January 24, 2010

The 2009 Draft Class Would Make An Awesome 7-in-1 Bobblehead

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / January 24, 2010

While trades and signings at the MLB level get much more attention, the amateur draft is the most important aspect of building a small market team. Poor drafting was the #1 reason for the failure of Dave Littlefield as GM. It is hard to explain how terrible Littlefield's drafting was. It was pretty bad when he drafted Bryan Bullington with the #1 overall pick in 2002, but arguably even worse when he drafted Bryan Bullington with the third round pick in his 2010 Fantasy NASCAR draft.

In order for the Pirates to build on the success of their 2010 World Series victory, they will need to develop draft picks who can replace players who become too expensive and move on to the big market teams. Let's look at how the Pirates' 2009 draft picks did in their first professional season.

Tony Sanchez (1st Round) A+
The Pirates took a lot of criticism with the pick of Sanchez at 4th overall. Many experts viewed Sanchez, a college catcher out of Boston College, as no better than the 20th best talent on the board, and it was thought that the Pirates took him mainly because he would sign for a low signing bonus. Well, it's still early but Sanchez was great. After playing only four games at short-season State College, where most college draft picks go, he was promoted to full season West Virginia and immediately became the best hitter on that team. Sanchez hit .316 at West Virginia with 7 home runs, 46 RBI and 29 runs scored in only 41 games. He also had 21 walks and was hit by 8 pitches for an outstanding .415 on-base percentage. The Pirates then brought him up to Lynchburg where he started throughout the Carolina League championship run. He played good defense and threw out a respectable 30% of baserunners. Sanchez was invited to spring training this year and he'll stay in Bradenton to start 2010 with the Pirates' new High Class A team there. If he plays well he could be in Altoona by midseason. With the Pirates trying to trade Ryan Doumit it's possible that Sanchez will be in Pittsburgh by 2011 although 2012 is more realistic.

Victor Black (Supplemental Round) B
With their 49th overall pick the Pirates chose Victor Black, a righthanded college pitcher from Dallas Baptist University. Black profiles as a closer prospect with a mid-90s fastball and a good slider. He didn't pitch that much.with State College but showed good strikeout potential with a 3.45 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 31 innings. He also showed his main weakness, control, with 15 walks and 4 wild pitches. This pick, like the Dotel signing, showed the Pirates' preference for relievers who can miss bats in contrast to the pitch-to-contact starting rotation. Black will play at West Virginia or Bradenton in 2010. I would bet on Bradenton. Many teams prefer their better pitching prospects in the warm-weather Florida State League, a luxury the Pirates will have thanks to the move of thir high class A affiliate.

Brooks Pounders (2nd Round) B
This pick was another surprise, but how can you go wrong with a great name like Brooks Pounders. Brooks is a big righthanded starting pitcher, drafted out of high school in California. He has four pitches: an 89 mph fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. It is very hard to evaluate high school pitchers in their first minor league season. You just hope that they don't totally bomb, and Brooks didn't. Pitching in the rookie level Gulf Coast League, he had a 3.04 ERA in 24 innings with 11 walks and 20 strikeouts. We'll be able to learn a lot more in 2010 when Brooks will probably throw around 60 innings at State College. If he develops properly Brooks could be a similar MLB pitcher to Paul Maholm.

Evan Chambers (3rd Round) B+
I love players who walk and strike out a lot, so of course I loved Evan Chambers' 2009. Drafted out of a fine academic institution, Hillsborough Community College, Chambers played center field all season with State College. He walked 50 times and struck out 78 times in just 58 games. He hit just .176 in July but finished well to improve to .245. With all those walks, however, he had a .393 on base percentage, allowing him to score 45 runs. Six steals with no caught stealing helped too. Chambers slugged .380, a number that will improve if he can cut down on strikeouts. I love his 19.8% walk rate as that's really the one skill you can tell a lot about from a player's first season. Chambers will play at West Virginia in 2010. His one weakness is that he's a center fielder with a left fielder's throwing arm. If he developes power he could start in MLB, and if not he'll be a solid fourth outfielder.

Zack Dodson (4th Round) Incomplete
Dodson, a high school lefthanded pitcher from Texas, was a tough signing, demanding a seven figure bonus and eventually settling for $600,000. Because he signed late he only got into one game with the Gulf Coast League Pirates, pitching one perfect inning. I guess a 0.00 ERA is the best you can possibly do anyway, but I had to give him an incomplete grade. Dodson is a lefthanded fastball/curveball pitcher who will start 2010 with State College.

Nathan Baker (5th Round) B+
Baker is a lefthanded pitcher from the University of Mississippi. He throws a fastball, slider and changeup. At State College, he put up a 1.69 ERA and 0.81 WHIP in 16 innings, with only 2 walks. The reason I gave his season a B+ is that he only had 9 strikeouts, suggesting that his other great numbers were probably in part due to luck and small sample size. He'll start 2010 with West Virginia, probably in the starting rotation.

Zachary Von Rosenberg (6th Round) Incomplete
Von Rosenberg signed for an eye-popping $1.2 million, the highest bonus of any player picked below the first round. Yes, the Pirates are cheap at the MLB level, but ownership can't be totally cheap if they're giving over a million to two lower-round draft picks. Due to signing late, he pitched only one perfect inning, with one strikeout - an identical stat line to Zack Dodson. He'll be in State College too in 2010. His high school, Zachary High School, and hometown of Zachary, Louisiana are already named after him, not bad by the age of 18. He throws a fastball, curveball, and changeup, and was rated as a second round talent before dropping due to signability concerns.

My God, I had no idea how long this would take. There's no way I am grading 50 rounds worth of picks. Anyway, you can see that the Pirates drafted some players who put up good to great numbers in their first seasons, giving us hope for the future.

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