First Pitch: What to Expect from the 31st Overall Draft Pick

In yesterday’s First Pitch, we looked at the results coming from all of the seventh overall draft picks over the 55 years of the Major League Amateur Draft. The Pittsburgh Pirates make their second selection during the 2020 draft with the 31st overall pick. Today we look at how much things change when you drop down 24 spots in the draft.

Even with the seventh overall pick, the average results showed that you’re likely to get someone who plays a few seasons in the majors without making much of an impact. There were plenty of cases that gave you hope for what the Pirates could get with their first overall pick next month, but just as many players didn’t even make it to the majors.

As you drop down to the 31st overall pick, you know without looking that the results aren’t going to be as good as a top ten draft pick. The question is, how much does the production fall off?

Not including the last three years because it’s too early in their career, the 31st pick has made the majors 23 out of 52 times. Of the 23 Major League players, 17 of them failed to reach 1.0 WAR in their career. A few of them are still active, so that number should change down the line. What might not change is the amount of players who reached 10.0 WAR in their career. That number now stands at two, and no active player has more than 1.3 WAR.

Those two outliers had vastly different results. With the 31st overall pick, most fans would be ecstatic to get Jarrod Washburn. He pitched 12 years in the majors, won over 100 games, and helped the Angels to the playoffs three times, including a World Series title in 2002. Washburn finished with a 28.1 WAR, well above the 7.8 WAR posted by J.P. Howell, who ranks third in this group.

Washburn was the second best 31st pick, but he falls well short of the top pick. Greg Maddux was one of the best pitchers in baseball history, and he was taken with the 31st overall pick by the Chicago Cubs in 1984. His 106.6 WAR is 69.3 WAR higher than the other 54 picks combined.

Going by these odds, you have a slightly less than 2% chance of selecting one of the greatest pitchers of all-time with the 31st overall pick. You have the same exact odds of getting a solid 12-year player. You have a less than a 50% chance of getting a Major League player, and a 25% chance of getting a big league player who puts up a positive WAR.

For the record, this is the first time that the Pirates have selected 31st overall. You would think that it would have happened at least once by now, with odds saying they should have picked here twice by now.





By John Dreker

One Pittsburgh Pirates trade on this date to cover and five former players born on May 23rd.

The Trade

On this date in 1963, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded outfielder Bob Skinner to the Cincinnati Reds for outfielder Jerry Lynch. Skinner, at 31 years old, was in his ninth seasons with the Pirates at the time of this trade. He was originally signed by the club in 1951, but missed two years to military service. He was a two-time All-Star, who spent most of his time with the Pirates in left field. In 1962, he hit .302 with a career high of twenty homers. He was hitting .270 with no homers in 34 games at the time of the trade. Lynch began his Major League career in 1954 with the Pirates, playing three seasons in Pittsburgh before he was lost to the Reds in the 1956 Rule 5 draft. He hit .281 with 12 homers and 57 RBIs in 114 games in 1962, but just like Skinner, his 1963 numbers were down from the norm. He was hitting .250 with two homers in 22 games at the time of the deal. Lynch was a year older than Skinner and they both spent a majority of their time playing in left field.

After the deal, Lynch hit .266 with ten homers in 88 games for the 1963 Pirates. He was the regular left fielder in 1964, hitting .273 with 16 homers and 66 RBIs, then moved to a bench role with Pittsburgh for his last two seasons in the majors. The Pirates dealt Skinner at the right time, despite the stats seeming to favor the Reds in this deal. In 1963 for the Reds, he hit .253 with three homers in 72 games. Through 25 games in 1964, he was hitting .220, when the Reds traded him to the Cardinals for a minor league player and cash. Skinner played parts of three seasons in St Louis, hitting .273 with 47 RBIs in 184 games.

The Players

Deacon Phillippe, pitcher for the Pirates from 1900 until 1911. Phillippe got a later start on his pro career, with just two seasons in the minors prior to making his major league debut a month shy of his 27th birthday. He played that first season in 1899 with the Louisville Colonels, going 21-17 in a career high of 321 innings. He came to the Pirates, along with eleven other players (including Honus Wagner) on December 8, 1899. Deacon continued his winning ways in Pittsburgh, amassing four straight twenty-win seasons to start his time with the Pirates, with a better winning percentage each year. In 1903, he was 25-9, leading the Pirates to the first modern day World Series. He pitched five games during that series for a Pirates pitching staff that was short on able-bodied pitchers at the time. After a down year in 1904 due to injuries, Phillippe bounced back with his fifth 20-win season in 1905 for the Pirates. He would pitch twelve seasons in Pittsburgh without ever posting a losing record. He finished with a career record of 189-109 and among Pittsburgh’s franchise leaders, he ranks fifth in ERA (2.50), fifth in wins (168) fifth in complete games (209) sixth in innings (2,286) and tenth in strikeouts with 861. For much more info on Phillippe, check out this bio of his career.

Vic Black, pitcher for the 2013 Pirates. He was drafted 49th overall by the Pirates in 2009 and made it to the majors in four years, despite some injury issues in the minors. Black gave up two runs over four innings in three relief appearances before he was traded to the New York Mets for outfielder Marlon Byrd in August of 2013. Black played 56 games for the Mets over two seasons, posting a 2.83 ERA in 47.2 innings. Injuries sidetracked his career and he last played in 2018 in independent ball. Black is currently a minor league pitching coach for the Pirates.

Mike Gonzalez, pitcher for the 2003-06 Pirates. He was taken by the Pirates in the 30th round of the 1997 draft. They had drafted him in the 16th round a year earlier, but he didn’t sign. Shortly before his Major League debut, he was dealt to the Boston Red Sox, only to be traded back to the Pirates nine days later along with Freddy Sanchez. Gonzalez had trouble his rookie season, making 16 appearances for a total of 8.1 innings pitched, with a 7.56 ERA and four homers allowed. He began 2004 back in Triple-A, but after 35 strikeouts and a 0.90 ERA in his first 20 innings, he was back with the Pirates in late May.

Gonzalez started off with 13 straight scoreless appearances, pitching a total of 47 games (43.1 innings) with a 1.25 ERA. He had another strong season in 2005, pitching 50 innings in 51 appearances, finishing with a 2.70 ERA and three saves. The next year he would take over the closer role, saving a career high of 24 games. After the season, Gonzalez was dealt to the Braves along with Brent Lillibridge for Adam LaRoche and minor leaguer Jamie Romak. He pitched with the Washington Nationals in 2012 and Milwaukee Brewers. Gonzalez pitched 509 games in his career, saving 56. In 444.1 innings, he struck out 511 batters. With the Pirates, he had 2.37 ERA and 183 strikeouts in 155.2 innings.

Nelson Norman, infielder for the 1982 Pirates. He was originally signed by the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1975, but before he could play a game for Pittsburgh, he was part of a four-team, eleven-player deal. The trade occurred on December 8, 1977, and it sent him to the Texas Rangers. Norman played parts of four seasons in Texas, spending the entire 1979 season in the majors. He hit .222 that year in 147 games, with 36 runs scored and 21 RBIs. His other three years with the Rangers, he played a total of 47 games. Norman would return to the Pirates in a trade for Victor Cruz, just prior to the 1982 season. He played for Triple-A Portland that year, hitting .270 with 52 RBIs in 134 games. He was a September call-up, getting into three games, including a start at shortstop on the last day of the season. He spent the next two years in the minors for the Pirates, before moving on to the Orioles for one year, then four years in the Expos organization. Norman made it back to the majors for one game in April of 1987. While in the Pirates minor league system from 1982 until 1984, he had an amazing 198:66 BB/SO ratio.

Bill Miller, right fielder for the Pirates on August 23, 1902. He was a 23-year-old outfielder with no prior pro experience when he manned right field for the Pirates on August 23, 1902 against the Brooklyn Superbas at Exposition Park. The Pirates had suffered numerous injuries and were in need of a player just to have enough healthy position players on the team, so they weren’t forced to use a pitcher in the outfield. Tommy Leach recommended Miller, who joined the team on very short notice. The Pittsburgh Press noted that he tried hard but had plenty of trouble in the field, including once coming in on a ball that was well over his head. At the plate, he collected a sixth inning single that drove in two runs to make it a 5-2 deficit at that point. Three innings later, the Pirates had closed within one run, down 9-8 with two outs and a man on second base. Miller came up to bat only because no one else was on the bench that could hit for him. He would strike out, in what turned out to be a tough ending to his Major League career. The paper claimed he was too nervous to show what he could do. The “large” crowd of 5,000 fans apparently unnerved him. The Pirates played a doubleheader the next day and pitcher Jesse Tannehill was in the outfield for both games.

John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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