench piece this year, plus a potential number three or four starter, a potential back of the rotation or bullpen guy, a potential backup catcher, a potential Jared Hughes type reliever, and several other interesting prospects. You’re not getting aces or All-Star position players here, but getting viable MLB talent after the first three rounds is never something to dismiss, and not a result that you can easily upgrade.