Prior to every First-Year Player Draft, Major League talent mavens and personnel chiefs quote the company line that they will select the best player on the board when their turn comes, and everyone skeptically says, "Yeah, right."The general managers and scouts, people figure, must have a clear idea after months of preparation of who, or at least what position, they are targeting. And then the 2012 Draft happens, supporting all vague claims. At the top, it indeed turned into a hectic exercise of ad-libbed decisions. Expectations were quickly blown up, and the dominoes kept falling.
Along with the dominoes, Mark Appel fell into the Pirates' lap. Pittsburgh's original intent to focus on bats was subsequently revealed, with seven of the next eight picks being position players.But when Appel, the Stanford ace, was there for the taking, the Pirates took, thus passing on Alabama prep outfielder David Dahl, eagerly taken two picks later by the surprised Rockies. And so on. The selection of Appel goes into the category of the pitching rich getting richer. The Pirates' top two prospects, right-handers Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole, now will have company. Or will they? Appel himself did not get richer; in fact, he dropped more than $4 million in slot bonus from his oft-predicted No. 1 selection. Appel and his advisor, Scott Boras, have a little longer than a month to come to terms with that deflation, and to come to terms with the Pirates. General manager Neal Huntington isn't known for fumbling high Draft choices; a year ago he overpaid to sign Josh Bell, whose commitment to college supposedly made him unsignable. The money rules have changed, although Huntington is presumably ready to budge a little over the $2.9 million bonus slotted for the eighth pick. But he is unlikely to vault over that figure, hoping for some leverage in selling Appel on the Pirates' outstanding and growing track record as a haven for top-shelf pitching prospects. "Gerrit and Jameson are developing very well in our system," Huntington said. "They've both taken huge strides forward since we drafted, signed and got them going. We're very pleased with where they are at this point in time. "Our hope and expectation is to have Mark join them. It will be a nice trio of arms to go along with some of our other young guys that we drafted and are developing. We're creating a depth of pitching. You can never have enough pitching. The potential to have three starters with their abilities. ... Those are three pretty good arms, and three pretty good pedigrees to run through our system." Once the shock, and flush, of having been able to select Appel wore off, the Pirates got back on course. Their next two picks more directly addressed holes that need darning. Outfielder Barrett Barnes, the sandwich pick, and Catcher Wyatt Mathisen, the second-round pick, figure to never leave the club's radar. Barnes reigns at Texas Tech as the most-decorated player in the tradition-steeped school's history, and one scout called the 18-year-old Mathisen "the best prep hitter I've ever seen." And he's a catcher. Or he will be for the Pirates. Although he caught some at Calallen (Texas) High School, he played primarily at shortstop to take advantage of his athleticism. "He has tremendous tools," Huntington said of the 6-foot-1, 205-pound receiver. "I believe we caught each of the games he caught, so evaluating him as a catcher was no problem." Brandon Thomas, another outfielder taken in the fourth round, intrigued the Pirates because he was such a quick study as a switch-hitter. The natural right-hander did not pick up switching until three years ago, and this season he batted .360, with an OPS of 1.031, for Georgia Tech. At the end of the day -- well, at the end of Day 3 -- the Pirates had drafted 22 pitchers (including 17 right-handers), 10 infielders, five outfielders and four catchers. As for schools, the breakdown was pretty even -- 23 collegians, including junior college, and 18 prep players. The drafting pattern was transparent: Eleven of the top 14 are from college, players with shorter development curves the club intends to sign; the last seven are all high-schoolers, players who are less likely to sign because of college commitments but worth long-shot risks. "We're going to take each pick and take the right players that we believe fit for us for the right reasons," Huntington said after Day 1. "Some of those may be players that are 'over slot value.' Some of those may be under slot that are valued. We're going to attack this Draft to get a deep and talented class. This Draft class is not about one player. This Draft class is about adding as many quality players to the system as we can."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.