The buzz is building around the web that the Pirates are looking hard at collegiate lefthander Drew Pomeranz as their top pick in this year's baseball amateur draft. Despite the howls of protest coming from Pirates fandom, Pomeranz is clearly the right choice, even though almost every college pitcher the team picked during the Littlefield years blew a tire almost immediately after signing. Here's why Pomeranz makes sense:
1) While his low 90s, average fastball velocity is a bit of a concern, he does have an exceptional---and very rare---breaking pitch: a knuckle-curve. To my knowledge there are very few pitchers in all of big league history who have mastered the knuckle-curve, and the two most prominent, Burt Hooton and Mike Mussina, were both righthanders. The surprise factor of this pitch all by itself should be a significant weapon, and Pomeranz's other pitches, while not great to this point in time, were good enough to make him this season's SEC Pitcher of the Year. Speaking of which....
2) Like Paul Maholm, he comes from an elite college power conference, meaning he is at the top of the heap in terms of organized amateur competition. Most observers consider the SEC to be equivalent to High Class A or perhaps even Double A, which of course means he'll get to Pittsburgh faster than a high school arm---of which we have plenty from last year's draft and, I expect, we'll get plenty more this year. What's wrong with picking the occasional collegiate pitcher, provided they're not already used up or ready to break down?
3) If he gets here by 2012---certainly do-able given his pedigree if he stays healthy---wouldn't it be great to add him to our first big wave of all-at-once homegrown prospects? Provided we continue to draft and pay for overslot high school and international arms further down in the draft, what's wrong with picking Pomeranz at the top? Didn't we follow the same strategy last season with Tony Sanchez? Yes, we did.
I'd be very happy with Pomeranz. Manny Machado, of course, would be a "best available player" pick where Pomeranz would be more of a "need" pick, but Machado is going to be another drama queen signing---if he can even be signed, since he has Darth Sidious as his agent---and in any case it's not a hard and fast or night and day distinction. In other words, it's not like you have the chance to pick Stephen Strasburg but take Daniel Moskos instead. (Speaking of Moskos, by the way, he is doing very well at Double-A Altoona and looks like at least a seviceable major league reliever before much longer.)
The bottom line for me is that I have no problem whatsoever with a mild overdraft at the top of the draft---which even I concede is probably true of Pomeranz---AS LONG AS the team continues to draft and pay over-slot for more projectible arms and players further down. Whatever else is true of the current ownership and front office, they have demonstrated beyond all doubt that they are committed to this very sound draft and talent acquisition strategy and that they are willing to back it up with cash (believe it or not!). The Pirates should stay the course, take Pomeranz, and get ready for him and Brad Lincoln at the top of the rotation by 2012.
(GW and Will had a little chat about the draft, and we agree on the suits' way of operating: pick the more prepared college guys first, sprinkle in some high-level, high risk prep kids, and overslot for them as the budget allows. It's a good formula.)