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First Pitch: Small Market Teams Going Young in the Draft

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We had a little mix-up yesterday with First Pitch, along with some internet issues that led to the mix-up, so we didn’t have an article yesterday. I included the history from December 28th below, as well as today’s birthdays.

As for today’s topic, I saw an article on Baseball America about the Cleveland Indians emphasizing youth in the draft and thought it was an interesting article worth checking out.

BA wrote in a tweet:

“Of the top 10 youngest teams in the 2010s in the top 10 rounds, seven of those teams were also in the bottom third of average team payroll. ”

It shows an emphasis on small market teams going young in the draft, taking more of a risk. The Pirates weren’t mentioned in the article, but if you follow this site, you know that there wasn’t much of a pattern to their draft picks as far as college vs high school and which positions they lean towards. We joked about them loving 6’3″ and 6’4″ right-handed pitchers because there was some truth behind that, but they also stocked up on those types late, skewing the numbers.

As far as their early round picks, they were all over the map. They had years where they went young (Quinn Priester and Sammy Siani with the first two picks this year) and then years like 2015 where Ke’Bryan Hayes was their only high school player taken in the first 18 rounds.

High school picks are obviously more risky because they are so far away from the majors, but they also offer the most upside. If a college player has upside, he’s going high in the draft. You’re not going to get a high upside college junior in the 15th round. Their lower risk makes them early targets.

Back to the Indians and it’s the average age of their top ten prospects, which is mentioned in the article. Their top ten prospects going into 2020 average 20 years old, using April 1st and the date to figure out the average age. Going by our own top ten list, the Pirates will average just over 22 years old, making it a fairly young list. Mitch Keller at 24 years old on April 4th is the oldest, and he only made the list because he was two innings shy of the maximum allowed for prospects.

Obviously going young with the picks isn’t worth anything if you don’t pick the right players and develop them, but it’s still an interesting article and relevant to the Pirates.

** You can purchase our 2020 Prospect Guide here. We will have at least one Q&A this week covering the book.

SONG OF THE DAY

Picked this song because of the player celebrating his birthday today

DAILY QUIZ

I’ve been watching bits and pieces of the Simpsons marathon on FXX that is going from the first show to the last one of season 30, in order, non-stop. So this is a good quiz to post. If you don’t like this quiz, don’t blame me for your bad life decisions.


THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

By John Dreker

Here’s the December 28th history, followed by today’s:

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus one trade of note. One of the former players, hasn’t debuted for his new team yet. Pitcher Dario Agrazal, who played for the 2019 Pirates, turns 25 years old today.

On this date in 1957 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded first baseman Dee Fondy to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for first baseman Ted Kluszewski. Fondy was veteran the Pirates had acquired from the Cubs during the 1957 season. At age 32 he hit .313 in 95 games for Pittsburgh in his only season with the team. He wasn’t the typical corner infielder, he had more speed and less power than you would normally see at that position and by 1956 he was on the downside of his career. Kluszweski was a big time slugger at one point in his career, hitting 171 homers from the left side over a four-year stretch from 1953-56. Unfortunately for him, he had hurt his back in 1957 and his power disappeared for the season. He hit just six homers in 69 games for the Reds that year, but the Pirates were hoping he could regain his form.

Fondy lasted just one season in Cincinnati and he was mainly used off the bench, only starting 20 games all year. It would be his last seasons in the majors. Kluszewski failed to regain his power, and while his .292 average in 100 games was strong, his four homers all year was not, especially not from a first baseman. The Pirates brought him back for the 1959 season, although he was traded away before the season ended. In 60 games with the Pirates that year he managed to hit two homers, giving him a total of six in his 160 games in Pittsburgh, a far cry from the slugger their pitchers faced since 1947 in Cincinnati.

Zane Smith, pitcher for the Pirates from 1990 to 1994 then again in 1996. Smith began his career in the Atlanta Braves system as a third round draft pick in 1982. He made his MLB debut two years later and stayed in Atlanta until he was traded to the Expos on July 2, 1989. A year later the Pirates acquired him in a trade for pitcher Scott Ruskin, infielder Willie Greene and a player to be named later that unfortunately turned out to be Moises Alou. Smith went 6-2, 1.30 the rest of the way, helping the Pirates to the playoffs. His regular season success failed to carry over as he went 0-2, 6.00 in nine innings against the Reds in the NLCS. He set a career high in wins in 1991, going 16-10, 3.20 in 35 starts, helping the Pirates to their second straight playoff appearance. This time he pitched great in the playoffs against the Braves. In two starts he posted an 0.61 ERA in 14.2 innings, allowing just one run.

In 1992, Smith injured his throwing shoulder and made just two starts after July 11th which cost him a spot on the playoff roster. He was having a fine season up until the injury, posting a 3.06 ERA over 141 innings on the year. He had a rough season in 1993, starting the year on the disabled list, then missed the last month of the season. When he did pitch the results weren’t there, as he went 3-7, 4.55 in 83 innings. He pitched well in 1994 going 10-8, 3.27 but he was allowed to leave via free agency when the season ended. He signed with the Red Sox for 1995 and struggled badly in the AL, posting a 5.61 ERA in 21 starts and three relief appearances. The Pirates resigned him for 1996 early in Spring Training. He pitched poorly and was released by early July. He had a 47-41, 3.35 record in six seasons in Pittsburgh and overall he went 100-115, 3.74 in 13 major league seasons.

John Milner, 1B/LF for the Pirates from 1978 until 1982. He was originally draft by the New York Mets in 1968 and spent seven seasons with them in the majors, hitting .245 with 94 homers and 338 RBIs in 741 games. The Pirates acquired him as part of a four-team, 11-player trade in December of 1977. Milner was used mostly in left field his first season in Pittsburgh, starting 82 games while hitting .271 with eight homers and 34 RBIs. In 1979 he had his best season in Pittsburgh, playing 128 games and hitting .276 with 16 homers and 60 RBIs. He went hitless in the NLCS that year, but hit .333 with two walks in the World Series won by the Pirates in seven games.

In 1980, Milner took on more of a bench role with the team, getting just 292 plate appearances in 114 games. He had a similar role in 1981 until the Pirates traded him to the Expos for Willie Montanez in August. After playing just under one full year with the Expos he was released and the Pirates resigned him to finish out the 1982 season. He was released just prior to Opening Day in 1983, ending his pro career.

Harry Sweeney, first baseman for the 1944 Pirates. Sweeney played one game in the majors, going 0-for-2 and handling all ten plays he had at first base. His one game was the last game of the season, a doubleheader played on October 1st against the Philadelphia Phillies. Babe Dahlgren started the game at first base and after one at-bat, Sweeney came in to take his place. The 28-year-old Sweeney was coming off the best season of his nine-year minor league career when he joined the Pirates. Playing for York of the Interstate League that year, he hit .334 with 14 homers and 39 doubles in 129 games. Despite that strong season and his first trip to the big leagues, Sweeney played just 93 more games in his pro career before retiring.

DECEMBER 29

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date.

Jack Wilson, shortstop for the 2001-2009 Pirates. Wilson was originally draft by the Cardinals in 1998. The Pirates acquired him on July 29, 2000 in exchange for pitcher Jason Christiansen. He started the 2001 season in the majors as the team’s starting shortstop, skipping over Triple-A. After hitting .155 through the first month he was sent to the minors where he tore up the league hitting .369 in 27 games, earning a promotion. He would hit just .223 with 25 RBIs that rookie season in 108 games. During the 2002 season he established himself as a solid everyday player who now provided above average defense. He raised his batting average to .256, took more walks, scored 77 runs and again led the league in sacrifice hits.

From 2002 to 2007 Jack played an average of 149 games a year. His best season came in 2004 when he played 157 games, recorded 201 hits, 41 doubles, a league leading 12 triples, 11 homers and a career high 82 runs scored. He hit .308 that year, earned his only All-Star appearance and won the Silver Slugger award. Wilson had a strong season in 2007 when he hit a career high 12 homers and posted a .791 OPS, but he missed the beginning of the 2008 season with a calf strain and ended up playing just 87 games that year. In 2009 Wilson was traded to the Seattle Mariners on July 29th, exactly nine years to the day the Pirates acquired him. In his nine seasons in Pittsburgh he played 1,159 games, hit .269 with 508 runs scored. He led NL shortstops in assists in both 2004-05 and putouts in 2004. He turned 255 double plays between the 2004-05 seasons.

Emil Brown, outfielder for the Pirates from 1997 to 2001. He was originally signed by the A’s, who lost him to the Pirates in the 1996 Rule V draft. Brown spent the entire 1997 season in the majors as per the rules of the draft, getting just 112 plate appearances in 66 games. He hit .179 with five stolen bases and 16 runs scored. The following season he went to Double-A to get regular at-bats and hit .330 with 14 homers and 24 stolen bases, earning a late season call-up. He spent the 1999 season in Triple-A hitting .307 with 18 homers and 16 stolen bases. For a second straight season he received some playing time in September. He started the 2000 season back in the minors, getting a few brief call-ups in May and June before coming up for good in late July. In 50 major league games he hit .218 with three homers and 16 RBIs. The next year he began the season in the majors, but hit only .203 through 61 games, before the Pirates traded him to the Padres for two minor leaguers. It took another four seasons before Brown had his first good season in the majors. With the Royals from 2005-07 he hit .279 with 229 RBIs and 196 runs scored in 410 games. He hit .205 in 196 games with the Pirates.

Clyde Barnhart, OF/3B who spent his entire major league career with the Pirates, playing from 1920 to 1928. He started his minor league career in 1915 and hit just .256 in D level ball then did not play the 1918-19 seasons so it was quite a jump to the majors for him in 1920. After hitting .322 in 131 games of A-Ball ( a higher level back then, than it is now) he earned a late season look in which he hit .326 in 12 games. He was the everyday third baseman in 1921, but lost the job to a young Pie Traynor the following year. Barnhart moved to the outfield and hit .330 in 75 games in 1922 earning more playing time in 1923 and he responded with a .324 average and 72 RBIs in 114 games. He struggled in 1924 and lost his starting job for a second time and again to another future Hall of Famer, Kiki Cuyler. During the 1925 season Barnhart became the everyday left fielder and he had a big season hitting .325 with 114 RBIs helping the Pirates to their second championship in team history. He hit .250 in the World Series against the Senators, driving in five runs.

Barnhart had a knack for being replaced by great all-time Pirates and the 1926-27 seasons were no different, although he had himself to blame the next two times. He hit just .192 in 1926 and was never especially skilled in the outfield so the Pirates called upon rookie Paul Waner to take his place. The following season Barnhart was still around due to the loss of two outfielders and likely would’ve had the starting job if he came into camp into shape but he didn’t and rookie Lloyd Waner took the position from him, giving the Pirates an outfield to start the year of all future Hall of Famers, the Waners and Cuyler. Barnhart eventually did get plenty of time in 1927 when Cuyler was hurt and then benched. In the World Series that year, Clyde hit .313 against the Yankees. He was with the Pirates in 1928 and hitting well in limited time when they sent him to a minor league team in Indianapolis in exchange for Adam Comorosky. Barnhart played four minor league seasons before ending his pro career. He was a career .295 hitter in 814 games for the Pirates. His son Vic Barnhart was an infielder for the Pirates in 1944-46.

George Perez, pitcher for the 1958 Pirates. Perez played a total of four major league games, all before the age of twenty-one. He pitched for the Pirates early in the 1958 season, making his last appearance on May 6th. In four relief outings, he went 0-1, 5.40 with one save in 8.1 innings. The Pirates signed him as an 18-year-old in 1956 and he won 13 games for Douglas of the Arizona-Mexico League. He moved up to Lincoln of the Western League in 1957 and went 15-6, 2.96 in 204 innings. Perez stayed in the Pirates organization until 1961 before retiring.

Kevin Hart, pitcher for the 2009 Pirates. Hart came to the Pirates from the Chicago Cubs at the 2009 trading deadline. He was part of the return for John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny. Hart went 1-8, 6.92 in ten starts for the Pirates. In 2010, Hart started the season in the minors, then tore his labrum early in May and missed the rest of the year. He didn’t pitch at all in 2011 and attempted a brief comeback in Independent ball in 2012. Hart was an 11th round draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles in 2004. He made his big league debut with the Chicago Cubs in 2007 and spent parts of three seasons with the team, going 5-3, 3.93 in four starts and 33 relief appearances.

Mike Brown, right fielder for the 1985-86 Pirates. Brown was one of six players involved in the August 2,1985 trade between the California Angels and Pirates, that sent John Candelaria and George Hendrick to California. Brown was the everyday right fielder after the trade and did well, hitting .332 with 25 extra-base hits in 57 games. In his only full season with the team in 1986, he struggled all year, hitting .218 in 87 games. At the end of Spring Training in 1987, Brown was released by the Pirates. He returned briefly to the Angels in 1988, his only major league experience after leaving Pittsburgh. He was originally a 7th round draft pick of the Angels in 1980. Prior to joining the Pirates, he played 153 games with California over three seasons.

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John Dreker
John Dreker
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball. When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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