Monday Mop-Up Duty: the sum of all fears

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PNC PARK – So much rests upon the right shoulder of Gerrit Cole.

The way I see it there are three players the Pirates cannot afford to lose for large portions of the season: Andrew McCutchen – you might have heard he won the NL MVP – Russell Martin - the pitch-framing, pitch-sequencing, throwing arm, presence and league-average bat for a catcher are invaluable – and Cole.

In looking beyond 2014, you can make an argument Cole is the team’s most valuable asset. So whenever your bluest of blue chips – a young, pre-arb ace – has shoulder discomfort that summons worst-case scenarios for the pitcher and the club. An elbow injury requiring Tommy John is not desirable but at least the success rates of the surgery are high. Structural damage to a shoulder is a much more difficult to return from.

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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.

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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?

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Monday Mop-Up Duty: can Polanco be Puig?

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SOUTH HILLS – It’s June. The Gregory Polanco Watch is officially on.

I went to check on the prized Pirates’ asset on Friday night for a story on Polanco in Sunday’s paper. My contribution to the Polanco-hype machine is here if you’re interested.

Polanco has been discussed so often it was difficult to mine fresh material, but I did attempt delve into what makes him such an unusual prospect. You have to be unusual if you can be compared to an Avatar, Miguel Cabrera and California Chrome in a three-paragraph span. You simply don’t see many baseball players with his size-speed combo. Then there’s the batspeed, aptitude and efficient swing plane for a big man.

I think what has been somewhat lost in all the Super 2/Nutting/Polanco chatter is what kind of impact will Polanco make when he arrives shortly to Pittsburgh? Can he be Yasiel Puig or Wil Myers of 2014? Or is he going to be just another rookie who faces a steep learning curve?

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