First Pitch: Expect More Unconventional Drafting From the Pirates in the Future

Last year was the first year the Pirates really had a lower draft pick. They dropped down to the middle of the first round in 2013, but their compensation pick for Mark Appel from the 2012 draft still had them picking in the top ten in 2013. This time around, they picked 24th overall, followed by 39th overall in a pick they got via trade for Bryan Morris.

The results were questionable at the time. They drafted Cole Tucker in the first round and Connor Joe in the second round, with each pick looking like a reach based on the available rankings. After the draft, it became clear that the industry rated Tucker much higher than the public rankings. But the selection of Joe was still a bit of a mystery, and one that didn’t really get solved, since a back injury prevented him from playing any games.

Today I wrote about the Pirates’ strategy with the new draft rules, which involves drafting athletic players with good hitting skills and moving them to prime defensive positions. Joe is one of those guys, moving from the outfield to third base this year. That strategy clears up a lot about the selections of guys like JaCoby Jones, Jordan Luplow, and Joe. All three were drafted as outfielders with high picks, and the Pirates don’t exactly have a strong need for outfielders. All three are now infielders, playing on the left side, where the Pirates have a bigger need.

I would expect more of this strategy in the future. This approach is similar to the approach the Pirates took when they loaded up on projectable prep pitchers. Individually, there’s a lot of risk and a chance for a reward. But if you add enough of those guys, eventually one or two will break out and make the process all worthwhile. You’re not looking for every prospect to work out. You’re just hoping for one Tyler Glasnow and one Nick Kingham to emerge in order to justify the whole process.

As a result, I’d expect the Pirates to have more unconventional drafts in the future, as they will be seeing potential value where others don’t. This process isn’t guaranteed to work. It’s going to really test the scouting and development skills in the system, primarily on the position player side. But the risk would be worthwhile, especially if it develops just one top prospect at shortstop and third base. It’s an unconventional way to do things, but the Pirates need to be looking at unconventional approaches, especially since their ability to spend whatever they want on the draft is now gone, and their spending limits are decreased by their new role as a contender.

**We are down to our final case of the 2015 Prospect Guide from the final shipment. I don’t anticipate ordering another shipment this year. That means once the current stock is gone, the paperback version will be sold out. You can order your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

**Pirates Prospects Is Looking For Paid Writers In Altoona And West Virginia. We’re looking for new writers to cover the home games in Altoona and West Virginia, and to provide prospect reports.

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**Andrew McCutchen Returns To The Pirates Lineup Tomorrow

**The Key For Alen Hanson To Help The Pirates In The Majors This Year

**Draft Prospect Watch: D.J. Stewart Homers Twice, Cody Ponce Returns To Action

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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just let rene gayo handle the position players, and let the US scouts handle the pitching.


I think the “questionableness” of the Pirates 2014 Draft had a lot to do with the rankings, not the players. We’re seeing a push in prospect rankings to devalue the numerical aspect of the rankings in favor of more logical “tiers”. Only makes sense, probably even more so given the extra volatility, to look at the draft the same way.

I know the draft writers need content, and rankings certainly generate plenty. But the marginal difference in player outcomes once you get away from the top guys makes it pretty silly to get all worked up over drafting a guy a couple rounds early as determined by people *outside* of the game.

Lee Foo Young

I have faith in the whole Pirate system….whatever strategy they try works for me. They whiffed on the projectable pitcher ‘thing’ in ’09, but it appears to have worked (so far) in ’11


The other way to do this is simply drafting highly rated , projectable 3B and 1B in the early rounds and develop them. It would be different if they’ve drafted these types and never had success, but they haven’t. Rockies come to mind with a couple of 3B selected in the first 3-4 rounds and look pretty good at that position now and into the future.


Pedro Alverez


The problem is that 1B/3B types in the draft are rarely athletic enough to move off those positions. THAT is the point of the article Tim wrote. Flexibility.

Completely silly to draft for specific position need in Major League Baseball, as if that ever needs written another time.

david jung

So unlikely the Bucs’ top picks will include LH throwing position players for the next couple of years?

Ron Loreski

They don’t draft many of those players anyway.

Nicolas Kniseley

Is there a team that has been successful with this mid to late round unconventional draft strategy? with the pirates (hopefully) being in the situation for an extended period of time, it would be helpful to see other teams who have had success via the draft.


I agree with Luke unconventional is really subjective, the reality is that it is hard to be successful drafting in later in a round regardless of approach. The Cardinals currently and the Braves in the late 90s early 2000s, come to mind.


Drafting a player for his bat and moving his position is very common.

Luke sutton

Feels like thats a bit of a subjective thing to try to judge. One team could certainly see how they view certain players as “unconventional” while others may see it as less so. Some teams fall into very obvious normal lines when drafting, but i think more than a few teams diverge. It seems to be more a matter of degrees to which you are “unconventional”. Tucker was a shock…but after the pick more than a few reports had at least a few other teams ready to take Tucker pretty soon after PIT did so it shows other teams finding value in “odd” places.


I would imagine if other teams have had success doing this then most teams would have adopted it, with baseball economics being what they are I feel like the only chance the Pirates can really compete long term is to exploit these market inefficiencies before anyone else gets to them first.

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