MLB Draft 2011 Results: Pirates Go For Upside With Gerrit Cole, Josh Bell And High School Pitching

After two days of the MLB Draft, it looks like the Pirates have pursued a strong strategy that will take them as far as their scouting and player development systems can go. The Bucs are going to have to spend a lot more on their first two picks, Gerrit Cole and Josh Bell, than most teams do on their entire drafts, but that's what happens when you pick first overall in the draft and then spend your second-round pick on the best remaining player, who just happens to be someone who has already announced that he isn't planning on signing. Bell has serious power and was probably worthy of the pick even if the Bucs' chances of signing him turn out to be as remote as they appear. If he doesn't sign, the pick is protected.

The Pirates will almost surely sign Cole. If they sign Bell, too, it's already a good draft before even considering the other 48 picks. Third-round pick Alex Dickerson probably won't come cheaply, either. Dickerson is a very good hitter with power, and was ranked No. 37 in Jonathan Mayo's Top 50 draft prospects, but the Bucs drafted him as a first baseman, so his bat will have to carry him. 

The Bucs used so many of their remaining Day Two picks on tall high school pitchers that some folks were joking in the comments each time the Pirates' turn came that the Bucs had drafted another 6-foot-4 pitcher, and his name didn't matter. Of course, that's nothing new - the Pirates took a ton of high school pitchers in the middle rounds of the 2009 draft (Colton Cain, all the Zacks) and the 2010 draft (Nick Kingham, Jason Hursh, Austin Kubitza, Dace Kime, Zachary Weiss).

The Pirates didn't sign a lot of the high school pitchers they took in 2010, but they did sign second-rounder Stetson Allie to a bonus that was well above slot. My guess is that we'll see something similar this year with Josh Bell - if he signs, a lot of the high school players the Bucs took on Day Two will fall by the wayside. If he doesn't, they'll probably sign a ton of them.

It's too early to tell who among them will be tough signs, but my guess, based on their commitments and everything I've read about them so far, is that fourth-rounder Colten Brewer and fifth-rounder Tyler Glasnow won't be particularly tough. Ninth-rounder Clay Holmes (who's committed to Auburn), 15th-rounder Kody Watts (University of Portland) and 17th-rounder Aaron Brown (an outfielder who's committed to Pepperdine) might be among the tougher ones. (All three were listed among Baseball America's Top 200 draft prospects.)

The Pirates also took a bunch of outfielders. In addition to Brown, they also took Taylor Lewis out of the University of Maine (10th round) and Jo-El Bennett (11th), Candon Myles (12th), and Jordan Dunatov (14th) out of high school. But really, the middle round of this draft were all about pitchers. The Pirates don't seem to care much about filling spots on minor-league rosters, which makes sense - the lower minors are already jammed with interesting players, particularly pitchers. The Pirates don't have much need for depth right now. What they need is upside, and so they've mostly focused on lottery tickets - tall pitchers who might someday learn something. 

The poster boy for that trend is probably someone like Glasnow. Most of the pitchers the Pirates drafted today are 6-foot-4 or taller, but Glasnow is really tall, at 6-foot-7. He's also 17 years old, is so skinny he makes Trent Stevenson look like he's standing in front of a funhouse mirror, doesn't shave yet, and has feet so big he can't buy shoes in stores. Oh, and he throws 93 MPH on a downward plane. Will he ever become anything? Probably not, but if he does, he might be really scary.

The Pirates didn't draft a middle infielder until the 20th round; you might say that they could have considered drafting them earlier given the lack of great shortstop prospects in their minor-league system, but hey - this draft had arms, so that's what the Pirates took. (Besides, I was talking to WTM about this over this weekend, and he cited an article that suggested that the best place to get shortstops - that is, guys who might one day play shortstop in the majors - was Latin America, not the draft. The idea is that many draft-eligible shortstops are over-coached to the point where they don't have the creativity to play such a difficult defensive position. Obviously, Troy Tulowitzki is one of the best defensive shortstops in the majors, and guys like Jimmy Rollins and Paul Janish aren't so bad either. But that's the basic idea.)

Overall, I like this draft a lot so far. I wanted Rendon with the first overall pick if Rendon was healthy, but the fact that so many teams passed on him indicates that he probably wasn't. Cole's mechanical issues make him less than ideal as a No. 1 overall pick, but given the choices the Pirates had available to them, he made a lot of sense. The selection of Bell in the second round is fantastic, and they got great value with Dickerson in the third. What happens after that really depends on who ends up signing, but I appreciate that the Pirates haven't wasted a lot of picks on guys whose upside is Class AA - there are probably a few, but they're mostly after the 20th round. The strategy of picking a ton of high-ceiling, low-floor pitchers is one that leads to a ton of busts and frustration, but I do think it can reap great rewards if the Pirates keep doing it. Hopefully they'll sign Cole and Bell somehow, plus a smattering of the late-round guys.

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