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Pirates' draft retrospective: 2008

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2015 MLB draft a few weeks away, this is a good time to look back at some of the Pirates' recent drafts, specifically the first five conducted by this front office.  Obviously, it's difficult to say much about the two most recent drafts.  This installment covers the 2008 draft.  Draft rounds are in parentheses, positions are the ones announced at the draft, WAR totals are from Fangraphs.

What's Left

Pedro Alvarez, 3B (1): Alvarez remains a starter, now at 1B due to major throwing problems, but he's never become the hitter the Pirates envisioned due to massive swing-and-miss tendencies.  He's accumulated 5.7 WAR.

Jordy Mercer, SS (3): Largely neglected as a prospect due to Chase d'Arnaud and, even after d'Arnaud imploded, seeming indifference by the Pirates, Mercer has established himself as the team's starting SS.  He's contributed 3.0 WAR in the equivalent of about two seasons as a starter.

Justin Wilson, LHP (5): Had one outstanding and one shaky season as a reliever with the Pirates.  Traded to the Yankees for Francisco Cervelli.

Robbie Grossman, OF (6): Traded to the Astros as part of the package for Wandy Rodriguez.  Grossman has had opportunities in the majors, including being a starter for large parts of 2014, but hasn't established himself as a major league hitter.

Other Signees

Chase d'Arnaud, SS (4): Considered the Pirates' SS of the future for a while, he played only briefly in the majors and is now in AAA with the Phillies.

Benji Gonzalez, SS (7): Stalled in class A, released after 2013, now with Padres.

Jeremy Farrell, 3B (8): Released after 2012, now with White Sox.

Matt Hague, 3B (9): Reached majors briefly, lost on waivers to Toronto in 2014, still with them in AAA.

David Rubinstein, OF (11): Released after 2011.

Calvin Anderson, 1B (12): Released after 2011.

Mike Colla, RHP (14): Released after 2012, spent 2013-14 with Rays.

Chris Aure, LHP (15): Released after 2009.

Wes Freeman, OF (16): Retired after 2012, returned this year but has been hurt.

Jarek Cunningham, SS (18): Appeared to be a good prospect for a while, but couldn't overcome contact issues.  Became a free agent after 2014, now with Dodgers.

Quinton Miller, RHP (20): Above-slot signee reached AA but struggled with command and shoulder issues.  Became a free agent after 2014.

Brent Klinger, RHP (21): Released after 2009.

Brian Leach, RHP (25): Released after 2011.

Edwin Roman, OF (27): Released after 2009.

Kyle Saukko, OF (28): Released after 2010.

Mark Carver, 1B (33): Released after 2008.

Matt Payne, 3B (34): Released after 2009.

Tyler Cox, LHP (35): Released after 2011.

Kyle Morgan, OF (36): Released after 2010.

Alan Knotts, RHP (38): Released after 2009.

A.J. Fagan, RHP (39): Released after 2009.

Chris Simmons, C (41): Drafted out of West Point, but played only a few games in 2008 before the Army decided not to allow athletes to play pro sports until after their military service was over.

Cole White, OF (42): Another West Point draftee, he returned in 2010 and was released after 2011.

Allen Ponder, RHP (45): Released after 2008.

Owen Brolsma, RHP (48): Released after 2009.

Zach Foster, RHP (49): Reached AA, but released after 2012.

Craig Parry, OF (50): Released after 2009.

Did Not Sign

Tanner Scheppers, RHP (2): Had a terrific arm, but figured to be hard to sign due to health concerns.  Texas drafted him in the 1st round the following year and he had one good season for them, but he's spent much of his time hurt.  FG credits him with 0.1 WAR.

Drew Gagnon, RHP (10): Gagnon and Quinton Miller were backup plans in case Scheppers didn't sign.  The Brewers took him in the 3rd round three years later.  He's mostly struggled with them, but is starting in AAA this year.  Baseball America rated him the 26th best prospect in a bad system after 2014.

Austin Wright, LHP (23): Went to the Phillies in the 8th round in 2011.  BA ranked him 29th in a weak system in 2013.  He moved to the bullpen and walked a batter an inning in 2014.

Summary

The current front office has been known for emphasizing pitching in the draft for much of its tenure, but the Pirates actually went heavily for college infielders in its first draft.  The only pitchers of significance who signed were Wilson and Miller.  Although Alvarez hasn't fulfilled the hopes the team had for him as the second overall pick, the draft did effectively produce three starters due to the trade of Wilson for Cervelli.

The Pirates' treatment of Mercer and d'Arnaud was interesting.  Although Mercer was the higher pick, the team concluded early on that d'Arnaud was the better prospect, possibly due to him profiling as a leadoff hitter.  When the two were on the same team in the minors, it was typically d'Arnaud who played short, with Mercer moving to second or third.  Now it seems there's a good chance that Mercer could end up as the most valuable of all the players chosen by the Pirates in that draft.

One theme in this draft that did not turn out to be productive was the departure from the Pirates' practice, under Dave Littlefield, of refusing to pay over-slot bonuses.  Not only did the Pirates draft and sign Alvarez, in contrast to their notorious decision to pass on Matt Wieters under Littlefield, but they signed Grossman, Miller, Cunningham and Freeman to over-slot bonuses.  Only Grossman has reached the majors and he's struggled there.  The most successful picks, apart from Alvarez, have been Mercer and Wilson, who received more or less slot money.

Another early difference between the current front office and their predecessors was that, instead of focusing on low-ceiling, finesse pitchers in the later rounds, the Pirates drafted a number of pitchers with strong arms who were available for various reasons, mostly either health concerns or weak college or junior college performances, or both.  The team's initial efforts weren't very productive.  Not only did they fail to turn up any sleepers, but a large percentage of the later-round pitchers washed out of the system in just one or two years.