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Pirates' draft retrospective: 2009

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Draft rounds are in parentheses, WAR totals are from Fangraphs, positions are those announced at the draft.

What's Left

Tony Sanchez, C (1): Seemingly overdrafted, Sanchez has shown potential at times, but his path to the Pirates' catching job has been blocked by throwing problems and inconsistent hitting.  He still has a chance of being part of the Pirates' catching picture, but Elias Diaz looks like a better bet to be a regular.

Vic Black, RHP (1S): Black has shown good enough swing-and-miss stuff to be a potential closer, but has struggled with injuries and, at times, control issues.  The Pirates used him to acquire Marlon Byrd and he pitched fairly well for the Mets in 2014.  He's currently working his way back from injury.

Zack Dodson, LHP (4): Dodson has progressed slowly and is now in his last season before minor league free agency.  He still has good stuff for a lefty and is having a good year in AA, albeit with a low K rate.

Brock Holt, SS (9): Just a throw-in in the Joel Hanrahan/Mark Melancon trade, Holt has been a very valuable utility player and, often, starter for the Red Sox the last two years.  In that time, he's accumulated 2.9 WAR in less than a season's worth of playing time.

Other Signees

Brooks Pounders, RHP (2): Made slow progress, then was traded to the Royals for Yamaico Navarro in 2011.  He reached AA in 2013 but didn't pitch very well.  He missed most of 2014 and hasn't pitched in 2015.

Evan Chambers, OF (3): After appearing to have topped out in AA, Chambers died suddenly at age 24.

Nate Baker, LHP (5): Made it to AA, but didn't pitch well due to control problems.  Released before this season and now pitching in independent ball.

Zack von Rosenberg, RHP (6): Signed for well above-slot money, but never got past class A due to injuries and declining velocity.  Released this spring.

Trent Stevenson, RHP (7): Another above-slot prep pitcher, Stevenson struggled badly and retired early in the 2012 season.

Colton Cain, LHP (8): The most prominent of the Pirates' above-slot prep pitchers apart from von Rosenberg, Cain went to Houston in the Wandy Rodriguez trade.  He never lived up to his potential and was released before this season.

Joey Schoenfeld, C (10): Quickly bypassed by Elias Diaz and released after 2011.

Aaron Baker, 1B (11): Traded to the Orioles for Derrek Lee in 2011, released in mid-2014, signed with the Phillies and released before this season.

Jeff Inman, RHP (12): Inman has shown mid-90s velocity, but has been hurt most of the time.  He was just activated in AA recently and is in his final year before minor league free agency.

Walker Gourley, SS (13): Quickly settled in as a lower-level utility player and retired before this season.

Ryan Beckman, RHP (18): Reached AA and pitched well there in relief last year, but was released before this year.

Phil Irwin, RHP (21): Surprisingly reached the majors for one game with the Pirates, but ran into arm problems at just the wrong time.  Lost on waivers last year to Texas, which released him at the end of the year.  He's in Korea this year.

Jose Hernandez, OF (23): Reached AA as a backup in 2011, but was released during the season.

Jason Erickson, RHP (24): Released after pitching in relief in high A in 2011.

Ty Summerlin, SS (30): Released after 2009.

Pat Irvine, OF (33): Released after 2010.

Zac Fuesser, LHP (34): Signed for modest above-slot money out of junior college, Fuesser showed some promise for a while, but the Pirates released him before the 2014 season.

Marc Baca, RHP (42): Released after 2010.

Teddy Fallon, RHP (43): Released after 2010.

Did Not Sign

Matt den Dekker, OF (16): After they selected him as a draft-eligible sophomore, it's not clear how close the Pirates came to signing den Dekker.  The Mets took him in the 5th round the following year and signed him.  He got some playing time with the Mets last year at age 26 and is now struggling in AAA with Washington.

Jake Lamb, 3B (38): Signed with Arizona after being selected in the 6th round in 2012.  Lamb hit very well in the minors and reached the majors in 2014.  He opened 2015 as the regular at third, but is currently on the disabled list.

Summary

Sanchez was a controversial pick at number four overall, although claims at the time that the Pirates selected him out of cheapness were obviously absurd given the track record of the current front office.  Neal Huntington in his early years as GM occasionally expressed a reluctance to draft high school pitchers in the first round.  Once Stephen Strasburg and Dustin Ackley went with the first two picks, high school pitching made up the bulk of the more highly regarded prospects on whom the Pirates passed to take Sanchez.  Shelby Miller, who lasted until 19th overall, has been the best of the prep pitchers.  Of the others, Zack Wheeler has done fairly well with the Mets but is hurt this year; Jacob Turner has struggled consistently; and Tyler Matzek has shown some signs of progress with the Rockies.  Matt Hobgood, selected immediately after Sanchez, flopped.

This draft established the Pirates' reputation for doing two things:  going over slot regularly in signing draft picks (something they did the previous year but not to the degree they did in 2009 and later), and emphasizing prep pitching heavily.  The two trends were clearly related.  The Pirates don't talk about their draft strategies much; as Baseball America has chronicled, they're one of the more secretive teams when it comes to their amateur scouting.  It's unlikely, though, that they went heavily for prep pitchers simply because they like prep pitchers.  No doubt it was more a matter of prep pitchers representing their best chance of getting extra value out of the draft.  Talented prep pitchers were more likely than prep hitters to be available in later rounds because pitchers are riskier and harder to project.  A team can more readily evaluate a prep hitter as, say, a 2nd round talent, and draft and pay him accordingly.  The Pirates were going where they believed the potential value was.  They did the same in 2014 when they went heavily for college bats in the early rounds, although other evaluators considered the draft light on college bats.

Of course, the prep pitchers from the 2009 draft didn't pan out.  Only Zack Dodson has even a chance of reaching the majors.  The Pirates had more success in later drafts with pitchers like Nick Kingham and Tyler Glasnow.  It's very difficult to say, though, whether this happened because they got better at drafting, or simply because of random chance.  The latter can't be dismissed given the small sample size in any one draft and the very high attrition rate with prospects generally, to say nothing of pitching prospects.