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The Time Frame of Talent

MLB: MAR 02 Spring Training - Pirates at Blue Jays
He made the time.
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

You know, I don’t want to tell some of these guys, but twenty-five, thirty years ago some of these guys would never have been out of Double A. Richie Hebner, former Pirate, then-manager of the Buffalo Bisons (Toronto Blue Jays AAA), 2015. From the upcoming book The Wax Pack by Brad Balukjuian, to be published by University of Nebraska Press next month.

When I read that statement last week, it combined with a couple of other things I hear from disgruntled Pirates fans regularly—that the Bucs are a “quadruple A team” who couldn’t beat a halfway decent Division 1 college team, that most of the players wouldn’t even be at the major league level if there weren’t thirty rosters to fill.

Is there truth to that?

Well, on any given day a team can get lucky. On a regular basis, though? No, because as I said in the comments on my last article, the worst player on the worst MLB team is going to be a pretty damn good baseball player. If he’s an everyday starter or can manage to hang on as a utility guy or a relief pitcher, he’s going to be miles above your average Division 1 position player.

Just for laughs, I took a look at Baseball Reference to see the progression of current Pirates who were drafted. Almost all of them were on the team for most of last season; I threw in Cole Tucker and Mitch Keller since they’re likely to start the year at PNC. Those bolded were drafted by the Pirates.

  • Josh Bell (2011 second round)
  • Adam Frazier (2013 sixth round)
  • Kevin Newman (2015 first round)
  • Colin Moran (2013 first round)
  • Bryan Reynolds (2016 second round)
  • Jacob Stallings (2012 seventh round)
  • Cole Tucker (2014 first round)
  • Joe Musgrove (2011 first round)
  • Steven Brault (2013 eleventh round)
  • Trevor Williams (2013 second round)
  • Chris Archer (2006 fifth round)
  • Mitch Keller (2014 second round)

Bell, Tucker, Musgrove, Archer and Keller were drafted out of high school; everyone else came from a Division 1 school with the exception of Brault.

I once had a baseball scout tell me that draftees, whether from high school or college, should be at Triple A level within four years of being drafted if they want even a hope of having a cup of coffee in the Show. Out of the players listed, only two didn’t make that level within that time frame—Musgrove and Archer, both of whom made AAA in five years. The fastest mover was Newman, who made his Pirates debut in 2018, three years after being drafted and starting at Single A. Moran is the only other player that came from Division 1 and started at A; everyone else either started in short A or rookie.

If you’re drafted by a major league team, you have recognizable talent. I tend to agree with my colleague Robert Kelley that talent development—or, in this case, the lack thereof—has been the bigger issue with the Pirates in recent years rather than drafting. There are always going to be variables that will mess with that timeline, but the everyday Pirates are everyday Pirates for a reason.