Pittsburgh Pirates: Reviewing Neal Huntington’s drafts- 2008

If only they kept Littlefield locked up on draft day; Image credit poetry in pros

The slow months of the offseason provide a nice opportunity to reflect back on the organization’s draft choices over the past 5 years, and gauge their levels of success.  Assuming the GM reigns in October of 2007, current GM Neal Huntington had adequate time to prepare for his first draft the following June.  He was also following in the footsteps of whom many considered one of the worst-drafting GMs in recent Major League history in Dave Littlefield.

 

And yet, despite Littlefield’s well-deserved criticism, he still drafted successful Major Leaguers like Kyle McPherson, Brad Lincoln, Andrew McCutchen, Brent Lillibridge, Tony Watson, Steve Pearce, Neil Walker, Cory Luebke, Paul Maholm, Tom Gorzelanny, and Matt Capps.

 

(The bolded player names are still with the 2013 Pirates today, and in 2 cases, are among their best players.  The italicized player names were with the Pirates when Huntington assumed control in 2007.  With Lincoln and Gorzelanny, the Pirates have current players received from trading them.  Huntington lost Pearce, Maholm, and Capps for nothing, despite Maholm and Capps in particular being very productive MLB regulars.)

 

When Huntington is spoken of positively in the media, he is routinely lauded as an excellent drafter and talent developer.  But is it warranted?  And in his 5 years of drafting, has Huntington at least exceeded the pace of the highly-critiqued drafts of Dave Littlefield?  Let’s begin by looking at Huntington’s first draft, in June of 2008:

 

1st round (2nd overall):  3B Pedro Alvarez

Commodore Alvarez; Image credit camden depot

By far Huntington’s most successful selection to date, made possible by the Tampa Bay Rays selecting toolsy SS Tim Beckham 1st overall.  Unlike Littlefield- who in 2007 bumbled the obvious choice of C Matt Wieters, instead selecting RP Daniel Moskos- Huntington didn’t overthink it, and made the right choice.  Despite a disastrous 2011, Alvarez posted OPS+ of 112  in 2010 and 117 in 2012, seemingly having him back on track as the potent middle-of-the-order bat he was advertised as being.

The only tarnish to this signing is that it shouldn’t have been permitted.  After a drawn-out tug of war with Alvarez’s agent Scott Boras, the two sides didn’t have a contract in place when the MLB signing deadline passed.  Possibly realizing the implosion of losing out on Alvarez for the Pirates’ organization, Major League Baseball specially extended the deadline, so that a deal could be reached.

 

2nd round:  SP/RP Tanner Scheppers

Despite Scheppers’ high-ceiling potential- and the praise heaped on the Pirates for selecting him- Huntington failed to sign him over a difference of less than $750,000.  Scheppers was drafted by the Texas Rangers a year later, and made his MLB debut in 2012, posting a 103 ERA+ and 8.4 K/9 out of their bullpen.

3rd round: INF Jordy Mercer

4th round: INF Chase D’Arnaud

To Huntington’s credit, both of these players have reached the MLB level, making for a solid first 4 rounds.  But whether either can be more than utility infielders remains to be seen.  Mercer posted a modest .700 OPS until 2011, when the 6’3″ righty hit 19 HR between AA Altoona and AAA Indianapolis, and a .757 OPS.  Mercer raised his OPS to .778 through 56 games at AAA in 2012.

D’Arnaud has been trending in the opposite direction.  After an .852 OPS campaign between A and high-A in 2009, D’Arnaud hasn’t posted above a .730 OPS since, while ascending the upper levels of the farm system.  Accumulating 7 errors through 56 MLB games over 2011-12 drew the frustration of manager Clint Hurdle, who often kept D’Arnaud firmly planted on the bench.

5th round: SP Justin Wilson

Wilson; Image credit milb.com

Probably the best non-headlining SP Huntington has drafted, the lefty Wilson struck out 7 during an impressive 4.1 bullpen innings during his MLB debut in 2012.  Despite being drafted out of college, Wilson will only be 25 in 2013, having covered a minor league level per season.  He owns a cumulative 3.83 ERA and 8.0 K/9 in the minors, and is a candidate for a back-of-rotation spot in 2013.

 

6th round: CF Robbie Grossman

Earning national plaudits in 2011, Grossman became the first minor leaguer since Nick Swisher to draw 100 walks and score 100 runs.  In the midst of a solid 2012 campaign, Grossman was part of the package sent to the Houston Astros for SP Wandy Rodriguez, to the chagrin of many that heralded Grossman as one of the few Pirates’ minor leaguers capable of drawing a walk.  Onwer of a career .379 OBP, Grossman should start 2013 with Houston’s AAA affiliate, and see a MLB debut sometime soonafter.

7th round: SS Benji Gonzalez

This speedy, glove-first shortstop is unlikely to climb much higher in the Pirates’ system.  He posted a .664 OPS after repeating High-A Bradenton in 2012.

8th round: 3B Jeremy Farrell

If you see Farrell play in person, he absolutely looks the part of a Major Leaguer already, with his wide shoulders perched atop a 6’3″ frame.  But his bat hasn’t kept pace with the increased level of minor league competition, and Farrell has slumped to OPS’s of .700 and .628 in 2011 and 2012.  It would not be a total surprise to see Farrell DFA’d out of Spring Training.

9th round: 1B/3B Matt Hague

 A solid selection for the 9th round, the steady Hague marched his way through the Pirates’ minor league system on a high OBP, and above average defense at 1B.  Unfortunately, the power requirements of a true MLB first basemen should limit Hague’s ceiling to a utility player.  The Pirates must realize this, as they had Hague begin fielding balls at his original position of 3B in 2012.

10th round: SP Andrew Gagnon

The Pirates failed to sign Gagnon.  He was last re-drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011, and had a successful season splitting time between A and High-A in 2012.

 

Late Round Surprise

37th rounder 1B Matt Curry was re-drafted by the Pirates in the 16th round of 2010, and has compiled an .853 OPS over three seasons.  Undersized for a firstbasemen at 6’1″, Curry could land a bench spot with the club in 2014 with a strong showing at AAA this year.

Missed Opportunity

OF Anthony Gose was taken 3 picks after Scheppers by the Toronto Blue Jays.  He was rated the #39 prospect in all of baseball heading into 2012, and made his MLB debut this season.

 

Overall Draft Class Recap

This was Huntington’s strongest draft class to date, and it isn’t close.  6 of the Pirates’ first 10 picks have already reached the Majors, and at least two more have a reasonable chance of doing so.  Pedro Alvarez is the one impact-level talent Pirates’ fans should expect the team to select when they draft in the top 5.  For a rookie GM making his first selections, this was an exciting number of hits.  Unfortunately, Huntington and the organization struggled to match this success in the drafts that followed.

Stay tuned for the 2009 recap!  Thanks for reading.