Pirates look to diversify Draft targets beyond arms
Bucs hold two top first-round picks after last year's gamble on Appel
PITTSBURGH -- When baseball managers discuss rallies, they often talk about "moving the line," hitters keeping things going for those who follow. This apparently also applies to general managers, who need to "move the line" for organizational rallies.
That's where the Pirates find themselves on the approach to the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. For years, the organization has carried out general manager Neal Huntington's mandate to flood the system with big pitchers with big arms -- something it tried, unsuccessfully, even last June with the selection of Stanford right-hander Mark Appel.
Now, the Pirates need to diversify their target. At the top of their Minor League ladder, Indianapolis' roster teems with players who have big league experience and could be career Minor Leaguers. The cream of the organization's position prospects are lower, and as they begin to rise on the chain will have to be replaced.
The Bucs will be on the lookout for these line-movers for three days beginning on June 6.
The 2013 First-Year Player Draft will take place Thursday through Saturday, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 73 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. Rounds 3-10 will be streamed live on MLB.com on Friday, beginning with a preview show at 12:30 p.m., and Rounds 11-40 will be streamed live on MLB.com on Saturday, starting at 1 p.m.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
The Pirates are only one of several organizations with multiple picks in the first round, but none of the others have their matching two choices in the blue-chip level. Due to its inability to come to terms with Appel, Pittsburgh has the No. 9 pick, as well as its normal slot at No. 14.
So, the team is sitting pretty for a Draft most see as more shallow than in recent years, yet top-heavy in talent. While projections are never precise when it comes to specifics, the Pirates, with their eyes on bats, should walk away with two of the top eight or nine position players in the pool.
"It was a calculated gamble, and in the big picture, we would've loved to have had [Appel]. We felt $3.8 [million] was enough to sign him," Huntington said, citing his slice of the bonus-pool pot. "Mark didn't feel that way. We've moved on. We will get a good player at No. 9. The depth may not be what it's been, but there will be some All-Stars picked in this Draft, and we have to make sure at least one of them is by the Pirates."
Under Huntington's watch, the Pirates have preferred college pitchers, but have been more willing to dip into the high school ranks for position players. The obvious conclusion to reach is that the club values the coaching pitchers get in college, but is more secure in having its own hand in developing hitters.
Even those guidelines don't give a clearer picture of the Bucs' likeliest top two picks because, as Huntington said, "This Draft has some depth in each of the quadrants [pitchers and position players in high school and in college]."
Here's a glance at what the Pirates have in store as the Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
The worm already turned for the Bucs last year -- only three of their top 10 picks were pitchers -- and the new priorities will again be at play. This will be especially true below the higher-profile top two rounds, because the balance among available position players will push some comparables down lower. Expect the Bucs' focus to be on middle infielders.
The Pirates have one of the Majors' biggest Draft budgets, and are expected to use the extra funds trickling down from the Appel non-signing to double-down on corner infielders. With Pedro Alvarez two years [one contract-option and one arbitration] away from free agency and only temporary stop-gaps at first, the Bucs may have holes at both bases by 2016.
There are a couple of very high-end prep catchers in this Draft, and whether the Pirates use a high pick on one of them will tell you a lot about how they feel about the development of Tony Sanchez, 2009's No. 1 pick. There will be a vacancy at the position in 2015, and if Sanchez is not seen as a cinch to fill it, the time has come for alternatives.
Buzz, or static? Plenty of insiders produce plenty of projections, as usual, and most just end up mocking themselves because the names always change. The practice is more a kaleidoscope than calculated prognostication. For proof, the Pirates were never mentioned a year ago in connection with Appel -- who simply fell down to their slot when all the teams with which he was connected passed.
The preceding is by way of explaining how it is possible for 10 different prospects -- touching all four of Huntington's quadrants -- to be mentioned as Pirates' choices with the Nos. 9 and 14 picks.
Of all the possibilities, the one who may best fit the Pirates is D.J. Peterson, the corner infielder from the University of New Mexico and the projection of MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo, who identifies him as "perhaps the best pure college hitter." Others possibly on the board are Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier -- interestingly, both prep outfielders from Georgia -- and high school catchers Reese McGuire (Washington) and Nick Ciuffo (South Carolina).
Pirates' bonus pool
Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team has an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of that club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. The signing bonuses for a team's selections in the first 10 rounds, plus any bonus greater than $100,000 for a player taken after the 10th round, will apply toward the bonus-pool total.
Any team going up to five percent over its allotted pool will be taxed at a 75-percent rate on the overage. A team that overspends by 5-10 percent gets a 75-percent tax plus the loss of a first-round pick. A team that goes 10-15 percent over its pool amount will be hit with a 100-percent penalty on the overage and the loss of a first- and second-round pick. Any overage of 15 percent or more gets a 100-percent tax plus the loss of first-round picks in the next two Drafts.
The above penalty schedule influenced the Pirates' inability last year to sign Appel because of their refusal to go above pool -- although the perception was no amount could have swayed the pitcher. As a result, the Pirates' pot grew to $8,884,600, the fifth largest among the 30 Major League teams and the amount they can spend on their total of 11 picks through the first 10 rounds of the 40-round Draft.
That total includes $5.6 million the Pirates have to spend on their top two picks alone, their regular No. 14 choice and No. 9 as compensation for being snubbed by Appel.
Corner infielders are high on the list, given the uncertainty about Alvarez's long-term status and the ongoing revolving door at first base. Although it may no longer be the highest priority, the Pirates are also sure to take a lot of pitchers, mostly from the high school ranks, in the lower rounds.
More specifically on the mound, they will be on the lookout for left-handed starters, who are in short supply in the system. Of particular interest could be Trey Ball, a growing 6-foot-6 southpaw from Indiana's New Castle High School, who also plays the outfield and is regarded as the best two-way player in the Draft pool.
Advanced right-handers from the college ranks have been the Huntington regime's favorite, to the point the club feels well enough stocked in those power arms to stray from that paradigm. Turning to position players will also trigger a new bent for high school talent. In past years, the Pirates had to be on the lookout for high-end prospects who could be part of the franchise's turnaround. Now they can diversify more, and prioritize organizational depth, particularly all around the infield.
Recent Draft History
This is virtually an oxymoron in the Pirates' case. The player development crew is adamant about the risks of rushing anyone past the usual progression. Jumping Minor League levels is simply out of the question. Furthermore, the system's true comets are Latin American products not acquired through Draft channels.
But the Pirates got around their we-shall-skip-no-rung rule by having Gerrit Cole touch 'em all in his pro debut '12 season. Cole will be extremely disappointed if he doesn't get his first taste of the big leagues this year and, unless he suddenly loses the strike zone, the Bucs will not disappoint him.
A totally different kind of riser is Stetson Allie, who is killing it only a year after abandoning pitching for power-hitting. The Pirates may have been ready to move on from the 2010 second-round pick once the pitching thing didn't work out, but his compelling output in Class-A (.344/.426/.630 and 13 homers and 47 RBIs in 50 games) has him back on the map.
Garrett Jones, a 14th-round pick in 1999, isn't the longest shot on the Bucs' current roster: Russell Martin went in Round 17 in 2002. But while Martin was nurtured by an organization (Dodgers) renowned for turning low Draft picks into frontline catchers (Mike Piazza, anyone?) Jones has repeatedly had to win over doubters.
He bounced through two organizations (Atlanta and Minnesota) before landing with the Pirates. And even in Pittsburgh, as recently as last offseason, he's had to deal with the perception of being just a placeholder until someone better comes along. And through it all, the lefty with the sweet swing has notched 90 homers and 300 RBIs in less than four seasons with the Bucs.
In The Show
As a reflection of Huntington's offseason agenda of filling gaps with seasoned veterans, the representation of in-house talent on the Pirates' current roster is down. Cornerstones Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez all have No. 1 Draft pick pedigree, and lefty Jeff Locke gives the rotation something it lacked in 2012, a homegrown starter.
Both valuable lefties in the bullpen, Justin Wilson (5th round, 2008) and Tony Watson (9th, 2007) were Drafted and developed by the Pirates. So was Jordy Mercer (3rd, 2008), an important reserve today and possibly the next starting shortstop.
Pirates' recent top picks
2012: *Barrett Barnes, OF, Class A West Virginia
2011: Gerrit Cole, RHP, Triple-A Indianapolis
2010: Jameson Taillon, RHP, Double-A Altoona
2009: Tony Sanchez, C, Triple-A Indianapolis
2008: Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates
*Top signed pick.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.