Williams: The Pirates Have a Big Opportunity to Add a Lot of Young Talent This Year

A year ago, the Pirates took some big steps to add young talent to their system. They had the 12th pick in the draft, along with three second round picks, which led to them having a draft bonus pool of a little over $10 M. They ended up going over that bonus pool, spending $282,400 extra on over-slot deals, with a tax penalty applied on the additional funds.

On the international side they had $5.75 M to spend. They traded $500,000 away to get Nick Burdi, then later acquired the same amount back when they needed it to add Ji-Hwan Bae.

The result on the draft side was that they added a lot of young, projectable players. First round pitcher Shane Baz led the way, but the Pirates also made some interesting picks with second round outfielder Calvin Mitchell, fifth round college catcher Deon Stafford, sixth round pitcher Cody Bolton, and 17th round first baseman Mason Martin, plus several other prep players throughout the draft.

The results on the international side are going to be hard to determine for a few years, since most of the players haven’t played an official game yet, and won’t be in the US until 2019 or 2020. But the Pirates added enough players to stock two DSL teams this year, while also signing a seven-figure player in Bae, two players around a half million, and a few other six figure deals.

The influx of a massive amount of young talent is what a small market team needs. The more players you add, the more likely you are to get a guy who not only reaches the majors, but who can be more than a bench player or even an average starter.

Some of the early results have been positive. Calvin Mitchell has looked great in his jump to West Virginia, hitting for a .907 OPS so far at the age of 19, which is a few years younger than the average age in the league. Cody Bolton has impressed enough to get a promotion to West Virginia, where he threw five shutout innings with eight strikeouts in his first start. College guys like Deon Stafford and Jared Oliva are showing some good offensive numbers, with some defensive skills as well.

Not all has been perfect. Shane Baz has dealt with control problems, which has delayed his jump to West Virginia. Third rounder Dylan Busby struggled at first, started to heat up, and then got injured. Ji-Hwan Bae had to return to Korea for an investigation into a domestic violence claim against his girlfriend, although he has since returned, and has been playing in games at Pirate City for over a week.

We still have very limited results, and very limited opportunity for results from last year’s draft and international group. That will be true even after most of them make their 2018 debuts in the next month.

The best thing the Pirates can do is to keep adding to that young talent. Fortunately, they have another opportunity coming up.

The Pirates pick tenth in the upcoming draft next week, and have the eighth biggest bonus pool. that pool is about $10.4 M, which is slightly higher than their pool last year. They not only have the tenth pick in the draft, but they have the 36th and 51st overall picks. By comparison, they started last year with picks 12, 42, and 50.

Their international pool is another big one. It was $5.75 M last year. This year it’s $5.5 M. Only six teams have a bigger bonus pool, with six other teams having the same amount. It will be interesting to see how things play out this year. The Pirates went with a combination of a few bigger bonus guys, along with a quantity of smaller bonus guys, fitting their traditional approach.

The traditional approach might not continue to be the tradition though. This will be the first full year with new international scouting director Junior Vizcaino, which means we don’t really know if the Pirates will take the same approach to signing international guys as they’ve done in the past. They also have a massive amount of players in the lower levels, so things might get really over-crowded if they go with another quantity approach that sees them signing close to 70 players.

The Pirates have about $16 M to spend on amateur talent this year. Last year, with that same amount, they added a lot of young prep pitchers in the draft, and enough international players to fill two teams. The approach might be different this year in terms of the quantity of prep players, or the quantity of international guys. Regardless of the approach, they will have a big opportunity to add a large amount of young talent to their system, which combined with last year’s haul, will only help the organization in the future.

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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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Wasn’t the knock on Baz coming into the draft, a lack of command/control? So, what we’re hearing is that they haven’t figured out how to fix it yet?

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