After last year’s draft, several people wrote that it was a refreshing change to be able to recap the Pirates’ draft by writing things like, “Signability issues” instead of “reach” or “overdraft” again and again. And they were right, it was a big departure from how things were done in the past and it brought a much-needed infusion of talent into the Pirates’ system. That being said, guess which words I’d use to describe three of the four Pirate picks on Day 1 of the 2009 draft?
A lot of this hinges on the pick of Tony Sanchez. The first round is the best opportunity to get talent in the Major League draft and with Aaron Crow, Bobby Borchering, Grant Green, and a bevy of talented high school arms on the board, the Pirates went for a kid who wants to be (and probably projects to be) Yadier Molina. There’s nothing actually wrong with Yady, he’s a good, solid starting catcher that plays great defense and hits a little bit. Given nothing but his defense, I suppose Sanchez will probably be a starter for the Pirates somewhere down the road. But that’s not good enough for that pick.
What really, really worries me is the way that Huntington describes Sanchez. To call him the third best player on their board frankly seems dishonest to me. The top fifty or so prospects are heavily scouted and I think the highest I saw Sanchez ranked by anyone was twentieth (if I’m wrong, please correct me). There was no speculation about Sanchez going higher than the back end of the first round until the Pirates became interested about a week ago. There’s a lot more room for disagreement in this draft than most other drafts, but to call Sanchez the third best player suggests that they see something in him that no other scouts anywhere see. This certainly isn’t a Moskos/Wieters repeat, but it’s not a very good pick by the Pirates and there were probably ten other guys (several of them “signable”) that I would’ve rather seen taken there.
Beyond that, the next three picks weren’t bad, but that’s about the best I can say about them. As soon as you move outside of first-round talent, the discrepancies in scouting get a lot bigger and so it’s more believable that the Pirates see something in a guy like Brooks Pounders that, say, Baseball America doesn’t. In fact, some of the more positive reports I’ve seen about Pounders say that he’s a big guy with four pitches (very good for a high schooler), that doesn’t have a lot of velocity. With his size (6’5″, 240 lbs.) he certainly might develop that velocity and if the Pirates’ scouts see a reason to believe he can do that, he’s a fine pick for #53. Similarly, Victor Black can hit 95 and has a good slider, so if the Pirates think they can fix his control problems, he’s a good pick at #49. Evan Chambers at #83 is another weird body type (5’9″, 220) for a ball player, but they showed some video of his swing on MLB.com when the Pirates picked him and it looks like a good, quick, powerful stroke. He was at a community college in Florida, but he was a UF recruit out of high school and again, I’m more willing to believe the Pirates saw something different in him that made him that particular pick.
The problem is that one of the team’s big rationales for picking Sanchez was that it’d give them more money to spend on picks later in the draft. Black, Pounders, and Chambers shouldn’t take much more than slot money to sign, especially because Pounders and Chambers could be slight reaches where the Pirates picked them. They’re not necessarily bad picks, but when coupled with Sanchez, the whole day brings what seems like a pretty pedestrian haul. The Pirates did spend a lot of money in later rounds (Grossman in 6, Miller in 20) last year, but off the bat this draft doesn’t even remotely resemble last year’s. They have plenty of picks to redeem themselves, but right now this draft is off to an awfully disappointing start.