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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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