In comparison to the past few years, the Pirates' 2012 draft was a quiet one, with the Bucs taking good players in the first several rounds and a mix of organizational players and small gambles after that.
That is, of course, how Major League Baseball dreamed it up in its new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Good players go early and get big bonuses, and everyone who isn't an elite talent can suck it up and take a tiny bonus, or just move on.
And so, whereas the Pirates of the past frequently took potential big-bonus players in the late rounds (think of Quinton Miller, Clay Holmes, etc.), that didn't really happen this year, or else it doesn't look like it did. The Pirates are severely restricted in their ability to negotiate with players taken after Round 10, so while they did select some guys with college commitments, it doesn't look like they really took any blue-chip prospects late, except, perhaps, for Walker Buehler, a high school pitcher out of Kentucky who went in Round 14. Of course, given how late he was selected, it should prove very hard to sign him away from his commitment to Vanderbilt.
Therein lies the real drama in this year's draft. Now that the Pirates have made their picks, how will they distribute money to make sure they get the most talent possible? Here are their picks in the first 10 rounds, and the recommended pool value associated with each.
8. Mark Appel, P, Stanford $2.9 million
45. Barrett Barnes, OF, Texas Tech $1,136,400
69. Wyatt Mathisen, C, Texas HS $746,300
103. Jon Sandford, P, Florida HS $462,900
136. Brandon Thomas, OF, Georgia Tech $336,700
166. Adrian Sampson, P, Bellevue CC $252,100
196. Eric Wood, 3B, Blinn College $188,800
226. Jacob Stallings, C, University of North Carolina $148,000
256. Kevin Ross, SS, Illinois HS $138,200
286. Douglas Crumlich, SS, UC-Irvine $129,100
316. Pat Ludwig, P, Yale $125,000
Now, there are several players here whose signability doesn't concern me at all. Jon Sandford has a commitment to the University of Florida but apparently can't wait to sign. Stallings, Crumlich and Ludwig (that sounds like a very snooty law firm, doesn't it?) are all college seniors, and I assume at least a couple of them will sign for below slot. So those four picks should provide the Pirates with at least some opportunity to free up money, either for Appel or in order to sign high school players like Buehler later in the draft. Unfortunately, their pool allocations are all pretty small, so it won't be much.
For many of the other players, there's little I can do at this point but speculate. Eric Wood, from the sixth round, is not a well-known prospect, so I doubt he'll command a significant bonus, but I don't know for sure. Ross is a potentially interesting player who has a commitment to Michigan, so I imagine he'll want some kind of bonus to sign, but I'm not sure whether the Pirates know how much he'll cost.
Other than Sandford, my guess is that most of the players in the supplemental round through Round 5 will sign for something close to their pool value. Barnes, Mathisen, Thomas and Sampson all represented good value for where they were picked, and all have other options if they can't reach an agreement with the Pirates, so I don't expect the Pirates will save a lot of money with those picks.
The wild card here, obviously, is Appel. As I pointed out in the podcast yesterday, Appel really doesn't have much leverage, given the pool recommendations, the other players the Pirates picked, and the fact that the Pirates can just take the No. 9 pick next year if he doesn't sign. If the Bucs can get him to sign for $2.9 million, that would be ideal, but my guess is that somehow the Pirates will find a way to get him a little more than that.
All of that means, basically, that the Pirates won't have a lot of money available to sign high school players from the late rounds. If they can grab Buehler, that would be ideal, but it will require a serious balancing act. For each player after the 10th round, teams start with a limit of $100,000. If there's money left over from their draft pool (basically, the sum of the pool recommendations listed above for the players in the first 10 rounds) due to early-round players signing for below their recommendations, that money can be added to the $100,000 limit to sign a late-round pick. But the Pirates won't have much money left over that way, if they have any at all. If the Pirates are going to get anything out of the 11th through 40th rounds, it'll be purely on creativity or, more likely, good scouting.
In other words, the bulk of the value the Pirates get out of this draft is likely to come from Appel, Barnes, Mathisen, Sandford, Thomas, Sampson and perhaps Ross.
That's not the worst thing in the world. Appel wouldn't have been a good pick if the Bucs had the first or second overall selection, but I think he was a terrific value pick at eighth overall. As I mentioned in the podcast, there are a number of questions about his deception, his workload, and so on, but ultimately, the Pirates picked a big pitcher with mid-90s velocity and good secondary pitches. He's no Jameson Taillon, but he's a very good pitching prospect.
Barnes and Thomas are roughly similar players with a good mix of tools, including bits of power, speed and defense. It wouldn't be a shock to see either of them end up becoming a good defensive corner outfielder in the majors, or perhaps even a center fielder, with enough offense to stick at either position. Barnes, in particular, has very solid upside, and that's nothing to sneeze at, especially given how bad the class of college bats was this year.
Mathisen might be the most interesting player the Pirates selected, aside from Appel. It sounds like his defense will be a work in progress, due to his lack of experience behind the plate, but pretty much everyone I'm read seems to think he has the ability to become a reasonably good defensive catcher, and his bat grades out very well. (He also seems like the kind of player who's going to be a fun interview as he rises through the system -- check out this piece, for example.)
It's a little less clear what the Pirates are getting with Sandford and Sampson, and they're roughly opposite types of prospects -- Sandford is a big-bodied 17-year-old who could potentially become anything, while it sounds like Sampson is more polished than most Pirates draftees, with a good curve and good command. Sandfort might have been a bit of a reach, but he's the only pick in the Pirates' first five rounds who looks to be one.
This doesn't look like a fancy draft, and unless the Pirates are planning on compensating for that with all kinds of fanciness in the negotiation stage, that probably won't change as we approach the signing deadline. But given the constraints the Pirates had to deal with, it has the chance to be a pretty good draft for them. (Although of course, to some degree, we'll have to wait and see -- most of the information I have has been compiled from grainy videos and somewhat vague scouting reports, and ultimately, this is an area where the team knows much more than I do.) Much hinges on Appel (or, I guess, the player the Pirates get at No. 9 next year if Appel doesn't sign), but Mathisen, Barnes, Thomas, Sampson and Sandford are all interesting players, and if the Bucs can squeeze a little extra value out of the late rounds somehow, all the better.
The Pirates can't throw money around this year like they did in 2011. Those days are gone. And they're not picking at the very top of the draft this time, so there's no talent on the level of Jameson Taillon or Gerrit Cole here. But they got a potentially great value out of their No. 8 pick by selecting Appel. And keep in mind that, as fancy as the Pirates' 2008-2011 drafts were, there were a bunch of unsigned picks early in drafts (Tanner Scheppers in 2008, several high school pitchers in 2010) and some weird early-round maneuvering that hasn't worked out (in 2009, for example, the Pirates took Tony Sanchez, Victor Black, Brooks Pounders and Evan Chambers with their first four picks. Oof). At least this year, the Pirates didn't mess around with their early-round picks. They also engaged in a lot less of the highly speculative "projectable" pitcher strategy than in the past. Sandford is straight out of that playbook, but none of their other early picks are.
I'm not thrilled about this draft, and most of us agree that the constraints that are currently in place are awful. But I think the Pirates stand a shot at signing most of the key players this year, and it looks like they also might be wasting a lot less money than they have in the past. We'll have to wait and see, but I really like the Appel pick, and it sounds like they did a reasonably good job with later rounds, given the circumstances.