Friday, June 4, 2010

Pellas OnThe Pirates: Make Mine Pomeranz!

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.)


Anonymous said...

Who are "most observers"? I can't remember anyone even comparing the SEC to AA OR High A, let alone saying that they are equal. The whole idea behind taking Pomeranz, to avoid a better/more expensive player, is insane!!! Who said that the Pirates can't take the more expensive, higher upside player AND pay over slot to prep talent later in the draft. After shitting the bed on Moskos and Sano, they better shell out some cash to get Grade A talent. Any Pirate fan who makes excuses for this leadership team not taking the best player available has no right to ask for a team that ever wins more than 70 games.

Ron Ieraci said...

Hey Anon - thanks for the note. The question is determining the best player available; how do you compare high school kids with college players? It's a tough call.

Tim Beckham was the #1 pick in 2008; he's playing High A ball now. The guy taken behind him, Pedro Alvarez, should be at PNC this summer.

There are exceptions, but overall a college kid has a much greater chance of coming up through the system and helping the team in a quicker time frame, maybe 2-3 years instead of the five it took McCutchen. And the Bucs do need bodies now.

Still, an argument can be made either way, but a prep player is almost always a greater risk than a college player in the draft.

And even with all the hype the high school kids have gotten, 2010 isn't considered a very strong draft class, which always makes the prep players look a little better.

As far as college leagues versus minor leagues, the elite players (like Pomeranz) from the SEC or ACC are usually considered to be High A, sometimes AA, ready when they're drafted, not the entire league.

Sorry if that wasn't clear in the blog piece, but obviously 95% of the college kids aren't going on to the pros when they graduate.

WilliamJPellas said...

It's also a myth that the current front office doesn't or won't spend on acquiring talent. It's true that the Pirates under Bob Nutting don't spend on established major league veterans, certainly, and that is frustrating, no doubt. However---and this is established fact, you can look it up---the Pirates have outspent the universe on the draft for two years running. No other team, repeat, no other team in all of major league baseball has spent more on the draft over the past two seasons than the Pirates. I say this in the interest of truth, and I say it against my personal dislike of Neal Huntington, who I find to be rather unpleasant and apparently lacking in people skills. However, there is no doubt about his draft strategy as far as I am concerned.

Further, just spending money does not, in and of itself, equal winning baseball on the field at the major league level. That is true regardless of whether we are talking about overpaying for high school or collegiate or international amateurs, or whether we are talking about overpaying for established major league players. Look at the New York Mets in recent years, who have spent literally tens of millions of dollars on ex-Pirate Oliver Perez, among many other personnel gaffes. Perez is barely hanging on in the big leagues at all and is a good candidate for an unconditional release, and yet many fans were ready to burn Pirates ownership in effigy when the team traded him away. Good organizations are good at evaluating talent and allocating their resources---whether few or plentiful. Bad organizations are not. It's that simple.

Note, also, that the Pirates have drafted collegians with their first pick in each of the Neal Huntington drafts while also paying overslot for high schoolers (most of whom had previously committed to college) further down in the draft. The blog piece was perfectly clear that that is the strategy we are advocating. We are NOT advocating being cheap for its own sake, not at all. If you had read the piece carefully, you would have seen that that was the case.

WilliamJPellas said...

As for the High A or Double A comparison, it's not just that 95% of collegians don't make it to the majors. It's probably close to if not higher than that percentage for professional minor leaguers, as well. That is, the vast majority of players, whether they are in college or in the minors, are never going to sniff the bigs. That's true whether we're talking about the SEC and Division I college baseball, or whether we're talking about professional A or AA ball.

The statement I made was that the elite conferences in college baseball are probably roughly equivalent to High A or perhaps Double A in terms of the top to bottom aggregate skill of all the players involved. Most good college players can step right into pro ball at a fairly high level; the elite players sometimes skip the minors altogether, players like Mike Leake. Others have a very abbreviated minor league tour, like Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen. The bulk of good college prospects probably start out in High A. Thus, my statement that elite college power conferences are probably roughly equivalent to High A professional leagues, perhaps Double A. But High A for sure.

I'll see if I can find some scouts' comments comparing the caliber of play in major college conferences with that in the professional minor leagues. But I stand by my piece, every word.

Anonymous said...

Great analysis -- I see what you are saying on comparing elite SEC talent with AA talent, and in that light I agree. Thanks for taking the time to respond. Great webpage.

Anonymous said...

Though unlikely, becasue this class isn't as strong as say next year's, do you think that the Pirates are at the point now where they can combine their 2008 and 2009 draft plans to make a draft that would combine the grade A talent like a Machado as well as putting another 4-6 million into eating up top prep talent that drop later? This would change the face of the draft bc the Bucco's would be spending 10 - 12 million on one draft class. They have been spending money, i agree, but I think this is an even more agressive step. As fans, why cant we ask for that after nearly 2 decades of hell? Of course, this is based on the idea that the talent is there - which it may or may not be this year. Thanks again.

Ron Ieraci said...

Anon - if they go with a HS guy, I'd have to go with Machado, because I think they have an infusion of young arms to evaluate from 2009 (see the "Sunday Morning" post) and could use an everyday difference-maker.

As for the budget, if my memory serves, they spent nearly $11M in 2008 and $8M in 2009, both top five for MLB teams. I agree that they have to keep the pot at $9M or so until they refill the system, which is slowly recovering from the Littlefield years.

Even if this administration fizzles, at least they'll leave the next crew with a viable minor league organization.