Pittsburgh Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington recently drew national criticism from Jim Bowden, in an ESPN Insider article in which Huntington is listed as the #1 GM “on the hot seat” headed into the 2013 season. In particular, Bowden criticized Huntington’s draft record to date. As we have seen in this series, Huntington’s first draft- 2008- was exceptionally successful in hindsight, while 2009 was the polar opposite. So would fans begin to discern a pattern one way or the other in 2010?
Like 2009, 2010 featured the Pirates boldly reaching for highly-touted prep arms, hoping to lure them away from college commitments with well-above slot signing bonuses. But this time around, the organization’s gamble didn’t pay off nearly as well, with 40% of their first 10 picks not even signing.
1st round (2nd overall): SP Jameson Taillon
With the MLB club’s continued struggles, the Pirates once again found themselves with the 2nd overall pick in the game- as they did when drafting 3B Pedro Alvarez in 2008. This time, Huntington went an entirely different direction. Instead of opting for an established college hitter, the Pirates took a high-ceiling prep arm from The Woodlands High School in Texas. The 6’6″ Taillon was a concensus top-5 selection, and has done his part since. The Baseball America #15 prospect entering 2012, Taillon fared adequately at High-A Bradenton, before finishing the season with 3 impressive starts at AA Altoona, in which the righty went 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA. Most importantly, he maintained his exceptional control (1 walk through 17 IP), and raised his K/9- which some felt was the only thing keeping Taillon from a legitimate ace ceiling. More than likely, Taillon will begin 2013 back at AA, but could be promoted quickly, if the 21-year old shows the same dominance.
About the only possible tarnish on the selection is that SS Manny Machado– strongly considered by the Pirates, and taken by the Baltimore Orioles a pick later- made his MLB debut in 2012 with an impressive 98 OPS+ as a 19-year old. Still, Taillon is one of the most promising pitching prospects in baseball, and should make his own MLB debut in 2014 at the latest.
2nd round: SP Stetson Allie
Considered one of the steals of the entire 2010 draft, the raw-but-talented prep arm fell the whole way to the top of round 2, as few teams thought the righty would waiver from his commitment to the University of North Carolina. But $2,250,000 changed that, as the 6’2″ righty debuted the following season at Short-Season State College. Unfortunately, Allie’s pitching career was wildly erratic, and ultimately, short-lived. In 15 games (7 starts), he finished with a 6.58 ERA. His seemingly impressive 9.7 K/9 was more than neutralized by an inexplicable 10 BB/9. An offseason of instruction apparently didn’t help, as Allie left the mound for good at the start of the 2012 season, after walking 8 batters through only 0.2 IP at Low-A West Viriginia.
A promising high school hitter, the Pirates are now trying to salvage the 21-year old’s career at the plate, where he posted a .654 OPS for the GCL Pirates in the remainder of 2012. Allie’s ceiling was always in his arm. He’ll be 22 prior to the start of the 2013 season, and hasn’t faced any pitching above the rookie league level. Unless he debuts like a bat out of hell, it’s unlikely he’ll be considered a high-ceiling prospect again.
3rd round: CF Mel Rojas
For the third draft in a row, the Pirates opted for a player with no plus-tools at all (Evan Chambers– 2009, Jordy Mercer– 2008). And for the third draft in a row, the Pirates appear left with a player whose ceiling is that of an MLB bench player. Outside of his Big League heritage (his father Mel compiled a successful 10-year MLB career), Rojas seemed like an underwhelming selection from the start, and to date, has a .639 OPS through 3 levels, and has been caught in over a third of his steal attempts. After struggling at High-A Bradenton as a 22-year old (which is a bit old for the league, at least as far as prospects go), it’s unlikely Rojas advances much further in the Pirates’ system.
In fairness to Rojas and the Pirates, it’s not like the 3rd round of the 2010 draft was bursting with MLB talent. But there are still players with plus tools available (even if their other tools are very unrefined) at this stage of the draft. It may behoove the Pirates to opt for a prospect that only has a 10% chance of being an MLB regular, as opposed to a 90% chance of peaking as a utility player.
4th round: SP Nicholas (Nick) Kingham
Luring Kingham away from a collegiate career as an Oregon Duck, the 6’5″ righty has fared well to date, with a career 3.54 ERA, 2.3 BB/9, and 7.4 K/9. His size offers him good projection, but development of secondary pitches is needed, as none rate highly yet. If the 21-year old has a good season at High-A Bradenton, and can continue to raise his K-rate (which saw an impressive jump from 6.0 to 8.3 against better competition in 2012), many more Pirates’ fans will know his name.
5th round: SP Tyler Waldron
Drafted by the Pirates out of Oregon State after the Florida Marlins attempted to sign him out of high school 3 years earlier, Waldron has posted middling stats, and is unlikely to be more than an organizational minor leaguer. Turning 24 this May, Waldron owns a career 23-24 record, with a 4.62 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, and disappointing 5.6 K/9. If the Pirates see a Big League future, they may move him to the pen this season. Otherwise, it’s likely they’ll just keep Waldron to fill out the back of rotations at AA Altoona and AAA Indianapolis.
6th round: SP Jason Hursh (unsigned)
The Pirates did not reach agreement with Hursch. He last pitched in 2011, for Oklahoma State University.
7th round: SP Austin Kubitza (unsigned)
The Pirates did not reach agreement with Kubitza. He’s had 2 promising years at Rice University, and was ranked the 64th best prospect in the NCAA by College Baseball Daily heading into 2012.
8th round: SP Dace Kime (unsigned)
The Pirates did not reach agreement with Kime. He’s been a middle reliever for the University of Louisville the past 2 seasons. Of these three unsigned players, Kubitza appears to be by far the biggest loss.
9th round: SP Brandon Cumpton
Cumpton is probably a slightly higher-upside player than 5th rounder Waldron, but both are nearly identical. Old for their level (Cumpton will be 24 this season, and hasn’t pitched above AA), it’s unlikely Waldron or Cumpton could even transition effectively to a MLB bullpen, as both have K/9 well below 6.0.
10th round: SP Zachary Weiss (unsigned)
The Pirates did not reach agreement with Weiss. After a solid 2011 with UCLA, the 6’3″ righty only had a so-so 2012 with the Bruins. Again, Kubitza is the non-sign that’s going to hurt the Pirates the most.
Late round surprise: 1B Matt Curry (16th round)
In a top-10 dominated by arms, Huntington snagged this solid stick out of Texas Christian University in the 16th round. Curry has comprised an effective .377 OBP and .853 OPS during his 3-season trip through the Pirates’ minor leagues. The problem is that Curry only plays first base. Not only is he relatively undersized (6’2″) for the position, but if a player is going to make it as a MLB 1B, he absolutely has to r.a.k.e. throughout the minors. With a career high of only 15 HR, it’s unlikely Curry has the power to hold down a full-time position at the MLB level. At best, he may show up on the Pirates’ bench sometime in 2013, which is certainly a success story for a 16th round pick!
Missed opportunity: SS Jedd Gyorko
Taken 7 picks after Stetson Allie in the 2nd round, the 23-year old was rated the #98 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America in 2012, and responded by mashing up the offense-happy AAA Pacific Coast League with a .968 OPS. Moved primarily to 2B and 3B defensively, a player like Gyorko would still have a ton of value to the Pirates, whom with the promotion of OF Starling Marte last season, currently have zero high-upside bats in their upper levels.
Overall Draft Class Recap
It was going to be difficult to match the failure of the 2008 draft class, but unfortunately, the Pirates managed to do so the very next season. Unlike 2008, GM Huntington at least made the first round pick count. Jameson Taillon should be an anchor of the Pirates’ rotation as early as 2014. But beyond Taillon, there is literally nothing, outside of 4th rounder Nick Kingham continuing to develop, and Matt Curry getting a few big league at bats from the Pirates’ bench.
Stetson Allie’s alarmingly rapid departure from the mound highlights the risks of selecting raw, but high-upside prep arms early in the draft. While the Pirates should be praised for taking a gamble on such a player, it’s only fair that they also receive criticism when their minor league coaching and development staffs fail to develop any of that player’s potential.
Without Allie, the entire 2010 draft class essentially hinges on Jameson Taillon, and little else. And “little else” is accelerated when a team only signs 60% of their top ten, another risk in the high-stakes game of drafting high-ceiling prep talent committed to major college programs.
Thanks for reading. Next up? 2011.