Monday, May 21, 2012

Mix Pitching-Heavy Drafts With Poor Market Choices, And...

One big reason the Pirates are having such dire offensive problems right now has its roots in the past: since 2008, the FO has drafted for pitching, not hitting. Checking out the top ten choices by year, 25 of the team's top 40 picks in the Neal Huntington era were used on pitchers, and of those 15 hitters, seven were selected in 2008. Only 8 of the last thirty top ten picks have been spent on field players.

And just one of their positional draftees, Pedro Alvarez, is on the current 25-man roster.

Three are on the Indy roster: SS Jordy Mercer, SS Chase d'Arnaud and 1B Matt Hague. (OF Alex Presley was drafted in 2006, 2B Brian Friday in 2007 and OF Starling Marte was signed as an international free agent in 2007, all during the Dave Littlefield era).

There are several at Altoona, with IF Brock Holt, CF Robbie Grossman, 3B Jeremy Farrell and C Tony Sanchez being top ten selections and 1B Matt Curry being added in the 16th round. 

It didn't start that way as their first draft was hitter-heavy. In 2008, they drafted Alvarez, Mercer and d'Arnaud 1-2-3 on their board, and Hague was the ninth selection. They were all college players and are at their appropriate level now. Other top ten picks were Farrell, Grossman and SS Benji Gonzalez from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy. High school 2B Jarek Cunningham was taken in the 18th round, too.

C Tony Sanchez, OF Evan Chambers and 2B Brock Holt were brought aboard in 2009. OF Mel Rojas was the only 2010 top ten pick that played the field, though prospect 1B Matt Curry was selected in the 16th round. They addressed this imbalance somewhat last year, adding OF Josh Bell and 1B Alex Dickerson in the second and third rounds with 3B Dan Gamache & OF Taylor Lewis also top ten picks.

The point is not that the Pirates have a particularly bad eye for drafting hitters, but that they just don't take enough of them to fill the system. Six of the seven players they took in 2008 are scattered between Pittsburgh, Indy and Altoona. Two of the three they chose in 2009 are in AA. That's not unusually slow progress; it's just that there aren't enough bat-first bodies to go around.

We understand that the Pirate philosophy is that a team never has enough pitching, and that's true. It's also true that seven of their twelve top three picks during the four year span were hitters, including two of the team's four #1 picks. And there is a wildcard in that several Latino players are making some noise in the system, like Marte, SS Alen Hanson, C Ramon Cabrera and OF Adalberto Santos. Losing Miguel Sano, though, sprung an Exxon-sized leak in that pipeline.

What really aggravates the situation are the trade/free agent results. Jose Tabata is the only guy that's holding down a regular position, along with Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes, barely, from other systems, along with the Garrett Jone/Casey McGehee hybrid.

But Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss, Aki Iwomura, Lastings Milledge (OK, he's a stretch), Ronny Cedeno, Nate McLouth, Eric Hinske and company were guys that were supposed to help fill in the pieces while the Pirates developed players.

Those outside markets worked to carry the the pitching through the developmental stage, with a light at the end of that tunnel, but came up far short in the spots around the mound.

The bottom line is that if you draft for pitching, you end up with pitching. It's a simple numbers game. Tearing down and rebuilding a minor league system is a time consuming task, and the Pirates went about it by stocking up on arms.

They say it takes seven years to fill an organization from top to bottom. Pittsburgh needs to draft a couple of more bats, on a regular basis, to fill theirs. Judging from last season, they recognize that imbalance. We'll see.

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