Here are the players the Pirates picked today.
No. 24 SS Cole Tucker, AZ HS
No. 39 C/OF Connor Joe, University of San Diego
No. 64 RHP Mitch Keller, IA HS
No. 73 RHP Trey Supak TX HS
Tucker and Joe (and those are both last names; note that I'm not being overly colloquial with two guys I'd never met) were both head-scratchers. Tucker has speed and defensive skills and might be able to make it as a shortstop, but his bat is questionable; Joe has a decent bat that might play well if he sticks behind the plate, although the Pirates announced him as an outfielder. Both of them profiled more as third-round picks than first-round picks.
This isn't the kiss of death, of course. We're talking about very young players who are very far from the majors. If you're a big-league team and your stance is different from MLB.com's or Baseball America's, that doesn't make you wrong. And if the Pirates viewed Tucker and Joe as players they could sign for below their draft pool recommendations, they might have figured they would be able to take some tougher-to-sign players later.
So in the second round, they took Keller, and in Comp Round B, they took Supak. Both of them have commitments to major college programs (Keller to UNC, Supak to Houston), so it's possible the Pirates will use some of the bonus money they might otherwise have earmarked for their first two picks to sign Keller and Supak. Unfortunately, both pitchers look like good-not-great values for their picks; they don't profile as substantially better talents than the Pirates would have been expected to get with those draft positions. They appear to be your standard "projectable" high school arms, with long limbs, some velocity, and maybe the makings of some reasonable secondary pitches. Keller got a velocity bump this year and got a bit of extra hype, but overall, these weren't slam-dunk, best-player-available picks, at least not from this outsider's view.
Again, this doesn't mean the Pirates didn't pick the right players. Their scouts are paid to know a heck of a lot more about this than we do. But Tucker, in particular, looked like such an overdraft that you wondered when the Pirates were going to drop the other shoe, and they never really did. Maybe it's coming tomorrow, but I'm not sure I'd bet on it -- the new draft system makes it more difficult to find really interesting talents on Day Two and pay them a bajillion dollars.
Regardless, the idea might have been that there was a lot of depth in this draft but not much separation between picks, so the Pirates thought it was a good strategy to take someone like Tucker in the first round and then make sure they had enough bonus pool space to pay everyone. That's fine, but the Pirates tried that before, in 2009. They took Tony Sanchez, who was widely regarded as a mid-to-bottom-of-the-first-round talent, with the fourth overall pick, then spent a ton of money on prep pitchers later. That strategy turned out badly, as the Pirates passed on a bunch of talents who will likely turn out to be better than Sanchez, then paid a bunch of money to sign players like Zack Von Rosenberg, who clearly were talented but who the Pirates also evaluated somewhat unconventionally. That draft basically amounted to a lot of wasted money, not to mention opportunity.
Also, let's keep in mind that the reach-and-then-make-it-rain strategy isn't even all that clearly what the Pirates are doing at this point. For a team that does seem to be doing that, look to the Brewers, who grabbed an interesting high-upside arm in Kodi Medeiros at No. 12 (about 15 picks earlier than his talent seemed to dictate), and then got two very good high school talents in Jacob Gatewood at No. 41 and Monte Harrison at No. 50. The Brewers didn't take the best player on Baseball America's board with their first pick, and yet if I were a Brewers fan, I would have been thrilled at what they did.
If what's going on here is that the Pirates' evaluations of the players they picked are significantly different from everyone else's, that makes me uneasy. They deserve a bit of leeway, and who knows, maybe Tucker will turn out to be the next Jack Wilson and Joe will turn out to be, I don't know, a right-handed Michael Brantley or something. That would be great. But the Pirates' questionable draft performance in 2009 in particular, and with throwing money around in the late rounds in general, should arouse skepticism. Let's see how tomorrow turns out.