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Going off the board

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SOUTH HILLS – The Pirates had an opportunity and a challenge on the first day of the draft Thursday.

They had four picks in the top 73 thanks to the trade with the Marlins that landed the 39th overall pick in the compensation round and the extra pick in the competitive balance round. (The trade also gave the Pirates more financial flexibility/creativity by adding $1.4 million to the spending pool.) Those four selections were the most top 75 picks the Pirates have had under Neal Huntington and the most they’ve had in the top 80 in the 21st century.

But picking 24th overall was also the latest the Pirates have drafted since 1991. There was no luxury of zeroing in on a handful of elite players for scouting purposes in the first round. And with their top two premium picks, the Pirates went off the consensus boards of scouting services like Baseball America and MLB.com.

When the Pirates selected Arizona prep shortstop Cole Tucker 24th overall MLB.com’s Joanthan Mayo said live on the draft broadcast that it was the first “Wait, what?” pick of the evening.

And while no GM is drafting from the Baseball America of MLB.com top 100 lists, it’s my understanding that those lists represent something of an industry consensus as it’s just not John Manuel and Mayo making up personal top 100 lists but they are polling scouts, cross checkers and other evaluators for opinions. So while rankings lists aren’t everything, and teams’ lists certainly vary team to team, they offer some general sense of the industry’s take on a player.

The first round, for the most, part followed those lists … until the Pirates drafted.

I thought the Pirates might reach on a college bat to join their Andrew McCutchen-Gerrit Cole-Gregory Polanco window. Instead it appears they reached to a degree on a prep shortstop in Cole Tucker. Beyond Alen Hansen, who may or may not stick at short, the Pirates are thin at the critical position in their system.

The issue is Tucker was ranked 83rd overall Baseball America and 67th by MLB.com. But he was also one of the few players who projected to stick at short.

Here is the first-round pick analysis from Baseball America and the Cole Tucker report:
Pick analysis: Tucker has risen as much as any high school position player in the country over the course of the spring. The Pirates have been tied to prep position players and Tucker is one of the few with an up-the-middle profile.

Scouting report: A high-energy, scrappy player with passion for the game, Tucker was the starting shortstop for USA Baseball National team that won its second consecutive World Cup gold medal last summer. He has plus instincts that make his tools play up. Tucker began switch-hitting two years ago, but his natural lefthanded swing offers better bat speed and a more compact swing path. He could be at least an average hitter (with the potential to be better) as a high-contact bat that uses the whole field and stays inside the ball. His line-drive swing path will likely limit him to below-average power, as he drives the ball to the gaps. Tucker’s speed plays at plus out of the box and is even better underway as a long strider. A natural athlete, Tucker has the ability to stay at shortstop with an above-average arm that can throw from different angles, soft hands and smooth actions. The long, lean and wiry Tucker offers a considerable amount of projection with his body for a position player at 6-foot-3, 175 pounds. He has long arms, big feet and will likely add a significant amount of strength. As a tall lefthanded-hitting infielder that can play shortstop, Tucker has drawn comparisons to Andy Fox. The Arizona commit comes from a baseball family and his father is in the Florida high school baseball hall of fame. Tucker is very young for the class and won’t be 18 until after draft day.

 

I don’t hate the player by any means.  I like that Tucker projects to stick at short. That’s a big deal. I like that he’s 17, meaning he has more upside than most in the pool (Age 17 draft picks are more likely to have professional success than older HS picks). I like that he has projection left and he has plus instincts. But I wonder if he’ll hit. I just wonder, like others, if the better place to target him would have been 39 overall or later.

The Pirates did not feel he would be there at 39 and said they did not reach (of course no team has ever said it reached for a player).

Baseball America top 25 players like RHP Sean Reid-Foley and OF Monte Harrison were still on the board. High school SS Miguel Chavis might slide to 3B but he has a better bat and was the 26th best overall player per Baseball America.  A.J. Reed slid to 42 but he was the top college power bat available and Blandino was the best college hitter thought to be available.

At 39, the Pirates went against consensus again, selecting San Diego c/of Connor Joe with the 39th pick.

Joe is a high OBP, line-drive oriented hitter who has recently shifted to catcher. He appears to have an advanced bat, though limited impact potential with the bat. If he can stick at catcher, he’s a potential find. Maybe he’s an undervalued Matt Carpenter-type. But he wasn’t ranked in Baseball America’s top 100 or MLB.com’s top 100. He was ranked 110th by MLB.com. Here is MLB.com’s scouting report.

After spending his first two college seasons at first base, Joe made the move behind the plate during the summer in the Cape Cod League and was named an All-Star in the elite summer college circuit.

During his junior year, Joe saw some time behind the plate for the Toreros, while also playing first base and right field. He has the skills to stick as a backstop, with a solid average arm and quick release. He’s very athletic and runs well for a catcher or first baseman. He doesn’t get cheated at the plate, and his combination of bat speed and strength should mean he hits for average and some power at the next level.

Joe’s value obviously is higher if he’s behind the plate, and the team that believes he can develop there will take him in the first few rounds.

 

I liked what the Pirates did with their 64th and 73rd overall picks. They found better value in going after projectable RHPs in Mitch Keller out of Xavier High in Iowa – who should have less mileage on his arm coming from a cold weather state – and they took Trey Supak out of LaGrange High in Texas. It’s a strategy that has served them well with Nick Kingham and Tyle Glasnow.

And I did like in a offense-depressed environment that the Pirates targeted position players with premium picks, waiting on the greater supply of pitching. That made sense.

Look, it’s folly to grade any draft, particular a baseball draft. If Tucker ends up as a first-division starting shortstop that is an excellent pick and there’s a chance that happens. But any time a club goes so far away from the consensus, at least the external consensus, with its first two picks it is taking on greater risk and now they have to be right, not the consensus of the  industry.

Wisdom of crowds vs. wisdom of the draft room.

-TS

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Comments

  1. NorthPirateFan says:

    So to continue my thoughts from the last blog … the Pirates made a move that enabled them to spend more on draft picks … then proceeded to draft players well above their perceived spots and presumably won’t require all that much to sign … ???

    Okay, whatever

  2. Andrew says:

    Not a snarky question but when did the Pirates suddenly become cheap in the draft, which is barely possible anymore with the strict slot limits?

    I’ve read speculation they reached with Cole in order to sign pitchers overslot later, notably Keller.

  3. Andrew says:

    Travis I saw some quotes that Conner Joe is going to be used in the outfield.

  4. NMR says:

    I’m still not sure you understand, North. The first two players they picks are expected to sign for less. The second two picks are expected to require more.

    Doesn’t make much sense to analyze one aspect without considering the other.

  5. Steelkings says:

    NPF

    I think you have to consider that the Pirates went out of their way to sign kids out of High School. I’m guessing that they signed a college kid with 39 so they could get him signed for sure and have a bigger pile of money to use. If pool money wasnt a factor 39 would have been a high schooler too. I’m beginning to believe that the Pirate brass see a lot of upside in more than just talent, but financially as well. Anyone of these high schoolers with a year or two in college could become top 10 picks. They will also come with a guy like Boras attached. High School players dont have an agent in order to maintain amateur status.

  6. NMR says:

    Very well done, Travis. All around.

  7. NMR says:

    Nailed it, Steel.

    The biggest irony in b*tching about the first round pick is that the 13th overall selection, best shortstop available in the draft, was a guy the Pirates failed to sign out of high school in 2011.

  8. NMR says:

    I won’t post all the content so you guys have to give him the clicks (well worth it), but Kiley McDaniel of Scout.com has a good bit of new info on the draft:

    http://recruiting.scout.com/story/1409043-mlb-draft-live-blog?s=143#/story/1409043-mlb-draft-live-blog?s=143

    “I had Tucker #99 on my board but had heard some teams had interest about 50 picks higher than that…Some clubs think he’s a long-term shortstop and he needs to be to justify this pick, as he has little power. He’s young for the class and a gifted switch hitter with a broad base of tools, but I thought he’d end up going to school and possibly becoming a 1st rounder in three years, I just can’t counting on that from what I see right now.”

  9. Travis Sawchik says:

    Interesting. The Joe pick was my least favorite of Day 1. A low upside OF with marte/McCutchen/Polanco locked in and Meadows/Bell in the pipeline?

    It would be different if it were a high-upside guy who might increase his value as a potential future trade chip.

  10. Travis Sawchik says:

    Good stuff, NMR.

    I get the whole idea behind the creativity in moving around dollars … but I think teams (see: Astros) can get too cute with this and simply bypass the best talent on the board.

    For instance, the Astros saved money by taking Correa and Appel at 1-1 in back-to-back years but they might have cost themselves a generational talent in Buxton and a 35-40 HR corner bat in Bryant in an era where there’s no right-handed power in the game.

    I suppose at 24 it makes sense to be more creative, but I still like taking the best player or the best fit for a team’s circumstance.

  11. Travis Sawchik says:

    A Trae Turner-Alen Hansen future middle infielder would have been very interesting

  12. NMR says:

    I’d hesitate to assume that because he starts in the outfield that is where he’ll stay.

    More value as an outfielder, and there isn’t exactly much defensive time in the minors needed to hone one’s skill at 1B. Don’t see a ton of sense in starting a guy at the lesser position. Think Jacoby Jones. Not much chance he sticks at SS, but you may as well find out, right?

    High OBP line drive hitter with hit tool over raw power sounds like Allen Craig. I think the Pirates would take Allen Craig.

  13. Travis Sawchik says:

    They would take Craig in a heartbeat. And maybe that’s what the Pirates see here. But FWIW, MLB.com put a 50 hit tool on Joe.

  14. Travis Sawchik says:

    One reason to like the Cole Tucker pick? He’s the 9th youngest player in draft pool, which is a big deal

    http://www.baseballamerica.com/college/youngest-and-oldest-players-in-the-2014-draft/

    From the prep ranks, 17-year-olds have a better chance of succeeding in pro ball than 18-and-up-year-olds

  15. Andrew says:

    Solid link.

  16. BostonsCommon says:

    NH has publicly stated their strategy with drafting prep arms is to find the next Strasburg (elite college arm and top 10 pick), before he turns into Strasburg.

    Apparently that philosophy is applies to SS too. They did it with Trae Turner in 2011. Looks like they just did it with Tucker too.

  17. cobra39 says:

    Bucs still paying for not taking Machado back in ’10.

  18. NMR says:

    Eesh, thats the first I’ve seen it graded. I inferred better. Thanks, Travis.

  19. NMR says:

    Very much agree with all of that, Travis.

    I think the only place we seem to differ is in what best player available meant at the Pirates position of this draft. For instance, every analyst had Jacob Gatewood ranked ahead of Tucker, yet I’ve read three of them say Gatewood has zero hit tool and may never even hit enough to make a Major League roster, let alone impact. Gatewood may be the best prospect due to tools, but I don’t know how you can call a guy that can’t hit the best player.

    Again, just my personal interpretation. I may be off what the traditionally accepted lingo means.

  20. NMR says:

    Nice find. Wasn’t last years 2nd rounder Blake Taylor one of the youngest as well?

  21. NMR says:

    Speed for days.

  22. Marxon says:

    Uh, boras can be attached as an advisor, see Josh bell.

  23. John Hart, Travis’ heart-throb, said last night on the MLB Draft Show that Conner Joe retains his value at this high pick only if he succeeds as a catcher.

  24. The draft strategy of taking lesser talent at 24 and 39 to save signing dollars for next two riskier picks only works if Pirates sign those two riskier picks.

    Otherwise Bucs are left with acknowledged lower quality players and money not spent.

    Of course, some higher ups in the Front Office will be happy with the 2nd half of that predicate!!

  25. NMR says:

    I hate to pull this card, Groat, but if he ends up a successfull first baseman or outfielder I don’t think anyone will give a crap what John Hart thinks about the value of the pick.

  26. NMR says:

    You’re right, Groat. There’s certainly risk involved.

  27. Chris says:

    Connor Joe is a younger more agile version of Matt Hague – take it for what it’s worth

  28. Chris says:

    Tucker is Jordy Mercer with a better arm….not an awful pick, just inspires a whole lotta meh

  29. Chris says:

    Travis, i find it slightly humorous that we are using Baseball America’s age analysis as a positive for Tucker even though they had him not in the same solar system as the number 24 pick that he was drafted at….

  30. John Lease says:

    Jordy Mercer could really hit in high school.

  31. Steelkings says:

    I wonder if Starling still knows the good places to stay and eat in Indy?

 
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