Pittsburgh Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington met with the media on Sunday and gave his thoughts about the upcoming draft. He answered questions about picking late this year, the differences between taking high school and college players and drafting under the new system, plus a possible rule change to the draft in the future.
The draft begins on June 8th, with the first two rounds on day one. On the 9th, teams will make their 3-10 round picks, followed by the last 30 rounds on June 10th. The Pirates first selection is 19th overall, then they pick again 13 spots later as compensation for losing Russell Martin. Huntington talked about the depth of this draft class and picking that late.
“This is a really good class to be picking at the back end of the first round. There’s a ton of gray at the top of the draft. There’s going to be really good players that come out of this draft. Probably this year of any year, that player has the chance to be in the teens or in the 20s. Hopefully it’s 19 and maybe again at 32. There’s some depth to it but there’s not the elite knockdown talent that there has been in the past.”
I mentioned recently that a lot of players we are hearing in mock drafts for the Pirates, have been mentioned for both of their first two picks. That speaks to the depth of the class and how there isn’t much difference in talent between the 19th and 32nd best players. According to Huntington, the Pirates will follow their philosophy of taking the best player available, whether that means a high school player or a college player.
“They’re so far away. Even the college players are three or five years away from having an impact and the high school players are four to six, maybe even seven years away. We really do subscribe to the best player philosophy and playing in other variables with the draft. It’s not ever a draft for need in baseball, from our standpoint.”
It’s not just deciding between a college player versus a high school player, it’s also making sure you select the right one, which is not always an easy task. This morning I talked about two players in particular, both right-handed pitchers, Vanderbilt’s Walker Buehler and Stroudsburg HS pitcher Mike Nikorak. I highlighted the upside/downside to each player and Huntington expanded on that thought by giving us the process they use to select who they think is the right player.
“The college player in theory is always the safer pick. The right high school guy beats the wrong college guy every single day of the week but the right college guy beats the wrong high school guy every single day of the week too. There’s benefits and drawbacks to each.”
The Pittsburgh Pirates believe their system is set up properly, so that if they decide to take a player out of high school, they can help him grow as both a player and a person. That takes away some of the trepidation over taking a 17 or 18-year-old, as opposed to a college player that has already been out on his own for a few years.
There is more to it than just making sure the younger player is comfortable with the big changes in his life. When you’re deciding to take a high school player, especially a good one, everything is about leverage with them. Most have a strong school to fall back on, while others can decide to go to a junior college if they don’t get the bonus they desire. Huntington said that it’s a part of the draft you have to work with, deciding when is the best time to select certain players and then fitting them into your draft bonus pool.
“The new system has made it a little bit more straightforward in terms of if Player X wants signing bonus Y, you either need to get really creative if it doesn’t fit for you in the fourth round in terms of creating money by taking lower signing bonus guys later. There is a certain range where you can no longer take guys. The new system basically makes it so you’ve got to take a high school player where you can pay him or get creative. ”
You can’t take guys late anymore and hope they sign without making room for them earlier in the draft. That was something the Pirates did in the past, but it’s hard to do now. You either have to take some college seniors that are easy to sign, and use their money for picks after the tenth round, or you need to take the player where their bonus demand fit compared to the slot amount you have for each pick. The Pirates signed Gage Hinsz in the 11th round last year for $480,000 over slot(which is $100K for every pick after the 10th round), but they did that by saving money with some picks in their top ten rounds.
Finally, one last topic that has come up recently was addressed, which doesn’t affect the draft this year, but could in the future. Huntington was asked about moving the draft back to July 1st, which would allow college players to finish their season before the draft. It would also make things hard for teams as far as their short-season teams go. They would either have to shorten all of those seasons, or keep fillers around for a couple weeks just to supply the rosters with enough players until the drafted players signed.
“It’s one of those things to sit here and answer off the cuff, I don’t have a strong conviction either way. We’ll make the best of the rules that are given to us and have our influence on them if it does become a discussion we’ll voice our thoughts and have had a much deeper thought process than I have.”
Huntington gave his thoughts about college coaches and the way they use players as well, even after they are drafted high, which of course gives the team something to worry about while they wait for their season to end.
“It is always challenging to draft a guy and then watch him go pitch for his college team 10 days after you drafted him and not always do the things you would do with him in the development setting in the minor leagues. I get it, college coaches have to win and I probably wouldn’t do anything different if I were in the dugout in some of their situations.”
The draft starts in 15 days and we will have plenty of coverage before, during and afterwards. That includes discussing every mock draft and rankings from major sources, our tiered rankings, and then the player profiles as the draft is going on each day.