Pirates spread the wealth for 2009 Draft class
Club finishes signing period with first 14 selections inked
PITTSBURGH -- Criticized for not making a more aggressive selection with the No. 4 overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft, the Pirates have secured a Draft class characterized by quality over quantity and one that includes some intriguing young arms.
With Monday's midnight ET Draft signing deadline now passed, the Pirates officially signed 23 of their 51 drafted amateur players. That total remarkably also includes each of the team's first 14 selections. For the second consecutive year, the Pirates finished among the highest spenders in the Draft, handing out $8.919 million in signing bonuses after owner Bob Nutting had approved a budget of around $10 million.
"When you can be aggressive as we are trying to be, it's almost like you're speeding up the process," scouting director Greg Smith said. "A typical Draft class, you're only going to spend so much money and you're only going to bring in so much talent. With Bob's resources, we've been able to jump-start that."
The Pirates took a much different approach in this summer's Draft than they did a year ago when first-round pick Pedro Alvarez cost the organization $6.355 million, to be paid out over a four-year period.
Seeing no Alvarez-equivalent talent this year, Pittsburgh instead opted to spread out its resources to secure more high-ceiling talent in later rounds. In comparison to Alvarez, the Pirates' first-round pick, catcher Tony Sanchez, signed quickly at the recommended slot figure of $2.5 million. Sanchez is currently playing with Class A West Virginia.
General manager Neal Huntington and Smith continue to emphasize that Sanchez was worthy of the No. 4 overall pick and not a selection made entirely based on financial motivation.
"We like Tony Sanchez," Huntington said. "If we had a later pick in the top 10, we're still taking him. It's been portrayed that we took a guy that's not a first-round talent and took him as the fourth pick in the country. We believe he was a strong first-round talent."
It's no secret, though, that signing Sanchez at slot allowed the Pirates to be uber-aggressive in later rounds, especially when it came to targeting a group of high school pitchers that seemed to be tough signs because of their known commitments to play for big-time collegiate programs.
But the Pirates' strategy -- or gamble as you could call it -- worked.
Pittsburgh was able to add three such pitchers to the organization by convincing them to forgo college and take high guaranteed signing bonuses. Left-hander Zackry Dodson (fourth round, committed to Baylor University) signed for $600,000; right-hander Zachary Von Rosenberg (sixth round, committed to Louisiana State University) signed for $1.2 million; and lefty Colton Cain (eighth round, committed to University of Texas) signed for $1.15 million.
Each of those pitchers was considered higher-round talent than the round in which they were chosen, but had been bypassed by other clubs fearful of the bonus demands.
"We're fortunate in Pittsburgh to be in a position where we can talk about those players whether it be in the second, third, [or] fourth through 10th rounds," Smith said. "There are a lot of clubs that once those financial expectations are known and legitimate, it takes a lot of teams out of that landscape. We can [meet those demands] if we feel the value meets that aligning. There are a lot of teams that don't have that ability or can maybe do it to one guy or two guys but not to the amount that we've been able to do it."
"Each Draft class is different and we went into this one knowing that there was depth in pitching, especially on the high school side," Smith continued. "To be able to execute the Draft with those college guys up top and to have the college guys come in afterwards, to be able to have [president] Frank [Coonelly] and Bob's support to be aggressive as we said we're going to be, to be able to have some of these high school guys come in ... we're very excited to have those guys on board."
Those three pitchers weren't the only promising late-round talent secured either. In the Pirates' Draft class, seven players received above-slot money.
"The ability to diversify our investments this year is really going to pay long-term dividends," Huntington said. "We were very aggressive in our Draft. We wanted to give ourselves options. Obviously it will play itself out in five to seven years whether our Draft picks were the right ones. We feel very good about the process of how we got here today."
The Pirates did not sign as many players as they did in 2008 when they inked 31, but Huntington had little trouble explaining why. For one, the Pirates' emphasis on quality over quantity and larger bonuses to later-round picks obviously ate up a significant portion of the Draft budget.
As much a factor, though, was the fact that the Pirates signed far fewer of their senior collegiate selections than in years past. As Huntington explained it, drafted seniors are the most unlikely to actually make it to the Majors, and the Pirates didn't want to flood their system with too many players and therefore block playing opportunities for some of their more promising prospects.
"Everybody talks about not spending money, but I think that's a testament that they're going to do what they have to to make this a winning team and a winning organization," manager John Russell said. "It's a commitment to where we're going and what we want to do."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.