First Pitch: What to Expect from the 44th Overall Draft Pick

Over the last two mornings, we have looked at the results from the MLB Amateur Draft for all of the seventh overall and 31st overall picks since the draft began in 1965. Those spots are the first two picks for the Pittsburgh Pirates this year when the draft begins on June 10th. The Pirates also have the 44th overall pick this year. Today we look at the results of every 44th overall pick since 1965.

We won’t look at the last four years because it’s too early in the career of those four players. That still leaves 51 picks to look at here. A total of 26 of those 51 players have made it to the big leagues. That’s actually a better percentage than the number of 31st overall picks who made the majors (23 out of 52).

Out of those 26 players chosen 44th overall, ten of them have posted a negative WAR number in their career. Then there is Brett Abernathy, a 1996 pick of the Toronto Blue Jays, who had an 0.0 WAR in 232 games.

As for the 12 players who put up a positive WAR, the group includes names that should be familiar to Pirates fans. Tanner Scheppers, who didn’t sign with the Pirates out of high school, then went 44th to the Texas Rangers in 2009. He had an 0.9 WAR in six years with Texas. It also includes Jerry Don Gleaton (2.2 WAR), who finished his 12-year MLB career with the 1992 Pirates.

The eighth best 44th pick is pitcher Jeff Robinson (2.9 WAR), who played for the 1987-89 Pirates, not the pitcher Jeff Robinson who was teammates with Gleaton in 1992. Just above Robinson 1.0 on the list is Trevor Williams and his 5.7 WAR.

If you go all the way up to #2 on the list, there’s another familiar name. Jon Lieber was drafted by the Royals 44th overall in 1992, then joined the Pirates in a trade the following season. He put up 6.6 WAR in five seasons with the Pirates. Lieber pitched a total of 14 years in the majors, finishing with a 24.2 WAR. The second best 44th overall pick wasn’t much different than the second best 31st overall pick, Jarrod Washburn.

At the top spot yesterday, Greg Maddux gave everyone that 2% hope that the Pirates could get an all-time great with the 31st pick. The hope for the 44th pick is no Greg Maddux, but he’s a pretty good player in his own right. In 2002, the Reds took Joey Votto 44th overall. He has 62 career WAR.

The Pirates have picked twice at 44th overall over the years and both times they took right-handed high school pitchers. In 1977, they selected Michael Pill out of California. Two years earlier they picked Jeff Pinkus out of Maine. Pill pitched three years, posting a 3.18 ERA in 164 innings. He topped out at High-A. Pinkus pitched four years and also topped out at High-A. He had 4.32 ERA in 385 innings.

So the numbers here say that you have about a 50% chance of picking a Major League player 44th overall. You also have about a 24% chance of getting someone who will put up a positive WAR in the majors. You have a 2% chance of getting a great player and another 2% chance of ending up with a solid player who is productive for numerous years.

Those numbers are very similar to the results from the 31st overall pick. The potential difference here is that Michael Fulmer and Nicholas Castellanos were also 44th overall picks. Fulmer has 9.7 WAR currently in three years, while Castellanos has 9.7 WAR in seven years and he just turned 28 years old. Both have time to push themselves up higher on the list.

What this exercise has told us is that there are no guarantees with the 31st overall pick, but you shouldn’t overlook the 44th pick just because it’s lower. Nothing in 50+ years of data suggests that you should expect a better player with the higher pick. They’re both equally as important on June 10th.





By John Dreker

Just two former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date and no major transactions.

Jack Pfiester, pitcher for the 1903-04 Pirates. He was an unfortunate case for the Pirates, a pitcher who struggled in two brief tryouts each year with the team so they gave up on him. It turned out to be a bad move on their part, as just two years later, he was a 20-game winner for the first place Chicago Cubs. The lefty began his career in the minors in 1902, posting a 13-15, 3.63 record in 225.1 innings for Spokane of the Pacific Northwest League. He moved on to San Francisco, pitching in the Pacific National League, where he first got recognized by the Pirates due to his 19 wins and 2.78 ERA in 288 innings. Pfiester made three September starts for the Pirates, going 0-3, 6.16 in 19 innings with 15 strikeouts.

He began the 1904 season with the Pirates, but after two starts and a relief appearance, he went sent to Omaha of the Western League. It was down there where he finally established himself, but it was the Cubs who recognized those improvements, not the Pirates. In two seasons for Omaha, he posted a 49-22 record. The Cubs went to the World Series three straight seasons from 1906 until 1908 and Pfiester was a big reason those first two years. He went 20-8 in 1906, then won 14 games with a league leading 1.15 ERA in 195 innings in 1907. In 1909 he went 17-6 for the second place Cubs, a team that won 104 games. Health and injury problems limited him to just two more seasons in the majors. He finished with a 71-44 record and a 2.02 career ERA, the fourth best ERA of all-time among pitchers who threw at least 1,000 innings.

Sam Barkley, first baseman/second baseman for the 1886-87 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He began his pro career in 1883, playing for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the Northwestern League. When that team joined the American Association the next season, Barkley was their second baseman. He hit .306 in that rookie season, leading the AA with 39 doubles. Toledo was a major league team for just one season and in 1885, He moved to the St Louis Browns of the AA, where he hit .268 with 53 RBIs in 103 games. The Alleghenys purchased his contract for $1,000 during that off-season.

That first year in Pittsburgh, Barkley hit .266 with 69 RBIs and 77 runs scored, helping the team to a second place finish behind the Browns. Pittsburgh moved from the AA to the National League for the 1887 season. He was the cleanup hitter in the first National League game in Pirates history back on April 30,1887. Barkley was the second baseman to begin the year, but when regular first baseman Alex McKinnon became ill and later passed away, he took over at first base for the duration of the season. He struggled at the plate, hitting .224 in 89 games. Just prior to the 1888 season, Pittsburgh sold him to the Kansas City Cowboys, sending him back to the AA. Barkley played two seasons there, before finishing his career in the minors in 1899, back where he started in Toledo.

Barkley was recently featured here in a Card of the Day article, which was a guest submission. It has much more on his acquisition by the Alleghenys, besides the card feature part.

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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