Piecing together the draft: Part 1

With just a day to go before the 2009 draft, it’s time to start looking at what the Pirates will do. I’m not going to preview specific players; I never really pay much attention to these guys until draft season and what I know about them is limited to what I read. If you’re looking for that, Tim Williams at BuccoFans.com has done a great job previewing potential picks for the Pirates and if you’ve got time, I’d strongly suggest checking his stuff out.

Instead, I’m going to focus more closely on strategy. What are the Pirates likely to try and do? How does this draft fit into the long-term plan? What are the Pirates building towards?

First Round

All indications so far are that the Pirates are looking to take pitching in the first round. The reasoning here is simple; behind Dustin Ackely there doesn’t figure to be much high-end hitting talent in this draft and Ackley’s almost certain to be off the board by the time the Pirates pick at number four. If Ackley’s there, I’d expect the Pirates to pick him. I don’t expect him to be there and neither does anyone else, so there’s some more analysis that needs to be done.

After Steven Strasburg (all but certain to be the Washington Nationals’ pick at #1, in case you’ve been living under a rock) and Ackely are off the board, things really open up. The Padres have the third pick, and I’ve seen them projected to take any one of about five players, so there’s no point in concerning ourselves with what they might do. If the Pirates are looking for pitching, the college pitchers available at the fourth spot might be Aaron Crow, last year’s #9 pick that failed to sign with the Nationals (and a potential target for the Padres), Alex White, a righty from UNC, Tanner Scheppers, the Pirates second round pick last year that they failed to sign due to a shoulder problem, and Mike Leake, a flamethrower from Arizona State. The high school pitchers potentially available are Jacob Turner, the guy who I think goes in the #3 slot to San Diego more than anyone, Shelby Miller, Tyler Matzek, Matt Purke, and Zach Wheeler. Kyle Gibson of Missouri, who was previously thought to be the Pirates’ first round target, was recently diagnosed with a fractured elbow and won’t go in the four slot unless Neal Huntington wants a riot on Federal Street.

The best way to do this may be to take what the Pirates have said about the pick; that they’re looking for someone that will sign quickly and go right into the system, and work backwards. I think we can rule all the high school kids out. High school pitchers drafted high are seeing more success of late, but they’re still exceedingly hard to project and I’m guessing that the Pirates will likely target high school pitchers that aren’t quite as highly rated as Miller, Matzek, Purke, etc. in later rounds if they fall due to signability concerns. This is the strategy they used last year to pick Quinton Miller (who signed) and Drew Gagon (who didn’t). Given the amount of growing that most high school pitchers have to do, I don’t really see a problem with that approach.

Most people have used the “sign quickly” statements by the Pirates to rule out Crow as a pick. I’ve always thought this was a bit of a mistake, because Crow doesn’t have a ton of leverage this year. He can’t sit a second year out. It would be insane. Crow’s set his value at $4 million. If the Pirates take him, I think that’s an indication that they think he’s worth close to that and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a deal worked out very quickly. John Perrotto has indicated that with the money that was slated for Nate McLouth this year suddenly freed, the Pirates may well do that. That’s a fine move for the Pirates, I think. Crow dominated the Big 12 last year and he’s rounded himself into shape very quickly with independent Fort Worth this year. There are some that rate his as the second best arm in this draft behind Strasburg and if he did sign quickly, he could probably end the season in Altoona and be with the Pirates next year unless he gets hurt.

The other two college pitching options at this point seem to be White and Scheppers. The Pirates won’t draft Scheppers again. They didn’t meet his bonus demands last year because of his injury history and while he seems fine now, I doubt the Pirates will mess with his shoulder injury with a first round pick this year. I watched White pitch on Saturday against ECU in the NCAA Super Regionals and I’ve got to say that despite his fine final line (8 1/3 innings, 12 strikeouts, 9 hits, 3 walks, 1 run/earned run), I wasn’t all that impressed. White is supposedly the most projectible of the college pitchers, which means that he’s put together a good run at UNC with good stuff despite not so great mechanics and scouts see that and say that if he fixes his mechanics, he could be great. The guy I saw threw mostly with his arm and had trouble locating his pitches early on in the game. My gut feeling (and remember, I’m not a scout and this was the first time I really watched him pitch this year) is that he’s someone that’s going to end up in the bullpen in the long-run. Messing with mechanics is always a difficult thing to predict. Maybe it’ll unleash White’s potential, and maybe it’s something that will never quite “take.”

But what if the Pirates don’t go with a pitcher? That’s not something that’s talked about all that often and if Ackley’s gone it’s not all that likely, but what if the first three picks go Strasburg, Ackley, Crow, and the Pirates don’t like any of the remaining arms? Or what if they’re understandably slow to grab a pitcher early in the first? The first name that jumps out at me is USC shortstop Grant Green. Before the college season started this year, a lot of people had Green as the #2 prospect behind Strasburg after he hit .390/.438/.644 in his sophomore year. Since then, his stock has fallen quite a bit after a “disappointing” junior year in which he hit .374/.435/.579. The concern is that his power dropped off pretty considerably (9 homers his sophomore year just 4 this year) and that as a big guy (6’3″) he might not be able to stay at short, which means the lack of power could hurt him. He’s hit a lot of doubles and triples in his college career though, and as such a big guy, that power could be coming down the road. The USC team he played for this year wasn’t great either, and lack of support could help explain some of the drop in his numbers.

Behind him as hitters are Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez, who the Pirates seem interested but would be a huge overdraft, and high school third baseman Bobby Borchering, who was originally slotted as a low first-rounder with signability problems but has recently started moving way up the charts as a switch hitter with power.

Right now, the consensus seems to be moving towards us taking Crow, and I think that’s a fine pick. There’s nothing inherently wrong with taking a college pitcher if it’s done right (look at Brad Lincoln this year and consider that he would’ve likely been at this point two years ago without his injury), and Crow is about as good as it gets outside of Strasburg, especially considering Scheppers’ injury problems.

There is one situation in which I can see us taking someone other than Crow, but that has a lot to do with our two second round picks. I’ll take a closer look at that scenario and thsose two picks tomorrow.

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