Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Decade of Drafts

After a couple of decades of futility, the reward that MLB gives you is a chance to draft your way back into respectibility. The Pirates, instead of taking them up on the offer, chose to leave a lot of talent on the table thanks to understaffing, under budgeting, and underachieving. We took a look at 1999-2008 Bucco drafts:

1999 - The Pirates took Bobby Bradley, a RHP who was released in 2005. Barry Zito and Ben Sheets were the two picks right after him, with Carl Crawford lasting until the top of the second round. But Pittsburgh did OK there, signing Ryan Doumit.

The next three selections were OF Aron Weston, RHP Justin Reid (both of whom were let go in 2006) and JR House, who is in Houston's AAA system. The Pirates drafted LHP Brian Tallet in the 19th round, but he didn't sign. He's been in the majors since 2002, and is now with Toronto.

2000 - It wasn't a strong class when Pittsburgh took Sean Burnett. Adam Wainright and a couple of familiar faces, Phil Dumatrait and Xavier Nady, went after him. The Pirates third rounder, Chris Young, is with San Diego and pitching lights out for the Padres.

The team did a good job in the later rounds, grabbing Jose Bautista 20th, Nate McLouth 25th, and Ian Snell 26th. Josh Shortslef, a LHP picked 6th, is with Altoona. The 2-4-5 picks, RHP Dave Beigh, OF Patrick Boyd, and RHP Jeff Sharber, are all out of organized baseball.

2001 - John Van Benschoten was the much maligned top pick this year, although the big names had gone before him (Joe Mauer, Mark Prior, and Mark Teixeira), with Jeremy Bonderman, Bobby Crosby, Noah Lowry, and David Wright being the first round notables to follow him.

The big debate, still raging today, is whether he should have been developed as an everyday player - he led the NCAA D-I in HRs - or used as a pitcher, as he was the closer in college. Most MLB teams had him pegged as a firstbaseman, but Cam Bonifay and Mickey White took him as a pitcher, and Dave Littlefield and Ed Creech kept him there when they took over a few days later.

The Pirates picked a couple of big-league guys in rounds 2 & 3, RHP Jeff Guthrie, who didn't sign but is now pitching in Baltimore, and Jeff Keppinger, traded away and now playing SS for the Reds. The second round did have some players, like JJ Hardy, Kelly Shoppach, and Dan Haren, available.

We can't find anything on 4th and 5th rounders 1B Travis Chapman (and no, he's not the old Phil), and LHP Andrew Friedberg, so we assume that they're long gone. The Bucs did pick Zach Duke 20th and Rajai Davis, who's now with Oakland, 38th.

Chris Shelton, the 33rd round pick, is on Texas' AAA farm club, and Shane Youman, taken 43rd, was just released last season by both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

2002 - This was the year the Pirates should have landed an impact player or two. It was a deep draft, and they started the day by taking Bryan Bullington, who has left and joined Toronto. First rounders behind him were BJ Upton, Prince Fielder, Jeremy Hermida, Khalil Greene, Joe Blanton, Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher, Jeff Francoeur, Cole Hamels, and Matt Cain.

The next pick was spent on HS-RHP Blair Johnson, who is still in the system and pitching at Lynchburg. Players taken after him in the 2nd round were Joey Votto, Micah Owings, David Bush, Jon Lester, and Brian McCann.

The third and fifth round picks, SS Taber Lee and RHP Alex Hart, were released. Fourth round selection Wardell Starling was on the DL in 2008, and hasn't gotten above AA yet.

A couple of Pirates were mulled from the later rounds - Matt Capps was a 7th round pick, and Nyjer Morgan came on the 33rd go-around. LHP Dave Davidson was picked in the 10th round and is at Altoona, and LHP Brian Holliday, a 12th rounder, is on Lynchburg's roster. This is also the year Pittsburgh picked Brad "Big Country" Eldred, who is in the White Sox system at AAA.

This is the draft that began the downfall of the Pirate system. Not only did they miss out on some serious talent, but from 2002-2005, only 30 players are still left in the organization, four with the big club and a half dozen in AAA.

The Pirate's inability to draft solid players during this span drained the farm rosters, and the new suits are still trying to plug the holes. But you can't over come four years of neglect in one, try though you may.

2003 - This draft had some pretty strong arms, and the Pirates took Paul Maholm and Tom Gorzalenny 1-2. Other choices in between included Chad Billingsley, John Danks, Chad Cordero, Carlos Quinton and Andre Ethier. Still, not a terrible day's work if Gorzo comes around.

Altoona C Steve Lerud was the 3rd rounder, and is approaching a make-or-break point in his career. 4th round pick RHP Kyle Pearson was traded to the Tigers for Denny Bautista and is pitching high A ball for them. Fifth pick 2B Craig Stansberry is playing AAA ball for San Diego.

Other draftees still around are 1B Adam Boeve at Indy, RHP Jake Cuffman and 2B Greg Picart at Lynchburg, and RHP Dustin Molleken at West Virginia. Josh Sharpless, taken 24th, is working for the Giant's AA squad.

2004 - The Bucs selected Neil Walker and Brian Bixler in a year that wasn't particularly deep. Other players picked in the first two rounds were Jered Weaver, Stephen Drew, Huston Street, Phil Hughes, Hunter Pence, Dustin Pedroia, and Kurt Suzuki.

Only four other players are still in the system from this draft - 3B Eddie Prasch at Lynchburg, RHP Bradley Clapp at West Virginia, plus LHP Kyle Bloom and RHP Derek Hankins at Altoona. None are on the 40-man roster.

A couple of other notable picks for the Bucs were 4th round RHP Joe Bauserman and 9th round OF Chris Covington, who both played a year and quit for college football, pretty high picks for guys whose heart wasn't in it.

And on the 39th round, they chose Todd Redmond, who they dealt for Tyler Yates. He set the AA Mississippi Braves single-season record for wins, strikeouts, and innings pitched this year.

2005 - They got a couple of guys that can play ball in this draft. The first rounder was Andrew McCutchen, the 5th round was used for Jeff Sues, Steve Pearce came in the 8th round, and the 16th round choice was Eric Krebs. Brent Lillibridge, the fourth round selection, was sent to Atlanta as part of the Adam LaRoche deal.

The Pirates' Cutch is on course to match up with the other top choices Matt Garza, Clay Bucholtz, Joey Devine - and Craig Hansen.

Brad Corley was the second round pick - Chase Headley and Yunel Escobar went after him - and James Boone the third pick. Boone and 12th round pick Jason Delaney finished at Indy; Corley and Sues were in Altoona, along with 7th round pick RHP Justin Vaclavic, who was on the DL; and Krebs, 10th round pick RHP Derek Antelo, and 14th selection OF Albert Laboy were at Lynchburg. 1B Justin Byler, a 36th round pick, was a low A player and on the DL this year.

2006 - This was the draft that the Bucs used to reload the organization. 25 of its selections are still on the farm: 5 in Altoona, 8 in Lynchburg, 5 at Hickory/West Virginia, 6 at State College, and 1 was in the GCL.

In a year touting some top arms, the Pirates chose Brad Lincoln, who's recovering nicely from arm woes at Lynchburg. Other hurlers taken in the first round were Tim Lincecum, Ian Kennedy, Bryan Morris (he's at West Virginia, and just pitched his first season since TJ surgery), Joba Chamberlain, and Clayton Kershaw.

Altoona has the remaining cream of the crop, with Shelby Ford, Jared Hughes, Pat Bresnehan, Jim Negrych, and Mike Crotta.

2007 - This is the draft that stuck a fork in scouting director Ed Creech. When Pittsburgh selected Dan Moskos over Matt Wieters and Matt LaPorta, the merry-go-round ground to a halt. The new suits couldn't wait to bring Greg Smith in when they got the reins.

Oh, 23 players selected are still with the organization, but that's more a result of a devasted farm system than bubbling talent. There's just a handful of marginal ballers culled from this year - Moskos, Brian Friday, Andrew Walker, and Marcus Davis come to mind - and this draft is considered as much a disaster as the 2002 fiasco, which at least produced Matt Capps.

It's telling that not one of the players selected has risen as high as AA ball for the Pirates yet.

2008 - The new suits had their first stab at a draft. They brought the first middle-of-the-order player since Brad Eldred when they finally inked Pedro Alvarez. They spent almost $10,000,000 on 32 players, rebuilding the farm from the bottom up.

Two guys - Jordy Mercer and Matt Hague - were immediately thrown into A ball, and the rest split between Bradenton and State College.

And they need at least two more good drafts, maybe three, to match this year's effort to stock the system to any appreciable degree, although the Nady/Bay trades have helped plug a couple of gaps.

The draft boss over the past decade? Mickey White was in charge of them in 1999-2001, and while his picks were shallow in numbers, he did come up with Ryan Doumit, Nate McLouth, Ian Snell, Sean Burnett, Jose Bautista, Chris Young, Brian Tellet, Jeff Keppinger and Jeremy Guthrie.

Ed Creech ran the show from 2001-2007, and not only were his drafts spectaculary lacking in depth, but his MLB nose count after six years (his first draft class was 2002) consists of Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelanny, Matt Capps, Nyjer Morgan, and Rajai Davis. Not one player that he selected after 2003 has started the year with an MLB team.

Greg Smith? Too soon to tell, but if he can keep his budget competitive, he sure looks like he has a handle on the players. We particularly like his emphasis on high school kids, signing 5 this year. And letting Rene Gayo poke around Latin America will pay dividends in the long term, but not in the immediate future.

Smith has a lot of years of neglect to overcome, but GW thinks that by 2010 or 2011, the minors will again be a farm system and not a graveyard. And we're not just whistlin' in the dark.


Big Snack said...

It looks like this Creech guy didn't have the slightest clue what he was doing...

How nice would Prince Fielder or Cole Hamels look in a Bucco uinform?

Ron Ieraci said...

Well, Rock, either his eye or budget was lacking, probably both. But let's hope Smith can get the pipeline flowing again.

WilliamJPellas said...

It was definitely more his eye than his budget, because Mickey White worked under Dave Littlefield, too, and he's the one who got us what few quality young players we do have. Creech was completely incompetent, and his boss was almost completely incompetent. I mean, these guys were the most destructive administrators in all of Pittsburgh sports since that athletic director whose name I can't recall just now singlehandedly destroyed the entire University of Pittsburgh athletic department.

Ron Ieraci said...

Yah, Will, I think Mickey White knew what he was doing. Ed Creech I could never figure out. I could get better scouting reports on the web than he could with a network of bird dogs. Maybe he was the only guy that could, or would, work under Littlefield's strictures.
As I said, I'm a big fan of Smith bringing in younger talent. There were way too many 21-year olds starting in the low minors for my liking. Traditionally, the majority of younger guys come from Latin America, and I hope Goya can mine that region. The legacy of Clemente, Sanguillen and Pena still plays.

Ron Ieraci said...

The Pitt guys, Will, were probably the late Ed Bozik, bean-counter supreme, and Orville Jaynes.

WilliamJPellas said...

Yeah, Ed Bozik, that's who it was. I'll NEVER forget the expose on him that was published in one of the last issues of the old Pittsburgh Press. The guy would actually prepare for press conferences by memorizing new and oh-so-sophisticated words, so he could drop them into a sentence and intimidate the reporters with his, uh, intellect. I don't know who hired him---presumably it was the Pitt President at the time---but Bozik completely destroyed Pitt athletics for nearly an entire generation. They've never really recovered from his obviously effete, pseudointellectual, passive-aggressive, politically correct and incredibly destructive weirdness. I mean, seriously: Pitt basically put a guy who might as well have been a 1960s radical from Columbia University in charge of its athletic department.