This summer, the Pirates are expected to graduate Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon, and Josh Bell to the majors. They could also graduate guys like Chad Kuhl, Max Moroff, Adam Frazier, and other draft picks who are expected to start the year in Triple-A. Maybe after all of that happens, the silly debates about how the Pirates can’t draft will go away.
The draft debates are never consistent, but they usually focus on one of several key arguments:
1. The lack of drafted players who are currently on the active roster. Players who were previously on the roster don’t count. Players who were traded away don’t count. Players who were once on the roster, are injured now, but could return don’t count. Top prospects like Glasnow and Bell don’t count. In fact, no prospect at all counts.
2. The lack of a player for a specific need. No team in baseball, no matter how good the farm system or the drafting, will have prospects for every position, ready to take over for every injury.
3. The idea that first round picks don’t count. This removes Gerrit Cole and Pedro Alvarez from the success column. It also removes the future success of Jameson Taillon, and Josh Bell’s bonus rules him out.
I’ve written the article before that the Pirates are good at drafting, and the argument requires that you give credit to past MLB production from players no longer in the system, trade values, plus the development of prospects who haven’t reached the majors yet (like the class mentioned above).
No matter where you stand on this issue, there are a few things that everyone can agree on. The big one would be that the Pirates haven’t been perfect, and have had some bumps along the way. Their 2008 draft was good, but not great. Their 2009 draft was a disaster. The 2010 draft was derailed by MLB’s former policy of delaying over-slot signings. And the 2011 group could be good enough to make up for those previous two years.
Today I published an evaluation of the amateur scouts in the organization, looking in detail at the players signed by each scout. During the process, I noticed that there has been a large turnover in the scouting department the last few years. It was only later that I realized a lot of the area scouts responsible for that 2009 draft are now gone.
The pick of Tony Sanchez was made by Chris Kline, who didn’t really add any other prospects in his time in the organization, and wasn’t brought back after the 2013 season. His other notable picks were Jonathan Schwind, who is currently in Altoona, and Pat Ludwig, who made it briefly to Altoona. He also has Neil Kozikowski, Michael Fransoso, and Henry Hirsch from 2013, his final draft.
Zack Von Rosenberg was the big over-slot guy that year, signed by Jerome Cochran. There weren’t many other prospects signed by Cochran in his time with the Pirates, with the one exception being JaCoby Jones in 2013. Cochran was with the organization through the 2014 season.
Brooks Pounders was taken in the second round that year, with Sean Campbell as his signing scout. Campbell did have a big pick in 2008, getting Justin Wilson in the mix. However, he wasn’t brought back after the 2010 season, and didn’t have anyone else close to Wilson’s success.
Trent Stevenson was signed by Bump Merriweather, who was gone after the 2009 season. Merriweather didn’t have many other picks, with the only other notable guy being Mike Colla, who made it to the upper levels.
Colton Cain was signed by Mike Leuzinger, who was one of the more successful area scouts before he left the Pirates following the 2012 season. It’s interesting that Cain is the only prep pitcher from that class who brought value to the organization, after being sent off in the Wandy Rodriguez trade.
The best prep pitcher from that 2009 draft ended up being Zack Dodson, who was drafted by Trevor Haley. If you read the article today, you’d see that Haley is pretty much the best scout in the US part of the system. So it’s not a surprise that he got the best player from that prep group. He also was responsible for the Pirates’ best pick from that draft, taking Brock Holt in the ninth round.
The Pirates had another prep pitcher who didn’t work out from the 2008 draft, and that was Quinton Miller. He was signed by Buddy Paine, who was a holdover from the Littlefield days, and didn’t return in 2009.
What really stood out to me after looking at this was that all of the scouts who made picks that eventually helped the Pirates in the majors are still around. The one exception here was Campbell with Justin Wilson. The scouts who missed big in the 2009 draft are now gone. And I don’t think they’re gone because of that draft, but most of the guys who are gone didn’t have any prospects from any other draft. Looking at those track records, it’s not surprising that these guys didn’t stick around.
That brings us back to the topic of the draft evaluations. The Pirates went college heavy in 2008, and as a result, they’re already starting to see that draft class depleted in the majors. Pedro Alvarez was non-tendered for his final year, Jordy Mercer is starting to enter arbitration, and Justin Wilson was traded for Francisco Cervelli.
The 2009 class went heavy on prep pitchers, and none of them worked out. Neither did Quinton Miller in 2008. But the prep pitchers after 2009 started having better track records, and maybe it’s not a coincidence that the scouts from post-2009 are still around, while the scouts who signed the prep pitchers in 2008-09 are largely gone.
The 2010 draft started to turn things around with the Kingham pick (Larry Broadway), along with two later round picks in Brandon Cumpton (current crosschecker Greg Schilz) and Casey Sadler (Trevor Haley). The 2011 draft was huge, thanks to Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow (Rick Allen), Josh Bell (Mike Leuzinger), Clay Holmes (Darren Mazeroski), and Jason Creasy (Schilz). And even though they missed out on Mark Appel in 2012, they still have the scouts who got the backup plans in Max Moroff (Nick Presto) and John Kuchno (Anthony Wycklendt).
This all really complicates the simple version of the “Pirates can’t draft” theory. That theory assumes the Pirates are constant, which definitely isn’t true, because they don’t have the same scouts now compared to when Neal Huntington first took over. The scouting process has evolved, with new area scouts brought in, plus an additional national crosschecker added to the mix. I don’t want to say that all of the old scouts were replaced due to performance, since that might not be accurate in every case. But it’s hard to ignore the poor performances that match up with the scouts who are no longer in the organization, just like it’s also hard to ignore that the guys still around are the ones with stronger track records.
When evaluating the Pirates’ drafting abilities, the simple and correct approach might be to just avoid pass/fail grades, and look at how the organization has changed in response to good and bad picks. Of course, we still need to see final results for recent draft picks before we can fully conclude that the Pirates are making changes to their scouting department for the better. But even without the MLB results, and just based on the prospects in the system, it looks like they’re trending in the right direction, and keeping the right scouts in the organization.
**Evaluating the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Amateur Scouts. Here is the study of the amateur scouts, which ended up being a long and very detailed article.
**Winter Wrap-Up and World Baseball Classic Notes. The final winter league update of the off-season.
**The Pirates Don’t Have Many Position Battles Heading Into Spring Training. From the weekend, I broke down the position battles heading into Spring Training.