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Pittsburgh Pirates

Neal Huntington era drafts re-examined

David Slusser

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This will be Neal Huntington’s 11th draft as the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  He’s targeted different areas in terms of philosophy, especially early on in his tenure as the GM.  But the one constant is that he’s been aggressive and not being scared off by the signing bonus asking prices.

With the draft starting today and carrying on through this week, now is a good time to look back at what Huntington did in his first 10 drafts at the helm of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  There’s been differences in the players he’s targeted, and during his time the rules of the draft have changed.

In the 2011 draft, the Pirates signed Gerrit Cole for $8 million and Bell for $5 million, and ninth round pick Clay Holmes for $1.2 million.  The Pirates went out and spent in the draft, something they said they would do.  However, after the season, during the new collective bargaining talks, teams now have a specific amount of money to spend in the draft before facing a tax.

This greatly effected the Pirates, as three of the top 22 bonuses given out came from the Pirates.  Using Baseball America’s draft database coming up with the following (there’s seven players with $6 million, this chart shows first 25 players sorted by draft year and overall pick):

The Pirates were willing to spend heavily in the draft, and that all changed.  They still went aggressive, drafting Mark Appel with the eighth overall pick despite his high draft demands leading him to fall that far in the draft.

Starting from the top, below is every first round pick in the Neal Huntington era.  The team has signed all but two of the 14, with Mark Appel and Nick Lodolo deciding to stay at Stanford and fulfill their commitment to TCU respectively.

Year Overall Signed Name Pos Type
2008 2 Y Pedro Alvarez 3B 4Yr
2009 4 Y Tony Sanchez C 4Yr
2010 2 Y Jameson Taillon RHP HS
2011 1 Y Gerrit Cole RHP 4Yr
2012 8 N Mark Appel RHP 4Yr
2013 9 Y Austin Meadows CF HS
2013 14 Y Reese McGuire C HS
2014 24 Y Cole Tucker SS HS
2014 39 Y Connor Joe OF 4Yr
2015 19 Y Kevin Newman SS 4Yr
2015 32 Y Ke’Bryan Hayes 3B HS
2016 22 Y Will Craig 3B 4Yr
2016 41 N Nick Lodolo LHP HS
2017 12 Y Shane Baz RHP HS

Looking at the chart, the Pirates took seven college players and seven high school players in the first round, and taking nine bats to just five arms.  Huntington and the scouting department have committed to dividing the four quadrants in half in terms of college and high school, but have prepared to go bats first in the first round.

Using the data from the baseball-reference draft page entering games played on Wednesday, May 29, Pirates first round picks who have signed with the club have produced a total of 25.9 bWAR.  This does combine hitter WAR with pitcher WAR, for instance Gerrit Cole has produced 13.7 WAR as a pitcher (11.5 with the Pirates) and 0.7 WAR as a hitter (0.8 with the Pirates), so there is some boost for good hitting pitchers and a negative for bad hitting pitchers or pitchers in the American League, but this applies to all teams as well:

Almost all of the first round WAR in the Huntington era comes from Pedro Alvarez, who produced 5.6 WAR in 742 games before being nontendered after the 2015 season, and from Cole, who the Pirates traded away this past offseason.

Jameson Taillon (2010) and Austin Meadows (2013) are the only first round picks that can provide value to the Pirates this year.  Reese McGuire was used to get rid of Francisco Liriano‘s contract and Connor Joe was used to acquire Sean Rodriguez.  Kevin Newman looks like a Jordy Mercer clone, and the two high school bats in Cole Tucker and Ke’Bryan Hayes are still only in Double-A and are 2019 callups at absolute best.

But there’s more to just the first round of the draft, given the volume of players taken, there’s better chances at acquiring talent later in the MLB compared to other sports.  Here are the WAR values from players drafted and signed in rounds 1-5:

2008 featured Pedro Alvarez, but Jordy Mercer (third round pick, 7.3 WAR) was the Pirates best pick.  They also drafted Robbie Grossman (traded for Wandy Rodriguez) and Justin Wilson (traded for Francisco Cervelli).  The 2009 draft by the Pirates didn’t yield much of anything, as Brock Holt (5.8 WAR) is the only player the Pirates were able to sign who has produced any value, and the Pirates traded that for Mark Melancon (8.1 WAR in Pittsburgh), which was a net gain.

The 2010 class all hinges on Taillon and Nick Kingham, but the 2011 class is more interesting, even without Cole.  Josh Bell is the staring first baseman for the foreseeable future, and Tyler Glasnow is looking to mature.  If Glasnow can find his way back in a rotation his value will provided will go up.  Add Clay Holmes, and the Pirates can find value in a relief pitcher at the major league level they took in round nine.

2012 is all Max Moroff, though Adrian Sampson was traded for JA Happ in 2015, and Jacob Stallings has provided catching depth in the minors.  2013 could be the best class, with Austin Meadows and Chad Kuhl being in the starting lineup and rotation respectively, and Adam Frazier coming off the bench.

The 2014 draft has produced Jordan Luplow in the majors, but Cole Tucker and Mitch Keller appear to be the cream of the crop in terms of value going forward.  Both are still at Double-A Altoona.  The 2015 class has Newman, who looks to be the replacement for Mercer next year, but also Hayes, Kevin Kramer (interesting infielder), and potential fifth starters/relievers Brandon Waddell and JT Brubaker.  Though by random chance, luck and being in the right place at the right time, John Bormann was the first to be called up.

After taking Will Craig in 2016, the Pirates went high school arm heavy for their more intriguing prospects from the draft in Travis MacGregor, Braeden Ogle, and Max Kranick.  Last year, the Pirates once again went high school heavy.  Pitchers Shane Baz and Steven Jennings were followed by outfielders Cal Mitchell and Connor Uselton in the first four picks, and Cody Bolten was selected in the sixth round.  They also drafted Tristan Gray in the 13th round, he’s of interest because he was sent over to Tampa Bay for Corey Dickerson.

Overall, here’s the total WAR by year in the Neal Huntington draft era:

2018 will present a new opportunity, and the past drafts under Huntington haven’t produced that constant elite player like have hoped.  The 2013 draft provides promise with Meadows and Kuhl as starters with Frazier on the bench.  From 2014-2017, haven’t had their players come up through it yet.  Monday represents a new day and a new chance to find future impact players for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Currently a student at Kent State University studying economics and computer information systems. Incorporating the game with video while using numbers in a traditional and analytical mix.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Thomas

    June 1, 2018 at 11:27 am

    I’d be curious to see some of this high level data across all MLB clubs for the same time period to see where the Pirates fall in comparison. I read/see many people complain about the Pirates inability to draft and point to superstars on other teams drafted after Pirates picks. I think they (Pirates) get unfairly looked at as proverbial bad drafters, but I’d assume they are closer to the median with other clubs versus the bottom tier.

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