Draft Preview: Pirates looking for arms
Pittsburgh picks fourth in next week's First-Year Player Draft
PITTSBURGH -- After making a buzz in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft because of who they picked (Pedro Alvarez, a client of Scott Boras) and how much they spent in signing bonuses (nearly $10 million in all), the Pirates maintain that they will have a similar aggressiveness and willingness to spend this year as well.
After finishing with a 67-95 record last season, the Pirates will select fourth in the upcoming June Draft. And as those top projected picks are coming into focus, all indications are that the Pirates will use their first-round pick on a pitcher.
MLB.com will offer live coverage and analysis of the entire First-Year Player Draft on June 9-11. MLB Network will broadcast the first round at 6 p.m. ET on June 9 from its Studio 42 in Secaucus, N.J., and those 32 selections also will be simulcast live on MLB.com.
Beginning with the 33rd pick, up-to-the-minute on-air coverage from the remaining rounds will shift exclusively to MLB.com/Live, where host Vinny Micucci will be joined by MLB.com Draft expert Jonathan Mayo and Major League Scouting Bureau director Frank Marcos.
Once the first night is done, the Draft will continue with Rounds 4-30, via conference call from MLB headquarters in New York, at noon on June 10. Rounds 31-50 will be on June 11, starting at 11:30 a.m.
In about 50 words
Outside of Stephen Strasburg going first, not everything is settled for those early first-round picks, but the Pirates have already narrowed down their first selection to a handful of options. Despite a down economy, expect the Bucs to have as much money available for signing bonuses as they did last year.
"The top end is not nearly as strong as it was last year," said general manager Neal Huntington, who has been active in scouting the team's potential first-round players. "That said, though, we do think it's a deeper Draft than last year, especially with college and high school arms. Strasburg, obviously, is head and shoulders above anyone else, and Dustin Ackley has established himself as the best college hitter available. From there it turns into a group of arms pretty quickly. There are some arms we're doing work on."
The Pirates will not be getting an Alvarez this year, let's make that clear right off the bat. Beyond San Diego State's Strasburg and North Carolina's Ackley, who are expected to be snagged with the first two picks, the talent at the top of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft is not what it was last year when the Pirates snagged Alvarez with the No. 2 overall pick.
With Pittsburgh likely to go with a pitcher in the first round, its list of potential picks is believed to include the names of Missouri's Kyle Gibson, North Carolina's Alex White and former Mizzou starter Aaron Crow, who was drafted but not signed by Washington last year, among others. If they want a bat, shortstop Grant Green would be the most likely choice. On the high school side, pitchers Matthew Purke, Zack Wheeler and Matt Hobgood have also garnered interest.
As is the case every year, the Pirates aren't targeting any specific position or age of player in the Draft. The philosophy is simple -- take the best player available. There's no question that the Pirates need more pitching in their Minor League system, so if there comes a decision between two players and all other things are equal, then expect the Pirates to lean toward nabbing the arm.
This is Greg Smith's second year heading the Pirates' Draft as the organization's scouting director, and he said he will continue to show no discrimination between high school and collegiate players. In fact, Smith really likes the idea of getting high schoolers into the organization's development system.
The Pirates took one interesting approach in the '08 Draft that paid off substantially, and look for them to do it again. That approach was taking high school players who were upper-round talent but fell down on teams' Draft boards because of their commitments to playing in college. When other teams passed on these players -- Robbie Grossman being an example -- the Pirates stepped in.
In Grossman's case, the Pirates took him in the sixth round and convinced the outfielder to forego his chance to play at the University of Texas by offering Grossman a $1 million signing bonus, way over what a sixth-round draftee would expect. The strategy paid off as Grossman signed with the team.
Huntington said that the club won't hesitate to make similar risky picks again this season and to be aggressive in those later rounds. The Pirates will also pay over "slot" if they see the talent as being worth the dollars.
Recent top picks
2008: Third baseman Pedro Alvarez (Vanderbilt) -- After missing all of last summer because of his drawn-out negotiations with the team, Alvarez got his first taste of professional baseball in April when he joined the Pirates' high Single-A Lynchburg team. Alvarez's batting average has lagged for most of the season, but his flair for the dramatic hasn't. He's had a number of game-winning hits and had nine homers and 40 RBIs through the Hillcats' first 45 games. The Pirates would still like to see better plate discipline from the third baseman.
2007: Left-handed pitcher Daniel Moskos (Clemson) -- Moskos is in his second full Minor League season as a starter and has settled into the role OK. After a rocky first start of the season, Moskos reached the six-innings mark in six of his next seven starts in Double-A. Last season, Moskos went 7-7 with a 5.95 ERA in 29 appearances for Lynchburg. The Pirates are still unsure as to whether his big league future will be as a starter or reliever, but for the team being, Moskos will continue to develop as a starting pitcher.
2006: Right-handed pitcher Brad Lincoln (Houston) -- Lincoln is back to being high on the prospect list after a successful recovery from right elbow surgery that cost him the entire 2007 season. Lincoln returned last year and showed exceptional command while splitting the season between the two Class A levels. He's pitching in the Double-A rotation now and is knocking on the Triple-A door. As of this weekend, Lincoln, who could be in Pittsburgh as soon as 2010, had tossed 19 scoreless innings.
Infielder Shelby Ford was drafted just three years ago, but he could be the first player from that 2006 Draft class to dent the Pirates' Major League roster. He began the year at Triple-A, with management pegging Ford for a potential Major League debut in 2010. However, Ford still has to show that he can stay healthy for an entire season, and with a .179 average after his first 33 games, there is still obvious work to be done on the offensive end.
Since being drafted in the 17th round of the 2006 Draft, right-hander Michael Crotta has made a steady climb through the team's Minor League rungs and has begun to open some eyes in the organization. He started in Lynchburg last year and is now in Altoona's Double-A rotation, where he was 3-1 with a 4.00 ERA in his first eight starts. Kyle Stark, the Pirates' director of player development, recently referred to Crotta as an intriguing arm in the system with definite Major League potential.
In The Show
No one from the Pirates' last three Draft classes has yet to have a taste of the big leagues. Looking back at the 2005 Draft class, only first baseman/outfielder Steve Pearce has already made his big league debut. Pearce spent parts of the 2007 and 2008 seasons with the Pirates. Outfielder Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates' first-round pick in '05, is certainly nearing his time.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.