(Opening image Barrett Barnes; image credit bleacherreport)
Read Part 1 of 2012 right here. It covers the reasons Major League Baseball implemented the draft spending cap, and how the Pirates were the first casualty of the policy, failing to sign 1st round draft pick SP Mark Appel because of it.
In failing to sign their top pick in Appel- a pitcher that is already projected to be the #1 overall draft pick in 2013- the Pittsburgh Pirates and GM Neal Huntington had to make up some serious ground with the rest of their top ten selections to atone for it. Were they successful?
1st round supplemental: OF Barrett Barnes
Despite a handful of college hitters being drafted in round 1, this Texas Tech sophomore was still considered one of the best OF college bats in the draft. The 20-year old responded well in his first sampling of professional ball, posting a .401 OBP and .857 OPS through 38 games with Short-Season State College. Barnes should begin 2013 with the West Virginia Power (A-ball), but could advance quickly to High-A Bradenton. He profiles as a speedy power bat that should have the defensive tools necessary to remain in CF.
2nd round: C Wyatt Mathisen
This Texas high school catching prospect was well-regarded, and Pirates’ fans that follow prospects closely were happy to see the Pirates nab Mathisen early in the 2nd round. Not having the NCAA experience of Barnes, the Pirates whisked the catcher off to their Gulf Coast Rookie League developmental squad to finish out 2012- and Mathisen did well, hitting .295 with a .388 OBP.
Although he’s still years away from the Majors, having the 6’1″ 205 lb backstop develop will be critical for the Pirates, whose system-wide catching depth is currently paper-thin. Free agent Russell Martin talked the Pirates down to a 2-year deal instead of their desired three, and surely his signing means the club isn’t confident in the long-term sucess of surprise story C Michael McKenry, or former controversial 1st round pick C Tony Sanchez.
3rd round: SP Jonathan Sandfort
Considered one of the more intriguing high school arms of the draft, Sandfort struggled with control in his professional debut, walking 10 in 15 innings with the GCL Pirates. The 6’6″ 18-year old already boasts a low-90’s fastball, complimented with a potential plus-curveball, so he could surprise some people if he can put his tools together in 2013. It remains to be seen whether the Pirates’ strategy of drafting towering pitchers will pay dividends over the long haul, but Sandfort definitely bears watching.
4th round: CF John Thomas (unsigned)
Due to the ambiguity of his name- and shortage of articles surrounding the player- it’s difficult to find any information about Thomas, nor why the Pirates failed to sign him. (In fact, if you Google “Pirates fail to sign John Thomas”, the 2nd hit is a Wikipedia article recounting the “Treaty of Tripoli.”) If any readers want to update this, feel free, and we’ll change it. Until then, we’ll go with “alien abduction” as the reason Thomas wasn’t inked.
5th round: SP Adrian Sampson
Originally drafted by the Marlins in the 16th round a year earlier, the Pirates took this Bellevue Community College (NCAA) righty in the 5th round a year later, and this time, Sampson signed. While only a community college, Bellevue appears to be a quality program, being nationally ranked for the past three seasons. It’s important to inquire about the level of competition there, because Sampson absolutely dominated it.
Through two NCAA seasons, Sampson compiled an insane statline of 17-2, 1.58 ERA, 11.98 K/9. In this fan’s opinion, Sampson is the perfect type of player to draft after the dust from the first few rounds have cleared. Sampson’s 11-game pro debut for Short Season State College was nearly as promising, as the 6’3″ 200lb Washington-native went 0-1 with a 2.95 ERA and 9.28 K/9 over 9 starts. However, already 21 in 2013, Sampson needs to begin the year well at Low-A West Virginia, with a hopeful promotion and success at High-A Bradenton by season’s end.
6th round: 3B Eric Wood
Another junior college product, Wood’s selection (he wasn’t among the top 500 prospects in the draft) may have been a money-saving decision, as the Pirates were still focused on saving up for 1st round selection Mark Appel. Both hitting and pitching for Blinn Community College, the 19-year old Wood excelled for the GCL Pirates, before struggling in a small 6-game sample size for Short Season State College at season’s end. Perhaps the most promising side-story about the 6’2″, 195 lb. righty is that he was drafted out of high school by the Oakland Athletics the year before, at least if you consider GM Billy Beane to still be one of the better GMs in the game.
7th round: C Jacob Stallings
A steady but unspectacular 3-year starter for the North Carolina Tarheels, Stallings struggled to a .656 OPS through 66 games for Short Season State College to end 2012. One minor league season doesn’t make or break a prospect, and coupled with his 62 collegiate games prior to being drafted, Stallings’ knees had upwards of 128 games on them by season’s end. Still, any time a 22 year old fares poorly against 17-20 year old competition, it’s a cause for concern. Given a 1-game cameo at AA Altoona at season’s end, the Pirates may throw the defensively-minded backstop into the minor league deep end in 2013, to see if he can get back on track at an age-appropriate level.
8th round: SS Kevin Ross
Committed to the University of Michigan, the Illinois high school product made brief national news by showing “public disgust” over the Pirates’ offered $130,000 signing bonus, which he and his agent ultimately accepted, despite the Michigan scholarship. Ross did little to vindicate his disdain, posting a .597 OPS through 21 games for the GCL Pirates. While posting an OPS for a shortstop- primarily a defense/contact position- may not be fair to a prospect, Ross still only reached base at a .282 clip. The 19-year old will probably begin 2013 in the Gust Coast League as well, with a hopeful promotion to Short Season State College, when the New York-Penn League kicks off later in the season.
9th round: SS D.J. Crumlich
A 4-year starter for UC Irvine (NCAA, Big West Conference), Crumlich posted an OPS at State College (.746) consistent with his NCAA totals. For players like Crumlich and Stallings, an opponent just as intimidating as those they face on the mound is time. Turning 23 in late-April, Crumlich will need to excel in the lower levels of the minors to stand any chance at being more than an organizational filler. If the 23-year old can excel at High-A Bradenton by season’s end, he’ll at least have some hope.
10th round: RP Pat Ludwig
The oldest player selected by the Pirates in the 2012 Draft, the 3-year SP at Yale was immediately converted to the bullpen, and reached Low-A West Virginia to conclude 2012. While being a full-time minor league reliever is usually a death sentence, for an older draftee like Ludwig, it’s probably his best chance to reach the Major Leagues.
Late Round Surprise: OF Tyler Gaffney (24th round)
If you think you’ve heard his name before, you probably have. Gaffney made his biggest headlines as a backup running back for the football powerhouse of the Stanford Cardinal, which makes it surprising that he would forego his senior year at Stanford to accept such a late round selection, especially after easily his weakest NCAA performance on the diamond. After OPS of .876 and .888, Gaffney dropped to a .730 OPS his junior year, before being selected by the Pirates.
Still, in terms of what an older prospect needs to do to make himself relevant, this is it. Gaffney torched New York-Penn League pitching to the tune of a .483 OBP and .925 OPS. He can draw a walk (20 BB : 20 K in 38 games), and clearly has the athleticism to play any position in the OF. If Gaffney excels in 2013, you should see him popping up on the tail ends of Pirates’ Top Prospect lists by 2014.
Missed Opportunity: OF David Dahl
When you fail to sign your 1st rounder, as the Pirates did with Mark Appel, the listing of missed opportunities is nearly infinite, but Colorado Rockies‘ selection David Dahl clearly rises to the top. An Alabama high school product already drawing Andy Van Slyke comps, Dahl expressed an interest in being selected by the Pirates, and many believed that the 6’2″ lefty was on the team’s radar. Taken only 2 picks after Appel, Dahl posted an insane .423 OBP and 1.048 OPS for the Rockies’ Rookie League team as an 18-year old. Were he on the Pirates now, Dahl would challenge Gregory Polanco, Alen Hanson, and Josh Bell for the title of top bat in the system.
Overall Draft Class Recap
While fans can give the Pirates credit for being aggressive, when a prospect like Mark Appel fell into their laps, the organization has to be given equal criticism for being unable to sign him, for not forseeing the signing bonus hurdle that the seven clubs picking prior to them clearly feared.
With the gaping void of a departed 1st rounder, it’s difficult for an overall draft class to be deemed a success, but the Pirates do have some intriguing names that can at least make it a conversation. Possibly realizing the overall organizational weakness on the hitting front, Huntington and the Pirates spent 7 of their next 10 selections on position players, yet only Barnes and Mathisen have considerable ceiling, though Gaffney could certainly play himself into the picture with another stellar year. Despite only taking 3 other arms in the top 10, Sandfort and Sampson are intriguing prospects that could excel through the lower levels of the system.
Still, barring some huge surprises, Neal Huntington’s 2012 draft class will go down as one of missed opportunity, as the Pirates became the first victim organization of Major League Baseball’s asinine slotting system.
So how do Huntington’s 5 draft classes compare to each other? Stay tuned for part 7 in the series! Thanks for reading.