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Of drafts, the Pirates and 2008

For a team trying to compete at the kind of payroll the Pirates have, adding cost-controlled players who can contribute to the Major League team is of essence because (let’s face it) you aren’t going to compete with the Yanks or RedSox for the premium free agents. The First Year Player Draft, therefore, is critical to teams such as the Pirates if they are going to be competitive. Not only do they need to draft well in the first few rounds, but they need to scout well enough (and get the lucky breaks) that allow them to have a few very good players every year. After the (Moskos-Wieters) debacle that was the 2007 draft, Dave Littlefield lost his job, and Ed Creech and a history of terrible drafts was in the books. Enter Neal Huntington, and as the 2009 draft came around, all eyes and a few sights were trained on the Pirates front office.

By all accounts, Coonelly, Huntington, Greg Smith and Kyle Stark (and anyone else involved in the process) made the right call by picking Pedro Alvarez out of Vanderbilt with the 2nd overall pick. Alvarez is knocking on the doors of AAA, and could be expected to be in the majors by June-July, 2010. Still, to a team like the Pirates, it is almost imperative that the first-rounder becomes a significant contributor to the major league team a few years down the road. The true success of the draft, in fact, lies in how many of the other picks go on to become successful major league players. Recently, Baseball America gave the Pirates 2008 draft a retrospective A. However, before we read too much into this, note that the Pirates 2005 draft also received an A, likely based primarily on Andrew McCutchen’s performance. The only others from the draft to make the big leagues- Steven Pearce, who is still only a fringe player, and Brent Lillibridge, who was sent to Atlanta in the Adam LaRoche trade. Jeff Sues is probably the only other player from that draft with a slim chance of being a contributor in the majors.

With that being said, let us consider the Pittsburgh Pirates 2008 draft. We’ve already mentioned Alvarez who looks a good pick still, in spite of his trouble with strikeouts in High-A. Let’s recap how some of the other picks have been doing since then. Note that none of them have played above high-A yet, and the real test for this class will come in 2010, when they start playing at AA. I’ll keep the recaps short here, with a predicted performance for 2010 added to it. We will revisit this list at the end of the 2010 season.

2nd Round pick: Tanner Scheppers went unsigned, due to his contract demands and injury issues. This could end up being a miss for the Pirates. Scheppers looked great in what little I saw of him in 2009- he seemed to only throw fastballs, but he had good velocity, and would be a mid-rotation starter if he develops his secondary pitches. Signed with the Rangers in 2009.

3rd Round: Jordy Mercer has decent pop, but the Pirates might make him start back at High-A in 2010 to be more consistent at the plate- draw more walks, raise the average. He had a good August to end the season, but the FO would want to see more of that more consistently before pushing him up the ranks. Projects to be able to stay at short, which would be a big advantage for him and the Pirates, if he can put it together

4th Round: Chase D’Arnaud has taken over as the most heralded middle infield prospect in the Pirates organization. I expect him to start 2010 in AA, which might push Brian Friday to AAA. He has shown good plate discipline and some pop. If he can keep it up, he should be in AAA by the end of the season, although I foresee the FO being careful in promotions this year. They probably want to see if Chase can sustain his performance over an entire year and improve all aspects of his game, given the stagnation of Friday, Shelby Ford and Bixler in the upper minors.

5th Round: Justin Wilson has the ability to be a very good pitcher in the majors if he can cut down on the walks. He ended very strong in Lynchburg, and will face his biggest test in Altoona in 2010. He pitched very well for Fresno in the College World Series and for Lynchburg in the playoffs last year. From this point on, I expect promotions to be slower, and even if Wilson can handle AA, look for him to be promoted late in the season, or perhaps in 2011 to AAA.

6th Round: Robbie Grossman was steady with the bat but needs to cut down on the strikeouts. He struck out an incredible 164 times in 451 ABs. He has age on his side, however, and expect him in high A all of 2010. He was a borderline 1st round projection by BA who fell due to signability concerns. He hasn’t shown much pop yet, but there’s time for that.

7th round: Benji Gonzalez doesn’t appear to have a particularly high ceiling at this point, but is good with the glove, and power will be the key to his advancement through the ranks. Should be in West Virginia to start the 2010 season.

8th round: Jeremy Farrell was below average in Class A with bat and glove. He will move to high A possibly behind Matt Hague and Calvin Anderson on the depth chart. His bat will be the key

9th round: Matt Hague had a very good year with the Hillcats in high-A, but needs to develop more power. Likely to start in Altoona in 2010 where he will be monitored very closely.

Drew Gagnon didn’t sign after being selected in the 10th round and I know precious little about David Rubenstein (11th round) who was in State College for the year, save that he will definitely need to improve his plate discipline.

12th Round: Calvin Anderson showed pretty good pop in WV, and should move up to high-A next year. If he can improve his plate discipline (from a greater than 25% K-rate), he should be able to push Matt Hague. It’ll be interesting if he can keep hitting for power as he rises through the system.

I don’t know much about Mike Colla (14th round) except what the stats say- good control, but too hittable at the moment. He should be in high A again in 2010. Same for Chris Aure after him who should be in State College at least next year. Wes Freeman (16th round) was a highly touted prospect who hasn’t shown much ability in the rookie leagues so far.

18th round: Jarek Cunningham had a great rookie season before tearing an ACL. He should be in West Virginia in 2010 and could be promoted aggressively if he handles the level well for 2 months or so.

20th round: Quinton Miller held his own in West Virginia at 19, although I expect him back there for a month to see if he can improve at that level. He needs to improve his control a bit more, as well as develop his secondary pitches. He could be a pretty special pitcher for the Pirates.

It’s hard to find strong cases beyond this, but 36th round pick Kyle Morgan had a power surge in West Virginia, where he will likely return in 2010 to start off. If the power is legit, and he handles high-A, he could end 2010 in Altoona. Keep an eye out for Zac Foster and Mike Williams who could be in the West Virginia bullpen. Cole White and Chris Simmons were summoned by  the army, after White had a great season in State College. Brian Leach could move to high-A Bradenton next year, and Brent Klinger could be in West Virginia by the end of the year.

The 2008 draft class should produce Pedro Alvarez, Chase D’Arnaud, Justin Wilson and Quinton Miller as regular major leaguers. I also have high hopes for Jordy Mercer, Matt Hague, Robbie Grossman and Calvin Anderson. 2010 should tell us a lot about where these guys are headed, so it should be an exciting year.

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