The June draft is now less than two weeks away, and Neal Huntington and the Pirates are in an unfamiliar spot. 2014 is the first draft since Huntington was hired in 2007 that the Pirates haven't had a pick in the top 10. That means that, as they prepare to make the No. 24 overall pick, their task is different than in previous years.
"We feel like we’re going to get a player," Huntington says. "There’s not as clear-cut a situation it seems like at No. 1. But there’s some good players in it. We do think there’s some depth to it."
Huntington adds that the depth of this draft and what he perceives to be a lack of obvious franchise-changing talents at the top make this a good draft to pick near the bottom of the first round.
"There’s not a [Gerrit] Cole, in our minds. There’s not a [Stephen] Strasburg, in our minds," says Huntington.
Picking near the bottom of the first round has also allowed the Pirates' staff to concentrate more on later picks.
"We haven’t had eight guys or 10 guys see a Top 10 player. It should allow us to have a deeper draft," says Huntington. "We’ve had more scouts seeing our options with a competitive balance pick in the second round, the third round."
When you’re picking one, two or four, you have the luxury, or the responsibility, of making sure that you’ve done your due diligence. And it’s probably more than four players, it can be eight to 10. Whereas now we’re able to spread those [scouts] out, and those Top 10 guys we’ll have three or four reports on, but we’ll have six other [scouts] that we’re able to bounce somewhere else and see deeper guys that we project in the second or the tenth round. ... So it allows us to get more looks. It allows us to get deeper looks.
The Pirates will also continue to draft not for need, but for talent. The Bucs took outfielder Austin Meadows with their first pick in last year's draft, even though they already had Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte at the big-league level and Gregory Polanco and Josh Bell in the minors. Huntington says the Pirates will continue to select the best player available, even if the player they select might not seem to address the organization's needs.
"We’ll stay with the best-player model," says Huntington. "Unlike the NFL or the NBA where they’re going right into your major-league club, [MLB draft picks are] a long ways away."
In 2004, the Pirates (under Dave Littlefield, not Huntington) took local player Neil Walker with their first-round pick. They then endured a bit of criticism when they passed on another local player, Matt Adams of Slippery Rock, in 2009. The Cardinals took Adams in the 23rd round of that draft, and he soon emerged as a good big-leaguer. Under Huntington, the Pirates have taken a few local or semi-local players (Penn State's Jordan Steranka, Peters Township's Jimmy Rider and New Kensington's Zarley Zalewski in 2012, for example), but they haven't made it a priority, especially in the early rounds. It sounds like that approach will continue this season.
"We cover them the way we cover everybody else," says Huntington. "We’re certainly aware of guys that are local. Some organizations seem to go out of their way to make sure they draft a local guy. We want to make sure we understand where they could go and what they can become."
Nonetheless, Huntington adds, "We’d hate to take a guy that we like because he’s local over a guy that we liked a little bit more because he’s not local and have that guy go on to be a pretty good player."
David Manel reported for this post.