Pirates' plan is to acquire talent from Draft
Pittsburgh wants to move away from trading for young players
PITTSBURGH -- During the first two years of general manager Neal Huntington's tenure, the lack of Minor League depth required that the Pirates be active in all forms of talent acquisition.
It meant a frenzy of trades over a two-year period. There was amateur talent to nab in the First-Year Player Draft. More money was dedicated to international scouting. And a vast restructuring of expectations and how things were done in the Minors was necessary to maximize the return.
By no means is the organization content with its current player pool. Is it deeper? Sure. Deep enough? It never will be.
What has changed, though, is that the focused period of pure talent acquisition has ended. Management has said as much and vowed not to be nearly as active in trading away Major League talent for bulks of prospects as it was during the previous two years. The significance behind this promise? It means that the Draft has become the organization's primary source of talent acquisition.
With four days remaining before the Pirates make the No. 2 overall pick in Monday's Draft, the scouting and management teams are bunkered down at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla., preparing their Draft board.
Months have been devoted to scouting high school and college prospects. Now it's the Pirates' ability to correctly balance talent with risk, signability with the probability of reaching upside that will determine the degree of talent the Pirates continue to add.
And one thing will remain constant: the Pirates will be every bit as aggressive in both their selections and efforts to sign those picks.
"There is an understanding that this organization has to be aggressive in the Draft," scouting director Greg Smith said. "We're not going to buy a car just because we have the money. But we are going to be aggressive."
To stick with Smith's analogy, the Pirates have the money to buy a car if they want to. Though the organization is not releasing how much signing-bonus money it has available to dole out, expect it to be consistent with the approximately $10 million budget that the club has had since Huntington and Smith's arrival.
The Pirates have been among the top Draft spenders in each of the past two seasons.
"Securing elite talent through the Draft continues to be a priority for the club," president Frank Coonelly said. "As in the past two years, Greg Smith and his staff have been provided with the financial resources necessary to select players on the basis of talent rather than signability and to secure impact talent throughout the Draft."
So where will that money be spent? In 2008, the bulk of it was set aside for Pedro Alvarez, who demanded a $6.355 million signing bonus as the Draft's second overall pick. Last year, first-rounder Tony Sanchez signed for $2.5 million, which left the Pirates excessive financial flexibility to pay out some hefty signing bonus to later-round picks.
This philosophy -- luring high school players away from college commitments with lofty bonus offers -- landed the Pirates a particularly intriguing trio of young arms in Zack Dodson, Zack Von Rosenberg and Colton Cain.
It appears as if this Draft class and the Pirates' position in the pecking order would have the club set up to use its funds more closely to the way they were used in '08.
It's been five years since the Pirates used their first-round selection to nab a high school player (his name was Andrew McCutchen), but Pittsburgh is strongly considering at least two high schoolers -- shortstop Manny Machado and right-hander Jameson Taillon -- as it continues to narrow down its first-round options.
How does this affect signability? High schoolers obviously have the leverage of dangling a college commitment during negotiations to demand more money.
Comparing Machado to fellow Miami-area product Alex Rodriguez may be a bit premature (though it has already been done), but the intrigue is high. He has a smooth defensive action, though his range may not be ideal long term as a shortstop. But with the looseness and life with the bat Machado already has at the age of 17, the Pirates believe they can dream.
"When you're talking about 17- and 18-year-old guys, that's exciting," Huntington said. "We believe in our development staff and in our system. We believe we can help these guys reach their potential. That's why we're certainly never going to shy away from a high school guy."
That speaks to why Taillon is still on the list, too. The right-hander has reportedly touched 99 mph on the radar gun as a high school senior, with his fastball consistently sitting in the mid- to upper-90s. He is a power arm with a four-pitch mix and has already developed impressive secondary pitches.
The catch? Well, it has everything to do with history. The track record for high school pitchers being taken at the top of the Draft is not a good one. For every Josh Beckett (No. 2, 1999) and Zack Greinke (No. 6, 2002) who has made the leap from top high school pick to dominant Major League pitcher, there are dozens who haven't panned out.
The reward is huge, yet the risk has shown to be, too.
"We've really got to dive into, 'What are the things we believe will allow him to be one of the exceptions and not one of the majority that fall by the wayside and don't ever fulfill their potential?'" Huntington said of Taillon and this trend. "He does a lot of things very well, and he's a very interesting young man. We'll have some great meetings and discussions about him. There's a lot to like."
With this Draft being high school-heavy, going the college route with that No. 2 pick might not land the Pirates the player with the highest upside, but the choice would likely be a safer one. And with a handful of intriguing college arms, the pick could still turn out to be something special.
Lefty Drew Pomeranz (Ole Miss), right-hander Deck McGuire (Georgia Tech) and left-hander Chris Sale (Florida Gulf Coast University) are among the top college pitchers available.
This ability to weigh risk vs. reward is where all those hours of scouting and meetings come in. But with their third No. 2 overall pick in the past three seasons, the Pirates have the ability to make a big splash and secure a critical long-term piece with the right choice.
"There is a huge difference in terms of what you can dream of on a player and the probability of them reaching that," Huntington said. "Then we start factoring all the other issues that go into the equation. The integrity of the Draft board is important to us. We will take each case on an individual basis, and take each element into consideration and put the board together initially based purely on talent and probably of reaching that upside."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.