This was supposed to be a really fun year. We’d finally seen an end to several frustrating years of watching an increasingly dysfunctional development system and a GM with a laser-like focus on building the cheapest possible mediocre team. We had a new GM seemingly focused on the areas where the team needed new ideas and a new approach. We had a season where the team was clearly not going to contend, so we could focus on hoped-for new developments at all levels, and a fair amount of interesting talent at the lowest levels of the system. This year should have been a very interesting one for Pirate fans, even if it wasn’t especially rewarding at the major league level.
The coronavirus had to intervene. Whatever plans and strategies Ben Cherington had in mind, we won’t get to see them, mostly, until next year. Pirate fans get screwed again. A lot of people are even saying that St. Louis devil scientists developed the virus to keep Cherington from turning the Pirates around. Not me, but people are saying it.
We did, however, have a draft. Well, one-sixth of a draft, anyway. This was our first hard data on the new FO. With only six draftees, and five of them right-handed pitchers, it may be a stretch to discern any sort of philosophy. But let’s try anyway.
There are differences from the previous FO. First, there’s Nick Gonzales. He’s a bat-first infielder who’s going to live or die with his offense, and who’ll fit in where he can to get the bat in the lineup. The old approach seemed to favor players who fit specific positional templates, usually center or short, with the bat seldom being paramount. (Will Craig was the big exception.)
With the pitchers, the previous FO had a very pronounced template. They liked right-handers who were at least 6’4″, with lean frames, good velocity and projectability. Strong secondary pitches seldom seemed to be a priority.
The 6’4″ requirement seems to have bit the dust. Only third-rounder Nick Garcia stands that tall. Carmen Mlodzinski (1S) and Jared Jones (2) are 6’2″, Jack Hartman (4) is 6’3″ and Logan Hofmann (5) is 5’10” or 5’9″.
The new FO also seems to have placed more emphasis on secondary stuff. Except for Hofmann, all of these guys do throw hard. Mlodzinski, though, throws five pitches, including a slider and cutter that were better in the past than during his brief action this year. Garcia has a slider and cutter that both have a chance to be above-average. (I should add that cutters haven’t been common in the Pirates’ system.) Jones and Hartman have both shown plus, if inconsistent, sliders. And Hofmann has gotten strong results from a 12-to-6 curve.
There also was clearly an effort with these pitchers to search for upside. The Bucs went to Appalachian State for Hartman, whom Baseball America considered one of the top senior signs. He and Hofmann both were signability picks, but both profile more as lottery tickets than as future org. guys. Garcia came from Division III Chapman; he was the second-highest Division III pick ever. BA called him “arguably the biggest pop-up player in the class.” Mlodzinski fell off a bit early this year after a big Cape Cod showing, so the Pirates will hope he recovers his earlier form. Jones has been erratic on the mound, but the Pirates probably figure his outstanding athleticism will help him develop once he’s no longer a two-way player.
This group could be a sharp departure from what we’ve been seeing. The old FO had a baffling ability to produce good AAA and AA pitchers who didn’t transition well to the majors. They churned out tall pitchers with good velocity and command who didn’t miss bats. This year’s picks aren’t nearly as “safe,” but hopefully some of them will break the pattern of topping out in the high minors. That seems to be the view at BA, which found the Pirates’ class to be one of the five most exciting in the draft. The MLB.com crew (yeah, I know) seemed to have similar impressions.
ADDENDUM: Just for some silly fun, BA has posted a projected top ten picks for the 2021 draft. They used FG’s projected standings and had the Pirates picking fifth. They got UCLA SS Matt McLain, who seems to do pretty much everything extremely well. More importantly, this top ten looks pretty loaded.
Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.