By John Franco
This is Part 2 of my article looking at the Pirates’ player development and how it compares to their division rivals. If you missed Part 1, this article will make a lot more sense if you start there and then come back.
The Cardinals missed badly on their first round picks in 2006-2007 (Adam Ottavino and Pete Kozma) but fared better with their supplemental picks (Chris Perez and Clayton Mortenson). Their 2008-2009 first rounders look good (Brett Wallace and Shelby Miller) but overall, they haven’t hit on a lot of later picks. Jon Jay (round 2, 2006) and Allen Craig (round 8 the same year) are playing key roles on this year’s team, and Luke Gregerson was a round 28 pick in 2006 that was really developed by the Padres after he was traded there.
Daniel Descalso (round 3, 2007) and a couple of good prospects (Alex Castellanos and Joe Kelly - 2008 round 10 and 2009 round 3, respectively) round out the St. Louis notables. Compared to the Cardinals, the Pirates seem to have more late round successes, but don’t has as many contributors to the major league team. If Miller develops into a future ace, this looks like a successful 4-year run. If not, the Cards will need to continue finding their impact players through free agency and trades.
The Cubs’ draft and development record has been a little more spotty. In 2006, they picked Tyler Colvin in round 1 and paid Jeff Samardzjia a huge bonus in round 5. In 2007 they picked Josh Vitters in round 1. All 3 players are extremely talented, but their results at the major league level have been inconsistent or non-existent. The Cubs did a bit better in the late rounds of the ’07 draft, picking Darwin Barney in round 4, Brandon Guyer in round 5 (since traded to the Rays), and potential LOOGY James Russell in round 14. 2008 first rounder Andrew Cashner still has potential but he has missed most of 2011 with a shoulder injury.
The Cubs also got some depth in the 2008 draft - Josh Harrison (now a Pirate – round 6), Chris Carpenter (current reliever – round 3), and Tony Campana (current outfielder – round 14). The Cubs picked Brett Jackson with their first round pick in 2009, and he continues to wow scouts despite mediocre production. They got a steal in round 32 as Trey McNutt found a fastball in summer ball and emerged as a top prospect after signing with the Cubs. The Cubs have a pretty impressive record of building depth with their late picks, but their first round picks haven’t contributed as much as expected.
What the Cubs really need is a way to combine their late round success with the Reds’ early round success. Drew Stubbs, Devin Mesoraco, Yonder Alonso, and Mike Leake are the Reds’ four first rounders for this time frame, and a pair of good major leaguers and a pair of top prospects is a great haul. Chris Heisey (17th in 2006) and outfielder Dave Sappelt (a recent call-up picked in round 9 of 2008) are the only late round picks of note, but Todd Frazier was a good supplemental first rounder in 2007 and Billy Hamilton looks like a good second rounder in 2009. Cincinnati also took the oft-traded Zach Stewart in round 3 of the ’08 draft, then flipped him for Edwin Encarnacion. The Reds’ system is on pace to be hugely productive over the next few years, but the developmental successes stem heavily from their high picks and not from polishing diamonds in the rough.
The Brewers’ farm looks pretty depleted now, but remember that they emptied their system to trade for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. Any system that produces enough interesting players to trade for a pair of aces like that must be doing ok, but their draft record has been spotty at best. 2008 first rounder Brett Lawrie went to the Blue Jays for Marcum, and he looks like a future star. 2008 supplemental first rounder Jake Odorizzi was part of the Greinke package, and he also looks great since being dealt. Milwaukee also traded 2007 #1 pick Matt LaPorta for CC Sabathia back in 2008, so you could view that as a trio of aces acquired for farmhands. Outside of those picks though, Jonathan Lucroy(2007 round 3) is the biggest hit. Cutter Dykstra (2008 round 2) has been terrible but the Brewers managed to trade him for Nyjer Morgan. 2009 first rounder Eric Arnett is still in Low-A as a 23-year old and Eric Fryer was a 10th round pick in 2007 that ended up a decent prospect for the Pirates 4 years later.
As long as the Brewers keep churning out interesting trade pieces, they’ll be able to keep contending, but they might lose Prince Fielder after this year, and without him, their lack of depth might become more glaring. They’ve developed some good talent in the past - Ryan Braun, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks - but with success and the resulting lower draft picks, they haven’t been able to repeat that level of success in player development.
Then there’s the Astros. Their haul from the Hunter Pence trade restocked their farm nicely, but it was long overdue and sorely needed. The 2010 draft may have been a little better (to the extent that a speed-first second baseman who hits .224 at Low-A – hello Delino Deshields Jr - and a pitcher whose best tool appears to be consonants – hello Michael Foltynewicz - are good first round picks.) In 2006, the Astros took a catcher named Maxwell Sapp in round 1 – great name, but he appears to be out of baseball. They did find Chris Johnson in round 4 and Bud Norris in round 6 of that draft, so that’s probably their best during this time frame. In 2007, the Astros didn’t have a first or second round pick and took Derek Dietrich in round 3. Searching for good things to say… Dietrich wasn’t rated by Baseball America as one of their top 10 prospects but he does have good numbers as a 21-year old at High-A.
In 2008 the Astros took Jason Castro with their first round pick. He looked overmatched in 2010 (58 OPS+) but still showed promise until he tore his ACL in spring training of 2011. Houston also took Jordan Lyles in the supplemental round, and he survived the major leagues as a 20-year old this season (I’ll take a 6.1 K/9 if it comes with a 2.3 BB/9 at age 20.) In 2009 the Astros hit on JD Martinez in round 20, and first rounder Jio Mier is currently their #5 prospect. That’s really it for their 4 seasons, but if Norris and Lyles stick in the rotation and Castro can come back, it won’t be a total loss. Astros fans would probably take that at this point, even if it doesn’t offer a lot of hope for their ability to develop their 2010-2011 picks.
So, summing things up, here’s what the division looks like:
Reds: great success with early picks, not much from late rounds
Brewers: not much success at all in the draft, but a couple of home runs
Cardinals: one potential home run in Miller, very good depth from early and late picks
Cubs: great at drafting tools, not at polishing them; some late-round success
Astros: mostly bad, but too early to write off completely
Pirates: pretty solid late round finds, need to hit more first rounders
As best I can tell based on this analysis, the Pirates’ player development staff is at least on par with the rest of the division, and might be slightly ahead in terms of late-round polish. Even during the dark days of Dave Littlefield, that was probably true – the Pirates had no shortage of role players come up through the system. What they lacked was stars – and the Pirates will need to hit a home run in that area if they are going to own the NL Central for the next few years.