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Never draft for need, until you need to

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SOUTH HILLS – Last year at this time I offered the Pirates free advice. I suggested they adopt a high-upside draft doctrine, what I dubbed the Hart Doctrine, which is a theory how small-market clubs should target prep talent — especially with early-round picks — since such players possess higher upside and the draft is the premier vehicle for small-market clubs to obtain impact talent.  And as clear evidence of the influence of this blog, the Pirates went out and selected Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire in the first round, the first high school positional players selected under Neal Huntington and first since Andrew McCutchen by the Pirates.

It’s a hybrid BPA approach slanted toward more risk and more upside when debating the ceiling vs. floors of prospects.  But here’s the thing, no team operates in a vacuum. And while such a theory might make sense for most small-market clubs in most years does it make sense for the Pirates in 2014?

The Pirates are no longer in development mode – they are in compete mode at the major league level.

There’s also this theory about windows. Most clubs, and most small-market clubs, have windows where they can be relevant and then the windows close due to free agency losses and attrition, etc.

The Pirates have Andrew McCutchen under club control through 2018. The have Gerrit Cole under club control through 2019. They’ll like have Gregory Polanco under club control through 2020. The Pirates’ optimal window of contention is open until through 2018-19. Beyond that, it’s pretty unclear but life will get tougher without the NL MVP, the No. 1 overall 2011 pick and who might be the No. 2 or No. 3 prospect in baseball right now.

If you draft a high school player in the first round this year, unless he is  an advanced pitcher, they are not going to be a part of that window.

So do you attempt to bolster the the McCutchen-Polanco-Cole window with a more MLB-ready asset that might begin contributing in 2016? Or do you believe in the assembly line approach? Where the important thing is to just accumulate talent and not worry about ETAs or windows of contention. You can always trade prospects.

I think you can make an argument for either approaches and not be wrong.

In its latest mock draft, Baseball America has the Pirates sticking with the high-upside, BPA approach taking OF Monte Harrison. The Pirates don’t need a high school, toolsy outfielder but Harrison has the highest upside remaining and could be the most valuable asset of the available options in two years.

But in an age of fewer bats, particularly fewer college bats and more arms in the draft – 70 of the top 100 players are thought to be pitchers – I think it does make sense to target a college infielder late in the first round. A player who can bolster a corner position as Pedro Alvarez and Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez all might be elsewhere during the later half of the Cole-McCutchen-Polanco window. And the Pirates have no clear heirs to 1B or 3B in the system.

*I like 6-foot-4, 230-pound Wichita State first baseman Casey Gillaspie, who has posted a .389/.520/.682 slash line, has homered 15 times and walked twice as often as he’s struck out.

*I like another 6-foot-4, 230-pound lefty slugger in Kentucky’s A.J. Reed, who also pitches, but is expected to be selected as a hitter. He leads the NCAA with 21 homers and is fifth in the nation with 63 runs batted in.

*At third base, Alex Blandino has posted at a .312/.399/.540 slash line at Stanford and might be able to stick at the hot corner.

All three players project to be available at pick No. 24, according to Baseball America’s latest mock draft. At least one of them figures to be available in a worst-case scenario. These players do not represent reaches in talent as they are among the best college bats in an era when we’ve seen a downturn in offensive talent at the college level.

The Pirates are loaded with talented outfielders and pitchers in their system and have several intriguing middle infielders and a potential All-Star catcher in McGuire. What the system lacks is corner players who project to be everyday regulars.

They will need such players at the end of the McCutchen-Cole-Polanco window. And they might be available at pick No. 24 and perhaps again at No. 39.

While I like typically like targeting upside, perhaps the Pirates’ draft portfolio should become less focused on aggressive stocks and more bond and mutual fund oriented in 2014.

- TS

 

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Comments

  1. Nate83 says:

    Good overall look at the Pirates options Travis. I personally beleive in the assembly line method. Keep taking high upsided guys.

    I’m not sure there are several intriguing middle infield prospects currently in the system. I honestly think Josh Bell could easily become our first baseman and I wouldn’t rule out Walker getting an extension and moving to third. I’m not sure if a player being drafted 24th would be able to progress through the system fast enough to arrive in 2016 and the chances of that pick being an impact player is low so I would go high upside high school athlete.

    I agree they are in win now mode but I think that means trading prospects to get players at positions of need. I personally think small market teams should always think big when it comes to the draft and never go with the safe high floor but limited ceiling type player.

  2. NMR says:

    Great topic, Travis.

    The Bryan Morris trade is a game changer for this draft. Not only does it give the Pirates 5 of the first 100 picks, but it adds $1.4m to the coffer. That cannot be understated in this new era of draft rules.

    I generally used to agree with the high upside, toolsy draft approach but I’ve started to turn on that. Latin America is THE place to target these types of players, because they’re all these types of players and can be signed cheap. I know with the attrition rate of all prospects the more bullets the more chances of success, but the Pirates can sign 10 Gregory Polanco types for the same costs as the pick they received from the Marlins. Think about that.

    The new college bats don’t perfectly replicate wood, but they’re a big improvement from the days where Alex Dickerson was thought to be a power hitter. I think analytical teams can now get a better idea of potential to match with traditional scouting reports, and that’ll make college hitters much more productive picks.

  3. Nate83 says:

    Good point about Latin America being a good place to accumulate toolsy players at a much lower cost. Maybe more projectable safer picks are the right way to go. I’m sure the top 5 farm systems in the league have been built all using different philosophies. One thing they all have in common is a little bit of luck. It’s such an inexact science it’s impossible to consistantley get it right. All you can do is give yourself a better chance then most teams with better scouting and a better plan to have an advantage over your competition.

  4. Donald says:

    Can you imagine if the Pirates had won the bidding on Jose Abreu right now? How differently would this season be going? They liked him, but he was too big a risk for our small market club. No offense to Ike Davis, but Abreu is looking like a first year all-star. I guess the key for us is finding these guys while they are still young and sign them at 16.

  5. dennis g. says:

    If you take as a given that whoever is drafted will have the same cost, since contract ranges are so rigid, and that the first four years of MLB will have roughly the same cost to the team, how could it ever be wrong to acquire the most talent possible? At the same time pitching in the draft is abundant and until you find a way to determine whose arm will survive and whose will not, it would seem that position players are more valuable all other things being equal. Need at the major league level should never even be considered given the myriad things that will change between draft day and arrival in Pittsburgh.

  6. LeeFoo says:

    Totally agree….BPA it is, because you NEVER know how these guys are going to turn out.

    And, taking those ‘close to the majors’ guys, doesn’t always work either.

  7. macchamp74 says:

    Travis…I get nervous at the mention of college slugger who is also a pitcher.
    Remember John Van Benscoten….but then again, they drafted him and kept him as pitcher, not hitter.

  8. NMR says:

    “…how could it ever be wrong to acquire the most talent possible?”

    Because talent is only part of the equation.

    Risk, as defined by the chances a player’s skills develop enough to maximize his inherant talent is just as important. This is where teams must be honest with themselves regarding their development abilities.

    The Phillies, for instance, have been known for taking raw, uber-toolsy players in the draft under Ruben Amaro Jr. And they’ve almost universally failed, because they do not have a successfull minor league development system. The talent hasn’t translated.

    This is where I believe the Pirates need to improve in the draft. I do not see much evidence that they are able to develop raw hitting talent. Simply isn’t a track record of teaching plate discipline or developing the hit tool. Would be foolish to continue drafting players lacking these important skills.

  9. Nate83 says:

    I think that is a fair point about the track record of developing hit tools. I’m not sure how hard of a ship that is to turn around if it was horrible when the first took over. Having a plan is one thing but finding the right guys to implement it is another. Even after you get those guys it’s 3 or 4 years before you see the results at the major league level.

    Somebody is doing something right with Polanco. Hanson, Rojos Jr. and Bell seem to be making nice strides as well as JaCoby Jones, Reese, and Meadows before he got injured looked promising in a short amount of time. Last year is the first time they drafted offense high in the draft since 2010. So it’s been mostly lower round guys which have less then a 5% chance of making it to the majors.

  10. JoeBucco says:

    I know it is far too early to say, but I think Cutch is one of those guys who will want to stay here forever. His place in the league and the community solid, I think the Pirates pay him when that time comes. I think he’s a guy that cares more about legacy than dollars, though he will get plenty of those as well. Especially if this team is competing year in and year out until his free agency time pops up. He sees how Roberto lives on in this city, and I think that is how he wants to be remembered here as well.

  11. JoeBucco says:

    Or much more recently, Stetson Allie. Not a 1st rounder, but 2nd pick of 2nd round is close enough.

  12. JoeBucco says:

    The J-Bay trade keeps on giving back. :)

  13. piratemike says:

    Since I have no idea who will succeed including Polanco I would rather use my 20/20 hindsight and just bit*h about the guys they should have taken.

  14. Jim S. says:

    I’d love for that to be the case, JoeB. Nothing would make me happier. And, I have no doubts that Andrew is a great guy, great in the community, and loves the team and city. He took a deal from the team a couple of years ago that gave him financial security, but carried the risk of him being far underpaid if he became the superstar we now see. So, he makes $7.25M this season, $10M in ’15, $13M in ’16, $14M in ’17, with a club option at just under $15M in ’18. He was underpaid last season, and will be underpaid by multiple millions of $$ every season of the remaining contract if he keeps performing close to this level. If he is still one of the best hitters in the game at 32 in ’19, which we all hope, he will not sign such a team friendly deal again. I just don’t see it. And, I also don’t see the Bucs signing a 32 yr old OF to a $20M+ per year deal. They’ll let the Yankees or Angels do that. And, if his skills have declined considerably by then, which is a distinct possibility, I still don’t think he’s a fit for this team. We still have several great years of Andrew left. I think we should enjoy him in his prime for the next several years. That’s just my take.

  15. Jim S. says:

    I thought that was a risky deal by the ChiSox at the time, Donald, just because it was difficult to scout him and difficult to compare his level of competition and draw a definite conclusion. But, man did they nail it! He would look so good in black and gold right now.

  16. Jim S. says:

    Travis:

    Do you know when the Mets PTBNL from the Davis deal becomes official? Any guess as to who it may be?

  17. LeeFoo says:

    If we had hung onto Moss, for like, fooever, it would’ve been a GREAT trade!!!!

    :) :) :) :)

  18. NMR says:

    Hey Andrew, stabilization and regression question for you if you have a moment.

  19. LeeFoo says:

    Jim S….my guess is definitely AFTER the draft. As to the exact date? Who knows? Maybe by this weekend or not until the end of the season. It is shrouded in secrecy!

  20. LeeFoo says:

    Andrew is stable until he regresses?

  21. LeeFoo says:

    I have Capt Hindsight on retainer!

    :)

  22. LeeFoo says:

    Mac…you get nervous at everything….it seems to have gotten worse since you met me….not sure why, tho.

  23. Nate83 says:

    My guess is it will be announced before this weekend is out. I really hope it’s not JaCoby Jones or one of the 3 arms they picked early last year but I’m guessing it has to be one of those.

  24. Andrew says:

    Less time than usual today but I always have time for baseball based distraction, I’ll offer my thoughts.

  25. NMR says:

    Thanks, my friend.

    So I thought I understood the concept of certain stats stabilizing after a given sample and that even after stabilizing you still would typically want to regress that number halfway to career average to come up with a projection moving forward. Am I generally correct so far?

    Ok, now looking at ZiPS ROS projections over lunch I noticed they have Pedro Alvarez at a 30% k-rate moving forward. Made me think I don’t actually understand the application of concept. I would’ve thought that given a career rate of 30% and a current rate of 22% that his ROS would then be 26%.

    I’m not doing it right, am I?

  26. Gerardsmith says:

    “Make an argument for either and not be wrong.” Excellent, TS. Which means, of course, u can make arguments for either and not be right. In other words, the proof is in the pudding. Fun to spin the wheels in speculation, though. . .and only be 50% wrong.

  27. Nate83 says:

    What you say seems logical to me but those are stats that are beyond me. Let’s go with you being wrong because that’s more fun.

    You need to find something more interesting to do during lunch. I play cards everyday with 4 other guys. Looking at Pedro strikeout rates would be to frustrating. Cards are more relaxing.

  28. Andrew says:

    As I understand it, in general you are correct, those listed stabilization points are the 50% regression mark either to career average or league average. But I believe that is for predicting the entire season’s performance, not the rest of season. (I would have to read the stabilization stuff again, I know a lot the Fangraphs staff doesn’t like the way it was presented.)

    How individual projection systems handled new data is kind of a black box. In general the initial projection is a weighted three or four year average and this is going to have the most influence on the ROS. So those 2000-1500 PAs will still drive the ROS projection almost to the end of season.

    You would have to weight this season’s 240 PAs at an absurd amount to drive Alvarez’s K rate down to 26%, the 1800 PAs with a 30% K rate are the driving the ROS projection. The most recent performance shows up in the end of season projected numbers, but Alvarez will need to maintain the 20% K rate a lot longer to effect the ROS.

    This could be wrong, projection systems can get complex.

  29. NMR says:

    Thank you very much. Makes complete sense how you phrased the ROS projection in the context of the far greater sample.

    “But I believe that is for predicting the entire season’s performance, not the rest of season.”

    That was the fatal flaw in my thought. I was believing the immediate past performance would have the greater effect on the ROS projection when in reality you should always weight the larger sample much more heavily. The updated entire season projection, however, is the one that has to account for what just happened as it happened and regress back to the larger sample from there. Not coincidentally, ZiPS updated k-rate projection has him finishing at 26.8%

    Thanks again!

  30. Andrew says:

    Was thinking about this on my drive home.

    The other thing to note is what the initial projection was and compare that to the rest of season. For K rate for Alvarez: ZiPs: 32.0% and Steamer: 29.1%, so the 29.8% and 27.1% rest of season numbers do appear to be taking into account this seasons performance to a degree.

  31. Steelkings says:

    RIP Don Zimmer!

    One of my favorites.

    A mans man.

    Really makes you feel your mortality, doesn’t it? Baseball heroes are supposed to live forever. Tough guys like that are not supposed to die!

  32. Steelkings says:

  33. Travis Sawchik says:

    Interesting thoughts, NMR …

    *The $1.4 million is an important factor

    *If you look at what the Pirates have done while they’ve gone heavy on pitching, particularly prep pitching in the draft, they have targeted toolsy position players in Latin America (in part, because, that’s what LA offers)

    *I think college baseball has gone too far to the other extreme in eliminating offense from the game. I think

  34. Travis Sawchik says:

    Mac,
    I don remember JVB and the Pirates probably should have left the Division I home run leader as a hitter

  35. Travis Sawchik says:

    Jim, I’ve heard it will be soon but I don’t have a name … I suspect it would be a fringy top 10 prospect.

  36. Travis Sawchik says:

    I should have gone into politics! ha

  37. Jim S. says:

    Thanks, Foo. Makes sense.

  38. Jim S. says:

    Thanks, Travis.

  39. Jim S. says:

    The question wasn’t for me, but I wonder if the fact that his career rate was so strikingly stable at between 30-31% every year until this year has any bearing, NMR.

  40. Jim S. says:

    Gotta love Zim! Like your Grandpa out there coaching pros. I never heard a bad thing from anyone about Zim. I think he impacted a lot of players in a positive way. RIP!

  41. NMR says:

    Would love to tap into to your knowledge of college baseball from your previous life, Travis.

  42. Travis Sawchik says:

    Ahhh, the previous life … Clemson seems like a long time ago.

    I think college baseball over-corrected with the bats. Perhaps the new generation ball will help, and it makes sense to make it more like the pro ball (lower seams, harder, etc.). I know the majority of coaches want to see more offense in the game.

    I always felt the college baseball postseason was underrated. Great event. I love the double-elimination format, makes for interesting strategy and match-ups over the course of a regional weekend.

    The biggest thing that would help college baseball is an increase in scholarship level.

  43. The Gunner says:

    Jim

    I remember when he played for the Dodgers! (LA, not Brooklyn)

  44. Cmat0829 says:

    Just as an FYI. If it is a player drafted last year then have to wait until a year after their pro contract was signed not the draft date. Not sure when that was for everyone but FYI.

  45. Doc says:

    Unless they mess it up by reaching….

  46. Steelkings says:

    Odd 2nd round (64) pick by the Pirates. A high schooler who has committed to North Carolina. Xavier in Iowa is a catholic college prep school. I’m going to unfairly assume that this kid is going to be hard to sign.

  47. NMR says:

    Very interesting…

    I’ve always loved the college game for it’s offense, especially post season as you mentioned. Lot of exciting baseball played at Rosenblatt over the years. Hoping PITT’s move into the ACC boosts CBB in the area.

  48. NMR says:

    Supposedly has seven figure demands…and has touched 97 mph.

  49. NorthPirateFan says:

    I have doubts that Moss would have ever developed into the player he’s become had he remained in Pittsburgh. IMO he represents yet another example of a former Pirate who needed to get away from the – pounding square pegs into round holes approach of the Pirate managers that the team has had including Clint Hurdle in order to A, get regular playing time and B, play within his abilities to stick at the major league level.

    We see yet another example of such a player who will likely only flourish once he’s out of the can’t see the forest for the trees environment at the major league level of the Pirates’ organization…

    Travis Snider who despite having declared the “starting right fielder” twice by the club can’t beg, borrow or steal regular playing time under Clint Hurdle and watches just about anyone and everyone get starts ahead of him … exactly like Moss before him.

    I have no doubt the Oakland A’s already have a spot for him in their lineup in 2015.

  50. NorthPirateFan says:

    I won’t disagree with anything you say TS, but I’m still rather amused by the whole notion of that 1.4 million being so critical to the Pirates organization … when they are spending 5.8 million to get this line out of their fist base platoon of Davis and Sanchez:

    AB R H 2B 3B HR BB SO
    222 31 59 15 1 8 26 50 .266/.341/.450/.791

    While the first place Miami Marlins are paying 2.75 million to for a former Pirate platoon player who’s getting full time work at 1B and hitting:

    AB R H 2B 3B HR BB SO
    206 31 56 14 1 8 21 55 .272/.335/.466/.801

    Curious focus they have, one might call it penny wise and pound foolish.

  51. NMR says:

    Not at all the same, North.

    The draft has a spending cap, payroll does not. $1.4m was added to the amount the Pirates are able to spend in the draft. They essentially traded Bryan Morris for the opportunity to spend MORE money.

  52. NorthPirateFan says:

    I get it and wasn’t suggesting the situations were the same, just that when it comes allocating resources the Pirates talk a lot about needing to do it wisely but their actions often don’t match their words.

  53. NMR says:

    So you’re saying the Pirates should’ve used that $1.4m to sign a better first baseman?

  54. NorthPirateFan says:

    No, I’m saying that after they drafted yesterday, players much higher than anyone expected them to go and presumably won’t require a great deal to sign, the move to increase the spending limit makes very little sense. Now if they were expecting to draft someone whom they thought might need a little extra incentive to get to sign, mmm maybe it makes more sense but that doesn’t seem to be the case at all.

    As with many of the Pirates stated economic goals, whether it be having more resources available in the draft or finding a cheap solution at a particular position, the results often don’t line up.

  55. HebnerRuled says:

    I live in Iowa and they have been replaying Keller’s interviews before the draft. He would rather go Pro than college based upon the advice and circumstances experienced by his brother who chose the college route. He is anxious to get his career started. I am sure he will use NC option as leverage, but he will sign. By the way, I am also a HS umpire and this kid has a great make-up and is driven. Oh, and he has a great arm too.

 
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