(Opening image Gerrit Cole; image credit pittsburghsportingnews)
Part 7 in a series recapping every Pittsburgh Pirates’ draft since current GM Neal Huntington took over the helm in late 2007. Review each of the drafts here:
Best Draft Class: 2011
The Pirates drafted- and signed- potential impact talent with their first three picks in SP Gerrit Cole, OF Josh Bell, and 1B Alex Dickerson. Cole is the Pirates’ best pitching prospect (with a slight edge over Jameson Taillon), and will be among the top 10 prospects in all of baseball in 2013. Bell is one of the Pirates’ best hitting prospects, and would probably be the best, were it not for an injury that derailed his season. And though far less heralded, Dickerson is probably the best pure power bat in the organization. If Bell and Dickerson fail to reach the Majors, the impact of the 2011 class will certainly be minimized, as the remaining talent is thin, outside of SPs Tyler Glasnow (5th round) and Clay Holmes (9th).
Runner-Up Best Draft Class: 2008
The only factor keeping Neal Huntington’s first-ever draft class from being his best is the lack of impact talent beyond 1st rounder 3B Pedro Alvarez. But in terms of talent reaching the Majors, it will be hard for the Pirates to ever duplicate this haul. 6 out of the first 10 picks have already reached the Major Leagues, and at least 2 more could do so- though sadly CF Robbie Grossman will be drawing walks and reaching base as a member of the AL West Houston Astros (sent over in the Wandy Rodriguez trade). Beyond Alvarez, there’s no real impact talent. Jordy Mercer (3rd), Chase D’Arnaud (4th), Justin Wilson (5th), Matt Hague (9th), and Matt Curry (37th) could all play roles on the MLB club, but the highest ceiling of the bunch belongs to Wilson as a mid-rotation starter.
Worst Draft Class: 2009
This was a terrible draft for Huntington and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ scouting and talent evaluation staff. Pittsburgh had the 4th overall pick in baseball, and missed badly, selecting C Tony Sanchez for signability purposes. Sanchez’s two strongest attributes- character and behind-the-plate defense, have been called into question the past two seasons, and the Pirates just inked veteran C Russell Martin to a 2-year contract, even though Sanchez finished 2012 at AAA. There were 5 excellent pitching prospects takien after Sanchez in the top-10 picks alone. The 2009 1st round also included CF Mike Trout (25th overall)- arguably the most dynamic young player in the game today.Beyond Sanchez, the draft somehow got even worse. The Pirates had a rare 1st round supplemental pick, but burned it on RP Victor Black, who is trying to salvage his career as a minor league reliever with an awkward delivery. 2nd round pick RP Brooks Pounders also struggled as a starter; his chances of reaching the MLB level are slim.
The worst part is that none of this is hindsight; knowledgable fans heavily panned all three of these selections as soon as they were made. Due to the trades of SP Colton Cain (Astros, Wandy Rodriguez deal) and 2B Brock Holt (randomly unnecessary throw-in to the Joel Hanrahan trade), you have to drop the whole way to 21st round selection SP Phil Irwin to find a single player that could have a meaningful impact for the big league club. Terrible, terrible draft.
Runner-Up Worst Draft Class: 2010
The only accomplishment separating 2010 from the 2009 class was the selection of a high-ceiling player in SP Jameson Taillon with the Pirates’ 1st round pick (2nd overall). Beyond Taillon, fans were once again left longing for talent. 2nd round pick Stetson Allie was considered a steal at the time, but the Pirates’ developmental staff failed to rein his control; Allie is now trying to reinvent himself as a position player. 4 of the Pirates’ first 10 picks didn’t even sign, so we’re basically left with Taillon, SP Nick Kingham (4th), and 1B Matt Curry (16th) to show for the entire draft.
2010 marked a 2-year period in which the Pirates picked 4th and 2nd overall in each round. And yet, the organization is left with Taillon as the sole impact talent.
Best Late Round Steal: SP Phil Irwin (21st round, 2009)
The Pirates under Neal Huntington have yet to make a selection beyond the first 10 rounds that’s truly made a big impact prospect-wise. Probably the best bet for that so far is Irwin, whom despite the late round selection, has done nothing but excel at every level of minor league competition, compiling a 28-16, 3.02 ERA, 1.6 BB/9, and 8.0 K/9 career line. Unlike most Major Leaguers, Irwin actually gets better as the competition increases, with 2012 (A+ to AAA) being his best to date. He could surprise as a late-round addition to the Pirates’ rotation as early as mid-2013, with the ceiling of a #3 starter in the Bigs.
In Part 2 of this 2008-2012 draft recap, the following aspects of Neal Huntington’s first five classes will be covered:
1st Round Selections…
1st Round Comps and 2nd Round Picks…
What About All the Over-Slot High School Arms?
Overall Neal Huntington Draft Assessment
Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for part 2!