The draft is always the busiest time of year for us, and that has been no exception the last two days. We’ve had 26 articles go up, not counting this one, and not counting the 11 player pages for the new draft picks. All of these are available to subscribers for the super low price of $2.99 per month, or less if you purchase a one-year plan or our three-year Top Prospect plan. I wanted to make tonight’s First Pitch free, since I felt it not only adds a ton of insight into how the Pirates have drafted so far, but also provides an opportunity to show how our draft coverage is different than anything else you can find on the Pirates’ system. If you like this article, there are tons more available if you subscribe.
For many years, the Pirates were a team that loaded up on prep players. They paid those players large bonuses to get them to sign, and the result was that they ended up spending more than any other team in the draft from 2008-2011. But all of that changed when MLB adjusted the draft, which limited teams from spending more than their allotted bonus pools.
Furthermore, the Pirates became contenders, which means they started drafting later in the draft, and had less money to spend. Under the old system, they would go over-slot with 3-4 different prep pitchers on day two, spending anywhere from $480,000 on guys like Nick Kingham in the fourth round, to $1.2 M on guys like Clay Holmes in the ninth round.
This year the Pirates have just under $7.4 M to spend without incurring penalties. They could spend an extra $362,218 without losing any future draft picks, although they would be taxed five percent on the overage. Even with the extra money, their total draft spending this year will fall short of any of their individual year totals from 2008-2011, and their total this year is considered high for the bottom third of the draft.
For that reason, you can see why it would be difficult for them to take a lot of prep players under the new system. I talked with Neal Huntington tonight, who elaborated in length how the new system prevented the Pirates from taking prep guys at the frequency they did under the old system.
“There’s no question this system has made it more challenging to draft and sign a large number of high school players,” Huntington said. “More and more high school players asks are higher and higher. And there’s only so many slots where you can afford to pay a player [$500,000 – $2,000,000]. Just from a pure logical standpoint, there’s only so many places where you can take each of the players that asks $4,000,000. When you make that selection, and the player stays firm in that number, unless you sacrifice picks elsewhere, it’s hard to come up with that kind of money to be able to meet a million dollar ask in the 11th round, or in the eighth round even. The system is very top-heavy, and if you take players that you liked at the top of the draft, unless you’re in the huge pool environment, it’s hard to harvest enough dollars to get multiple high school guys.”
The Pirates have gone over-slot in the past to get prep players. Last year they spent $1 M each on second round pitchers Mitch Keller and Trey Supak. They also spent $580,000 on 11th rounder Gage Hinsz, with all but $100,000 of that counting against their draft pool. That last signing put them over their bonus pool, not to the point where they would lose a pick, but to the point where they were taxed an estimated $261,525 on top of their total draft spending.
They’ve gone for prep players in previous years as well. The 2013 draft was notable, as they took Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire in the top half of the first round, then took prep left-handed pitcher Blake Taylor in the second. They actually saved money with Taylor, but still gave him a $750,000 bonus. That allowed them to go over-slot on guys like 5th round shortstop Trae Arbet, 8th round RHP Neil Kozikowski, 14th round outfielder Nick Buckner, and 16th round RHP Billy Roth. The last guy on the list has looked fantastic in extended Spring Training this year, sitting 93-96 MPH with ease, and carrying that velocity through multiple innings.
They even got some prep guys in 2012 in the first year of the new system, although several of those were due to the fact that Mark Appel didn’t sign. They took Wyatt Mathisen in the second round and Jon Sandfort in the third round, giving them both slot. They created slot money in rounds 6-10, drafting guys for signability purposes to create extra money for Appel. When he turned them down, they gave that money to a few mid-round picks, including prep shortstop Max Moroff and prep right-handed pitcher Hayden Hurst. The latter is out of the system now, but the former is having a breakout year in Altoona.
Simply put, if you want prep players in the new draft, you need to either take them early when you have money to spend, or find ways to create money in the top ten rounds and take them late. The Pirates did take prep third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes in the compensation round, but that was about it for their voyage in the prep ranks during the first two days.
“Our draft this year, we felt great about each of the college guys that were available at each of our picks, and we felt great about Ke’Bryan in the comp round, and it was the way the board fell this year,” Huntington said. “Last year was Supak and Keller. We felt great about them at those picks. We were able to harvest some dollars throughout the draft to be able to go out and get those guys. As the draft fell this year, we didn’t recognize the same opportunity.”
This doesn’t rule out the Pirates going over-slot on day three. In fact, last year they created a lot of slot room with the day two picks, which allowed them to go over-slot with Gage Hinsz. They could probably do that this time around, although only to a certain extent, since their day two picks were all close to value-appropriate for their rounds, meaning they won’t be signing massively under-slot deals. We’ll see how the third day plays out, but I won’t be surprised if an over-slot guy or two comes up.
While the Pirates are limited in taking prep pitchers under the new system, they have taken an approach the last few drafts to try and get a little extra projection out of their picks. Last year there was a trend where they took a few players who were some of the youngest guys in their draft classes. First round pick Cole Tucker was the ninth youngest high school position player. Fourth round pick Taylor Gushue was the youngest college position player, and third round pick Jordan Luplow was third on that same list.
The idea here is that the college years are key for development. As we saw with Kevin Newman, you can go from being undrafted to being a first round pick in those three years. Or there’s someone like Tyler Glasnow, who goes from a fifth rounder out of high school, to probably a guy who would have been a candidate as the top overall pick last year. And if a college guy is a year younger than the rest of his junior class, then that provides a chance for some improvement, especially when you consider how many college juniors see a big breakout in their age 21 season to solidify their spot as a top draft prospect.
The Pirates went with a similar approach this year. It’s not a hard and fast rule that they’re focusing on younger players, but it definitely factors into their decision.
“It’s one of the many variables that we consider,” Huntington said. “It’s more relevant for a high school player that’s 17 or a college junior that’s 20. In Hughston’s case, he’s a 21-year-old sophomore. From an age standpoint, he’s really a junior. If a player is young for his class, that is one of the variables that we weigh.”
Two of the youngest college hitters were drafted by the Pirates on day two. Third round pick Casey Hughston is the 16th youngest player, celebrating his 21st birthday today. Seventh round pick Mitchell Tolman actually turned 21 yesterday, and is the 17th youngest player. Then there’s fifth rounder Brandon Waddell, who turned 21 last week, but missed the cut on the top 22 pitchers list by five days.
These aren’t extreme cases like Gushue and Luplow, but they are cases where the Pirates landed some of the youngest college players in the draft. The goal with prep players is to draft a ton of them, and hope to see a few breakouts. The goal here would be the same. Not every guy will benefit from this approach and see a massive improvement in his first pro season. But if they keep doing this, they up the odds of one person having that breakout, which would make it all pay off.
There was one somewhat extreme case, and that was with fourth round pitcher Jacob Taylor. He was the only college player drafted out of the JuCo ranks, and doesn’t turn 20 until next month. He’s not exactly a prep pitcher, but he’s not exactly an older college guy either. Add in the fact that he already sits 93-94 MPH and tops out at 97, and you’ve got a very interesting young arm who could only get better in the next year or two.
But the most interesting thing about Taylor is that he’s only been a pitcher full-time for the last year, which means he hasn’t seen a lot of wear and tear on his arm. Getting a young pitcher who sits mid-90s and touches the upper 90s is great, but getting that same guy with a fresh arm is something that’s rare — especially during the era where it seems every pitcher is going down with Tommy John surgery, possibly due to overuse at a young age.
“It’s an interesting element to add in to the equation, as we try to work through the various things we work through for [Pirates’ Scouting Director] Joe [DelliCarri] to make selections as to which player we’re going to take at each pick,” Huntington said. “The fact that [Taylor] has not pitched a lot, but yet shows a solid delivery and arm action, and is an athlete. Has a good frame. There are some things to build upon. That is always a good thing, and especially when you take a guy as high as we took him. You see some now, but there’s also things to build upon and some things to help him with as he gets into our system and gets going hopefully.”
In my day two recap tonight, I pointed out that Huntington felt Taylor’s lack of pitching wear and tear will lead to more upside than a normal JuCo guy who has been pitching for a long time.
Drafting guys who are slightly younger than everyone else in their class, or guys who don’t have a lot of innings under their belt certainly isn’t a proven strategy for success. This might be no better than just taking college players without factoring in their relative age to everyone else in their class. But the Pirates are now in a draft system where they can no longer just throw money at a ton of high school players, and hope that a few of them break out once they’re in the system. And they’re contending each year, with a team core that is under control for several years and a lot of top prospects in the upper levels — meaning they’ll probably keep winning, keep picking lower in the draft, and continue having less money to spend. As a result, they need to find some sort of edge to continue getting breakout guys now that their ability to spend is gone.
**Day Two Recap: Pirates Go College Heavy, But Still Find Some Upside. My day two recap, with input from Neal Huntington, pinch-hitting tonight for Scouting Director Joe DelliCarri, who was preparing for day three and starting the signing process for the early picks.
Here are the articles for all of the day two picks, along with their player pages. You can also find the player page links on the Draft Pick Signing Tracker, which is FREE this year, and will include links to all of our paid draft content.
Here is the other draft coverage from this morning, with leftover day one coverage. Also, if you missed it, check out my day one recap.
**Stan Savran Podcast: Breaking Down the Pirates’ Day One Picks. I talked with Stan about day one of the draft. As usual, all of the podcasts are free (since you can get them free on the ESPN 970 site).
**Reactions to the Pirates’ Picks From Day One. John Dreker looks at the reactions to the day one picks, noting that Keith Law loved the pick of Kevin Newman.
And yes, we had normal coverage of the minors as well (although all featured player articles have been pushed back to Thursday, in part because they’d get lost in the mix during the draft, and in part to give me a break when the draft is over).
**Minor Moves: Holdzkom Activated From DL, McKinney Promoted. It would be nice if Holdzkom’s lack of command early in the season was just due to his shoulder fatigue. The Pirates could use the 2014 version in their bullpen. And…
**Prospect Watch: Holdzkom Strong in Return, Barnes Homers Twice …Holdzkom didn’t disappoint in his return, striking out the side. The most encouraging thing? He needed 17 pitches, with 13 for strikes. This comes after he was averaging over 20 pitches per inning early in the season. Also in the Prospect Watch, 2012 first round pick Barrett Barnes is having a great year at the plate this season now that he’s finally staying healthy.
**Three West Virginia Players Named to SAL All-Star Game. Includes right-handed pitcher Yeudy Garcia, who is one of my favorite stories this year, having a nice breakout in West Virginia with his effortless 93-97 MPH fastball.
Check back tomorrow for all of our day three coverage, which is usually a crazy day. We will have player pages for each pick, and reports going up every five rounds. John Dreker will also have a preview in his Morning Report, looking at what the Pirates might do in rounds 11-20, based on recent history.