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Pirates draft recap: Impact of the new system

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Leaving aside whether you liked or disliked individual picks, the most striking aspect of the Pirates' 2015 draft was the sudden shift away from prep players, and especially prep pitchers.  The Pirates didn't draft their second prep player, and first prep pitcher, until round 19.  In the previous seven drafts under GM Neal Huntington, the latest they'd ever selected their second prep player was round 7.  That was in 2008.  The second latest was round 4.

As Charlie chronicled, Huntington has acknowledged that the new system makes it harder to sign prep players.  With the Pirates now picking in the latter half of the second round, the challenges in finding added value through the draft are growing.

The following table should illustrate roughly what impact the new rules have had on the distribution of the Pirates' picks.  The years 2012-15 were the first four years under the new system, while 2011 was the last year under the old system.  Note that the draft lasted 50 rounds through 2011 and 40 rounds after.

HS JC SO JR SR
2011 24 5 3 14 4
2012 18 5 0 10 8
2013 10 6 0 19 6
2014 9 4 1 19 9
2015 5 7 5 15 9

The move away from prep draftees and toward college juniors is hard to miss.  Distribution in the other categories remained roughly consistent.  One caveat:  For some reason, the Pirates continued to draft prep players heavily in 2012, the first year under the new rules.  That year, they picked prep players with many of their late round picks; ten of their last thirteen 2012 picks were prep players.  The older practice had been to use those picks on prep players, some of whom would go to junior college and be eligible to sign through the draft-and-follow process.  That let the team sign them up until a week before the next draft.  The Pirates, for unknown reasons, seem to have continued this practice in 2012 even though the draft-and-follow process was eliminated under the new system.  But it clearly stopped the next year.

A hallmark of the current front office has been their efforts to wring extra value out of the draft.  It was relatively easy to do, of course, when they could simply draft a Bell or Clay Holmes or Stetson Allie and pay what it took to sign the player.  Even under the new system, they've continued to try to exceed expectations.  Last year, for instance, they managed to scrape together enough extra pool money to sign Mitch Keller, Trey Supak and Gage Hinsz.  This year, though, strikes me as the closest they've coming to simply drafting the player they liked the most in each round.

I don't think any of this means the Pirates will stop looking for ways to find undervalued talent in the draft.  It certainly doesn't mean that they're done with prep players, or prep pitchers.  There'll be an increased need, though, for them simply to do a better job of scouting than other teams.

Charlie already ran through some of the more interesting late-round picks.  I'll just add a few picks that I find intriguing.  This isn't necessarily a list of the best picks, just some of the more interesting.

Casey Hughston, OF (Rd. 3):  The Pirates haven't generally had much success with "fixing swings."  They may be getting better at it, though, as shown by the dramatic improvement in plate discipline almost across the board at the major league level in 2014 (lessons they seem to have forgotten for the first six weeks of this season).  They also seem to have made considerable progress with Willy Garcia, who's not only hitting for average and making more contact, but who's starting to hit for power again lately.  Maybe they can accomplish something like this with Hughston, a swing-and-miss guy with good power potential.

Seth McGarry, RHP (8):  The interesting thing about McGarry is that he may have to stay in the bullpen right from the start due to his medical history.  The Pirates have followed a fairly consistent pattern with pitchers they consider real prospects, developing them as starters even when they project to be relievers.  That means a longer, more gradual development process.  I'm curious to see whether McGarry will follow the pattern you see with some other teams, i.e., a live-armed reliever who moves up to the major leagues quickly.

Christian Kelley, C (11):  Kelley is a draft-eligible sophomore who hasn't played very much in college yet.  He had a strong offensive season in 2015, which was the first time he'd played regularly.  He's not young -- he'll be 22 in a few months, having redshirted one year -- but the limited track record could have resulted in him slipping under the radar.

Ike Schlabach, LHP (19):  Okay, Charlie already listed him, but I'm very curious why a 6'5" prep lefty who's reached the low-90s was still on the board at round 19.  I haven't read that he's determined to go to college.  His scholarship is with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, which isn't one of those schools, like Vanderbilt, that has a track record of hanging onto their recruits.  I'm sure this will take above-slot money and equally sure a lefty this tall has the team's development staff salivating.

Nicholas Economos, RHP (21):  A juco RHP with big strikeout numbers, good velocity and significant control problems has to be a good project for the Pirates.  Economos sounds like he's eager to sign.

Jordan George, 1B (35):  I'm always interested in first basemen who put up big offensive numbers in college.  Scouts, of course, don't like players who were limited to first base in school because they usually lack athleticism.  So far, I've found that the scouts are always right, but I keep hoping for the Pirates to find a Matt Adams.  George's college career was interrupted repeatedly by knee injuries, so maybe he'll stay healthy and break out.  Or not.