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About last night: evaluating a draft the morning after


SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – A lot of folks say you cannot judge a draft  until years down the road. I agree you cannot form a final opinion until, you cannot form an “outcome” judgment until a significant portion of a player’s career has been observed.


But I think you can make immediate evaluations of “process” and philosophy in regard to a draft. After all, teams are drafting in real-time and making decisions in real-time and some are better than others. There is a skill to working a draft. (See: Cardinals, St. Louis.)


We cannot judge outcome, yet. That will take years. We can’t predict injuries, or at least not to a satisfactory degree. Makeup is hard to measure. But we can judge real-time process.


We analyzed the Pirates’ last five drafts on Sunday. We found mixed results in outcome and process, and mixed results in the context of rare spending. And among those drafts, many analysts question the real-time selection of Tony Sanchez, and some preferred Buster Posey to Pedro Alvarez in 2008 … so real-time evaluation are not devoid of meaning.


Here’s my real-time evaluation of the Pirates opening two rounds Thursday: it was a great night.


We don’t know what will become of Georgia prep outfielder Austin Meadows and Kentwood (Wash) catcher Reese McGuire.  We don’t if they’ll become stars, or become forgotten upon the heap of baseball’s failed first-round picks.


What we do know is that the Pirates’ followed the John Hart doctrine that we outlined Wednesday on the blog. What is the Hart doctrine again? Hart, the former Cleveland GM, said small-market clubs should target upside in the first round. If a club is not picking very early that’s typically going to mean targeting a high-upside, high-risk high school player.


Why adopt this strategy as a small-market team? Small-market teams are rarely going to sign impact, All-Star players in free agency. Their best chance to find them is through the draft or the international free agent market.


So even if Meadows and/or McGuire fail to become all-stars, even if they fail to become MLB regulars, the process, the philosophy was the right one  if you’re a believer in the Hart doctrine.


I am.


I asked Neal Huntington if the Pirates were simply picking best player available or had their been a philosophical shift? After all, the Pirates had not selected a high school bat since 2005. Andrew McCutchen was that pick, and he was picked by the previous regime. And guess what? He  was a high-upside, high-risk prep OF who became an all-star player.


So was it it BPA or upside the Pirates were targeting?


“One and the same,” Huntington said.


And the Pirates didn’t just target upside, they found value at No. 9 and No. 14 as Meadows was ranked as Baseball America’s 5th overall prospect and McGuire was 12th.


Here is Baseball America’s instant analysis:



Area Scout: 
Darren Mazeroski

PICK ANALYSIS: The Pirates wanted David Dahl last year and Meadows is a similar player.

SCOUTING REPORT: Meadows entered the season as the No. 1 prep hitter in the country before being passed by his neighbor, Clint Frazier. It’s not necessarily because Meadows had a bad spring, though. The physical lefthanded hitter has a 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame, maintaining his athleticism even though he added 10-15 pounds since last summer. Scouts consider it good weight, so it may be a challenge for Meadows to remain in center field down the line. He has modest arm strength but is athletic enough to play all three outfield spots. Scouts have significant confidence in his bat, which projects to be formidable. Meadows has a smooth, easy swing that he repeats and he covers the plate well. His mature approach stands out at the prep level, and he has the leverage to hit for corner-profile power. Some scouts do question his loft power thanks to a flat bat path and a relative lack of looseness, and some others consider him a bit low-energy for their taste. Still, he combines athleticism with one of the safest bats in the draft and should go out in the first 10-12 selections.

WHERE HE FITS: Meadows is an impact talent who fits in the middle of the Pirates’ top 10, likely ahead of Josh Bell.


Area Scout: 
Greg Hopkins

PICK ANALYSIS: The Pirates are going with a high-upside duo by pairing McGuire with Meadows.

SCOUTING REPORT: McGuire was known by scouts early, playing in the 2011 Area Code Games as a junior before leading his high school team to a state championship in 2012. He was named USA Baseball’s Dick Case player of the year after he hit .400/.522/.514 for the gold-medal-winning 18-and-under team last summer. McGuire showed his athletic versatility with Team USA, playing third base and outfield, but he’s best as a catcher in pro ball. He is a natural behind the plate. He remains loose, even after adding strength to his 6-foot-1, 190-pound build. His receiving, blocking and arm strength are all above-average, and he has been calling his own games since he was 10 years old. He has a high baseball IQ and game awareness. The question will be how much McGuire will hit. He has a smooth lefthanded swing with strength and bat speed and shows the tools to be an above-average pure hitter with average power. The San Diego recruit runs better than most catchers. Even if he doesn’t reach his offensive ceiling, McGuire’s defense will allow him to be a big league backup, but if he hits he has all-star potential.

WHERE HE FITS: The Pirates system is deep, so McGuire will likely rank in the eight to 10 range in next year’s Prospect Handbook.


In the second round the Pirates picked up another high-upside player in LHP Blake Taylor, who can touch 94 mph. Hart told me he thought this draft was rich in prep left-handed pitching.


So in five years maybe none of these three picks will have lived up to their lofty billing. Maybe the outcome will have failed to produced a desired result. But I don’t think you can fault the process. The Pirates made the right real-time decisions.


The Pirates didn’t reach for a shortstop (See: Royals) or a college bat. They took a risk on finding future stars.


Huntington told me the Pirates were in better position to draft this year than they were in 2008. Maybe Thursday is evidence to support such a hypothesis.



  1. T.S. says:

    I love your evaluation, but the “small-market” thing is old and merely an excuse for guys like Neal Huntington to build excuses around. The Penguins and Steelers certainly aren’t small market teams.

  2. Zack says:

    Loved this and your coverage last night. How many players drafted by a team should eventually have a major league impact? I would assume any guys drafted in the first four rounds should be expected to contribute to a degree

  3. Travis Sawchik says:

    Thanks, T.S.

    The NFL is a completely different animal with the salary cap and the fact that TV revenue is tied to national contracts and split evenly, unlike baseball’s regional contracts. I don’t know enough about NHL markets and revenue sharing to comment on that …. I do know small-market baseball teams can win if managed smartly. But it’s unrealistic to expect any small-market to start issuing $200M free agent contracts. It would be bad business.

  4. Travis Sawchik says:

    Zack, the rate drops off dramatically after the first round, and even from the beginning to the end of the first round. Huntington said before trading their competitive balance pick for Gaby Sanchez last year, which was around 40th overall, they studied the rate at which players picked from 33-45 overall became MLB regulars. It was only 15 percent.

    It’s a low rate, but if you do hit, you unearth a huge bargain. As the signing bonus pails into comparison the value a MLB regular produces for six years before he hits free agency.

  5. Dan Novak says:

    I remember the Bucs signing a young Latin player named Henry Ramirez whom they had high hopes for…any updates ?

  6. Ron says:

    If people are willing to trade Barrett Barnes for Gaby Sanchez it was a good deal.

    If you think Barnes would be too much then it would be bad deal for Bucs.

    I think it is better to look at players picked in similar spots rather than just the number.

  7. Mike Burk says:

    I am not a fan of this strategy. I believe you draft the best player available…the Pirates still need players who can make an impact in 2-3 years (i.e. Cole). Drafting a HS catcher that high…his body will likely take a physical pounding by the time he is MLB ready, how do “project” that?
    This franchise has demonstrated over the past 20 years the worst combined scouting and player development in all of sports.
    They have a long way to go…simply deploying someone else’s philosophy this year demonstrates the biggest problem of the franchise.
    They lack a clear 5 year plan and REACT as opposed to vein PROACTIVE.

  8. Brendan says:

    Harold Ramirez you mean? He was on the GCL team at 17 last year and will be Short Season Low A in Jamestown this year. Positive reports on him from extended spring training thus far.

  9. Chuck H says:

    No comment on the Bucs future players-this about the present players. Friday’s game
    was won because of the excellent pitching, and the fact that we were able to score enough runs to win, but we were playing a team almost as devoid of offense as we are. Now, the better teams: St. Louis, Cincy, Braves and even the Brewers have bat strength, even against good pitching, as proved in the Atlanta series. The fact is, we do not hit with RISP, and that is going to hurt us in the long run. We nead to try to make a trade for an established player who makes contact with the pitches most of the time. I don’t know what is the matter with Marte lately, but he doesn’t do anything well any more. GO, BUCS!!!

  10. So . . . you are saying it was bad business for Cincinnati to sign Joey Votto?!

    For Cincinnati to take a flyer on Arnoldo Chapman?!

    Small market excuses valid only when taken in conjunction with small-minded approaches.

    Tiring of hearing about small market excuses when St. Louis, Cincinnati, Milwaukee are same market size or smaller AND they are IN OUR DIVISION.

    Just as teams are “contoured” according to park configuration, teams can be built using budgetary restraints without claiming the “small market excuse” in each article!

  11. Good draft by BMTIB. Got the guy they wanted in McGuire AND also lucky to have Meadows fall to their Appel pick. I thought McGuire would be gone by #14.
    It is better to be lucky than good.
    It is best to be lucky AND good!
    Good draft today; hopeful it will still be good draft in 5 years. We will know on Opening Day, 2019.

  12. RobertoForever says:

    Couldnt agree more, Travis. While St. Louis earned their top managment reputation and have maintained it, the Indians, Brewers and Royals have shown its tough in small-revenue markets without equal revenue sharing.

    Wonder where the Brewers would be if Braun had not been cheating all this time? Some winning seasons, without any playoff success has been worth it, I guess. 4 winning season in 20 years, 6-9 in 2 playoff appearances.

  13. RobertoForever says:

    And I like to use the term – small-revenue market. Folks get confused by the term “small-market”.

  14. RobertoForever says:


    Last 6 games have been disappointing, for sure. But Bucs are 3-4 against Braves (not 0-7). Bucs are 4-2 against Cincy. Bucs are 3-2 against St Louis this year.

    Personally, I would like to see the Bucs win 2-0, than trying to compete in 10-8 games. Pitching wins playoff games. Hopefully we will get the chance to see that this year.

    Also, how we may see a LOT less offense, once MLB starts suspending players, and hopefully uses the incidents like Braun, to start testing for HGH at WADA standards. Pitchers will have a MUCH bigger advantage then.

  15. RobertoForever says:

    Oh, and one last thing, Travis – Awesome coverage!! We haven’t seen draft coverage like this in the local papers for several years. Following most of it from twitter updates via text messages to my phone, so hard to respond, but nothing is better than having the flight attendant say “you can use your phones”, turn it on, and see the twitter updates and info on the Bucs draft pics from you. Made the Thursday night travel grind a little easier.

    I have been ringing the town crier’s bell to my fellow sports fans. This is great stuff without having to go to baseball blogs. Much appreciated. Would love to have a Q&A session with you at a Bucs game sometime. Think an interactive discussion about these topics would be very cool.

  16. Travis Sawchik says:


    Thanks again for the kind words. I’m glad you are enjoying the coverage. I am enjoying the audience and creating the content. … I think a Q&A is a great idea. Perhaps a Tweetup? I’ll look into this.

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