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 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:
9. PITTSBURGH PIRATES
PICK VALUE: $3,029,600
AUSTIN MEADOWS, OF, GRAYSON HS (LOGANVILLE,GA.) (@Austin_Meadows)
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.
REESE MCGUIRE, C, KENTWOOD HS, COVINGTON, WASH. (@Reese_McGuire21)
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.