The Coonelly/Huntington FO made no bones about it; they were going to hang their hats on the draft. And in three years, they've made good on that claim, draining Bob Nutting's pockets of some $30M while filling a depleted farm system with prospects of varying pedigree.
The first draft was tilted toward college players, as the Bucs needed a quick fix for an ailing minor league system, though they did add a sprinkling of high school picks.
They hit the jackpot with their first pick, when they snagged Vandy's Pedro Alvarez as the second overall selection. He's in the majors to stay after a rocket ride through the system despite missing 2008 after signing at the midnight hour, and looks like a difference maker. His MLB line was .256/16/64, and El Toro is the cleanup hitter the Pirates have been lacking.
They couldn't sign Tanner Scheppers from Fresno State nor Drew Gignon of Liberty HS among their top ten picks, but brought home the other seven. They are:
SS Jordy Mercer (#3 - Oklahoma State): Mercer, 24, just finished his year at Altoona, where he hit .282/3/65. They've moved him around, mostly playing him at second and third. He should be at Indy in 2011, and remains in the Pirates' infield mix of the future.
SS Chase d'Arnaud (#4 - Pepperdine): d'Arnaud, 23, also played at Altoona. He put up a line of .247/6/48 in a year when he wasn't 100% physically. d'Arnaud is still considered the Bucco shortstop of the future, but he'll have to get his stick to warm up to live up to that tag. We expect him to land in Indy next season.
LHP Justin Wilson (#5 - Fresno State): Wilson, 23, signed late and missed 2008, but was aggressively placed in the Pirate system, and spent the year with the Curve. He posted an 11-8, 3.09 ERA at Altoona with 134 K's in 142 innings; he also walked 71 batters. Wilson has a rep as a big game pitcher, and projects as a mid-rotation guy if he can improve his control. He's likely to start 2011 in AAA.
OF Robbie Grossman (#6 - Cypress Fairbanks HS) Grossman turned 21 in September, and played mainly as a 20 year old in High A Bradenton this season, where he put up a line of .245/4/50. The jury is out on him; he hasn't developed the power they had hoped, though that's generally one of the last aspects of hitting to come around for a young guy. Grossman does draw a lot of walks, and strikes out a lot, too, though he improved dramatically this year in that department. He has a good chance of moving up to Altoona next year, but the corner outfielder is still very much a work in progress.
SS Benji Gonzalez (#7 - Puerto Rican Baseball Academy): Gonzalez, 20, spent two seasons in the GCL and last year at Low A West Virginia. Speedy and perhaps the best glove man in the organization, he's only hit .230 overall in his pro career, and a bat like that, especially in the lower levels, won't cut it.
3B Jeremy Farrell (#8 - Virginia): Farrell, 23, had a line of .298/9/43 at Bradenton, not a bad set of stats for 75 games, as he missed time with an infected shin. He's borderline old for his level, so his lumber should get him advanced to Altoona next season.
3B Matt Hague (#9 - Oklahoma State): Hague, 25, put together a line of .295/15/86 for Altoona last year. He has a good eye (62 K, 61 BB) and plays his new position, first base, well. Hague should move to Indy, but he'll have to impress as his age is working against him.
Other players drafted in 2008:
1B Calvin Anderson (#12 - Southern): Anderson played at Bradenton, and in the past two seasons, the 6'7" slugger has gone long 23 times and driven in 137 runs. He also strikes 31% of the time, and doesn't run or field particularly well. It'll be interesting to see if he moves up, with Matt Curry behind him.
RHP Mike Colla (#14 - Arizona): Colla, 23, started in Altoona, got whacked, was sent to Bradenton where he was sharp, and ended the year again with the Curve. His velocity is erratic, going from the upper eighties to the lower nineties, and his control is a little shaky. But his peripherals were decent, and he'll get another shot at AA to see if he can advance past the organization depth charts.
SS Jarek Cunningham (#18 - Mt. Spokane HS): Cunningham, 20, hit .258/12/49 and was third in the Sally League in extra base hits after missing last season with ACL surgery (he's settled in at second base now). The infielder has to cut down on his K's; he whiffed 132 times in 488 at-bats. His problem is two-fold at the dish; little patience and trouble with the off-speed stuff. Cunningham will probably move up to Bradenton next year to work on his eye. But he has age on his side and some pop in his bat, and remains very much on the Pirate radar.
RHP Quinton Miller (#20 - Shawnee HS): Miller, 20, threw sparingly for West Virginia last year. He had a history of tendinitis problems, and they returned last season, cutting down his workload and his velocity. He'll probably start 2011 in Low A again, and needs to get a healthy season under his belt to properly evaluate his potential.
We give good grades to the FO's first draft. They landed a possible franchise player in Pedro Alvarez, and have several guys moving to Indy. It was weak in pitching, with Justin Wilson and maybe Quinton Miller being big league prospects, but they did land a handful of position players that may claim some roster space in 2012.
C Ramon Cabrero (Venezuela): Cabrero, 20, played at West Virginia in 2010, hitting .269/1/40. He's been promoted aggressively, with a year in the VSL, and 2009 split between the VSL and GCL. Cabrero doesn't have much power and doesn't walk, but he bangs out doubles and is a young switch hitter. He threw out just 21% of attempted base stealers, but catchers develop slowly. Cabrero has a good chance of making it to Bradenton next season.
SS Jonathan Barrios (Colombia): Barrios, 18, signed with the Pirates for $250,000 during the summer 2008 signing period. He'll probably move to 2B or even 3B in the pros because of his bulky frame. Baseball America thinks he has a strong bat with some power potential. The Pirates thought enough of him to bring him to the Florida Instructional League in 2009, a rarity for young Latino players, and assigned him to the West Virginia roster in 2010. But it's a good thing he's young; after a year in the VSL, he missed all of 2010 to injury.
3B Elevys Gonzalez (Venezuela): Gonzalez, 20, had a .275/6/31 line at West Virginia. His bat doesn't project as a corner player, though; he'll have to show he can play some middle infield. Gonzalez should step up to Bradenton in 2011.
OF Exicardo Cayonez (Venezuela): Cayonez turned 19 in October. He was one of the Pirates' top international signings in 2008 and got a bonus of $400,000. Cayonez is touted to be a speedy outfielder with a nice lefty bat. He had a good year in the VSL in 2009 and hit .263 in the GCL this season.
SS Jorge Bishop (Panama): Bishop, 19, played second base in the GCL this year and put up a line of .257/4/40, showing some pop and earning him a cup of coffee at Bradenton.
C Elias Diaz (Venezuela): Diaz, 19, was a back up catcher for the GCL in 2010 after starting in the VSL in 2009. He hit just .218, but he's young and has a rifle; he threw out 41% of the larcenists he faced, and that may be enough to get him to State College next season.
RHP Yerfi Taveras (Dominican Republic): Taveras, 21, was a late signer, not inking a deal until he was 19. He pitched in State College and got an injury call-up to Bradenton this year. His stats weren't much, but he has a curve and a slider, and may be a late bloomer.
OF Junior Sosa (Venezuela): Sosa just turned 20, and hit .296 for the GCL Bucs. He's a lefty punch-and-judy hitter that draws walks and steals bases. He may go to West Virginia next year, but has to get stronger to become a prospect.
RHP Fraylin Campos (Dominican Republic): Campos, 20, was the ace of the DSL Pirates in 2009. He went 2-1 with a 4.01 ERA and 26 Ks in 24-2/3 IP in the GCL this year.
RHP Emmanuel De Leon (Dominican Republic): De Leon, 19, signed for $50,000, and debuted in the DSL. He worked a few innings in the GCL, putting up a lot of Ks, a lot of walks, and giving up a lot of hits.
RHP Oscar Verdugo (Mexico) Verdugo, 20, posted a strong 2009 in the VSL, but after a brief outing in the GCL in 2010 disappeared from view. We assume he was hurt or sent to the Florida Instructional league; maybe both.
RHP Yomar Pacheco (Venezuela): Pacheco, 21, had a 1-3 record and 4.85 ERA in the GCL, giving up 7 homers in 29-2/3 innings.
SS Jodaneli Carvajal (Dominican Republic): Carvajal signed for $350,000, one of the larger Latino bonuses the Bucs have ever dished out. He's a burner with an great glove; his bat is the question. He's played in the DSL the past two years, hitting .259 in an injury-shortened 2009 and .304 in 2010. Carvajal is probably due in Florida in 2011.
RHP Roberto Espinoza (Mexico): Espinoza, 18, started for the VSL Pirates in 2010. His stats weren't overly impressive, but he's young and he has fastball that goes in 88-93 range and a slider.
LHP Porfirio Lopez (Dominican Republic): Lopez, 20, has been a starter the last two years in the DSL, putting up ERAs of 1.23 and 1.58 while holding opponents to sub-.200 BA. He's struck out 105 batters in 103 innings during that span; he should be stateside this year.
LHP Raul Ruiz (Venezuela): Ruiz, 19, was the VSL Pirates' top reliever in his second year from the pen. The lefty has posted ERAs of 0.53 and 1.63 the past two seasons with an 8-1-21 record. Ruiz isn't a big strikeout guy, but has pinpoint control and a strong ground ball ratio.
They made their first serious foray into Latin America in years. The results of that are still down the road, but it's promising that several of the players signed in 2008 have come north to play in 2010 and a few more should be stateside next season. In the Littlefield days, a Latino player had to put in three seasons before coming to North America; the current FO move the players more aggressively.
(OF Starling Marte & since-departed RHP Yoslin Herrera were signed in 2006, and OF Rogelio Noris in 2007, if you're wondering. And check out Wilbur Miller's "Latin American Prospects" page for the dope on Pirate Latino prospects.)
Other International Signees:
2B Gift Ngoepe (South Africa): Ngoebe, 20, got a lot of ink, but hit just .205 for State College this season.
LHP Rinku Singh (India) Singh, 22, one of the famed "Million Dollar Arms," got out of the GCL, where he pitched well (2-0, 2.61 ERA), and got a taste of State College.
RHP Dinesh Patel (India) Patel, 21, pretty much got beat up in the GCL.
The first wave of non-Latino international signings hasn't produced any prospects, but it opened the door, and the Pirates are at least looking at what the world outside the America's has to offer MLB.