Friday, October 24, 2008

The Tampa Draft...and Pittsburgh's

Hey, some articles in the national press are talking about parity in MLB and how the meek can one day inherit the earth thanks to Tampa Bay's run for the roses - even the Pirates.

But before Pittsburgh fans buy into that, the similarity in budgets is the only thing the Rays and Bucs share. TB used some solid scouting, good drafting, depth, and sharp dealing to get where they are. Just look at the draft:

Tampa Bay drafted James Shields in the 16th round in 2000, and all he's done for them is turned into "Big Game" James. The Pirates did all right, too, picking up Ian Snell in the 23rd round. The first round? Pittsburgh selected Sean Burnett, while the Rays took Rocco Baldelli.

2001 was a wash, with the Rays taking Dewon Brazelton and the Bucs John von Benschoten. Both were mulligans.

In 2002, the Mets took Scott Kazmir as their top pick. The Rays dumped salary by trading Carlos Zambrano to NY for Kazmir in 2004. While Tampa reeled in Kazmir, Pittsburgh took Bryan Bullington as the number one pick of the entire draft.

Tampa Bay, by the way, took BJ Upton with the pick right behind Pittsburgh's.

In 2003, they took Delmon Young, who they later flipped into Matt Garza. The Pirates did OK, too, taking Paul Maholm.

Both clubs landed guys in 2004 who are considered top prospects in their respective organizations but not MLB ready yet in the Ray's Jeff Niemann and Pittsburgh's Neil Walker.

Minnesota chose Matt Garza as their top pick in 2005, and the Rays sent Delmon Young to the Twin Cities to get him last year. The Bucs top arm was Jeff Sues, who they picked in the 5th round.

But in justice, this draft also produced Andrew McCutchen, Brent Lillibridge, who was part of the Adam LaRoche deal, and Steve Pearce for Pittsburgh, while Tampa Bay spent their #1 on the eminently forgettable RHP Wade Townsend.

Evan Longoria was Tampa's top pick in 2006, and the Pirates took Brad Lincoln.

The Ray's David Price was the first overall pick in 2007. The Pirates opted for Daniel Moskos. Matt Wieters and Matthew LaPorta were taken after him.

In 2008, Tampa took HS shortstop Tim Beckham, and the Bucs got Pedro. Both are highly touted, and we'll see in 2011 or so how this year worked out.

Notice a trend? Tampa ended up with a pretty healthy percentage of impact players from the first round. Pittsburgh...well, you judge.

The Rays have been loading up since 2000 with solid #1 selections. Rocco Baldelli, BJ Upton, Delmon Young (traded for Matt Garza), Evan Longoria, and David Price are a pretty nice haul. Pittsburgh has Paul Maholm, Andrew McCutchen and Brad Lincoln to show for the same drafts.

That's how far behind the Pirates are in catching up to them. Not only is the difference apparent at the MLB level, but it's especially pronounced in the minors.

Tampa can reload and deal from system-wide depth. The Pirates had to trade stars just to stock some arms at AAA, and are practically empty at the A and AA levels. So don't hold your breath on a Tampa miracle happening here anytime soon.

If Pittsburgh stays the course and gets lucky, the rebuilding should take less time than the eight or nine years that it took Tampa, just because the Pirates don't have to line it up everyday with the Yankees, BoSox, and Jays. No division is as brutal as theirs.

But if Huntington and company can get it done in under four or five years, they are miracle workers, especially considering that the determination was reached to blow the team up and start from scratch instead of filling in the blanks - a good decision, we think, given the woeful pitching and especially the state of the minors.

Loaves and fishes, anyone?

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