Thursday, June 27, 2013

First Two Neal Huntington Drafts At Second Glance...

Going into this year, the first two Neal Huntington drafts were looked at a basically treading water, acting as a brake on the Pirates' promised five-year building program. Well, guess what - there are quite a few pieces of those drafts in Pittsburgh now, with other guys rising to the top.

The left side of the Pirate infield is manned by Pedro Alverez and Jordy Mercer, numbers one and three in the 2008 grab bag. Fifth pick Justin Wilson is firing bullets out of the bullpen. Tony Sanchez, the often maligned top gun of 2009, is having an injury-free breakout season at Indy, made his MLB debut this week, and is in line to join the big club on a full time basis sooner rather than later.

You could also consider Wandy Rodriguez and Mark Melancon results of that draft, too. Rodriguez joined the Bucs from Houston in exchange for Robby Grossman, a 2008 selection, Colton Cain from the Class of 2009 and Rudy Owens. Melancon is in a Pirate jersey partly because one of the trade pieces, 2009 draftee Brock Holt, was sent to Boston.

A couple of other guys, 2009 picks starter Phil Irwin and bullpen blazer Vic Black, are also considered a step away from the show. 2008's Chase d'Arnaud has been up and down, and Jeff Inman, a 2009 selection, has hit 98 but has burdened with injuries over his career.

And the international signings should be included as their separate draft. In 2008, OF Exicardo Cayones was signed; he went to the Yankees as part of the AJ Burnett deal. C Ramon Cabrera was also inked, and went to Detroit for Andy Oliver.

2009 was a mother lode year on the Latin market. OF Gregory Polanco, IF Alen Hansen and LHP Orlando Castro were brought into the fold by Rene Gayo, and all three are making big noise in the Pirate system at the mid levels.

Where the Pirates didn't have any success early on was in finding pitching and in projecting high school players, which went hand-in-hand. Pitchers Zack Von Rosenberg, Zack Dodson, Quinton Miller and IF Jarek Cunningham all quickly come to mind, but that hasn't deterred the process. The Bucs went on to draft prep guys like Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie, Josh Bell, Nick Kingham, Tyler Glasnow, Max Moroff, Wyatt Mathieson, Reese McGuire, Blake Taylor and Austin Meadows since then, and don't seem to have any buyer's remorse over those choices.

The much lamented drafts of 2008-09 actually did what drafts are meant to do - they provided an impact player in Pedro, a starter (so far on audition) in Mercer, and a reliever in Wilson. It made the talent pool deep enough that they could use prospects gathered those years to at least partially flip into AJ Burnett, Mark Melancon and Wandy Rodriguez. With Sanchez, Black and Irwin they have future contributors in the pipeline. And the international component added three top-twenty prospects to the organization.

In hindsight, the 2008-09 drafts may not have been a team-maker, but did provide enough of a base to begin the Pirate transition to a deeper, home-grown system.

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