Big Spenders: Pittsburgh’s 2010 Draft Class

As we saw earlier this week, a number of teams have developed a reputation for using the annual amateur draft as a means of infusing their organizations with talent. With an eye to the future, these clubs see the cost benefit to developing future stars in-house, rather than seeking out established, and quite likely more expensive, talent through trades and/or free agency.

Over the past three seasons (2008-10), the Pittsburgh Pirates organization has spent more cash on the amateur draft than any other club in Major League Baseball. The small-market organization sees the benefit of spending to acquire and develop amateur talent, rather than competing with The Big Boys for high-end free agents. Whereas the Boston Red Sox organization spent a whack of dough on 10 players in the ’10 draft, the Pirates spent a lot in the upper level of the draft, in part because it chose second overall and had to secure the best prep arm in the draft (if not the Top 2); the club used its hefty bankroll for seven players.

College Picks
14th – Drew Maggi, SS

The only big-money college pick by the club, Maggi was a draft-eligible sophomore so he had a little more leverage than a lot of college juniors. Scouts were mixed on the middle infielder with many seeing him topping out as a future utility player. Pittsburgh was clearly one organization that saw more. He’s shown a decent eye at the plate – 11.5 BB%, 13.4 K% – and he’s flashed some speed (27/42 in steals) – although his base running needs some improvement as he’s been caught too much – but Maggi has had a very inconsistent season in low-A ball. He got off to a terribly slow start in April (.454 OPS) but rebounded in May and June only to slump again in July.

High School Picks
1st – Jameson Taillon, RHP
2nd – Stetson Allie, RHP
3rd – Mel Rojas Jr., OF
4th – Nick Kingham, RHP
17th – Ryan Hafner, RHP
23rd – Jared Lakind, 1B

Having watched Taillon pitch this season, I can attest to the fact that he should be absolute beast once he gains more experience and sharpens his secondary stuff. The teen currently has a 3.59 FIP in 71.2 innings of work. He’s showing excellent control for his age (1.76 BB/9) and he’s missing a lot of bats (9.17 K/9). Taillon is without a doubt one of the best arms left in the minor leagues. Allie was a top prep arm in 2010 too but it was also known that he was much more raw in comparison to Taillon. The second rounder can overpower hitters much like Taillon but to say his command of the ball is lacking is not really doing it justice. Allie has posted a walk rate of 8.86 BB/9 in short-season ball after beginning the year in extended spring training. When he can find the plate, though, he racks up the Ks (9.60 K/9). His FIP stands at 5.87. Already 20, he may have to repeat short-season ball again in 2012.

The son of former Expos and Cubs reliever Mel Rojas Sr., Junior is a speedy outfielder who has spent the season in low-A ball. It’s been a disappointing season for the prospect who has posted a .293 wOBA in 409 at-bats. The power was not supposed to be a big part of his game – and it hasn’t been (.083 ISO) – but he hasn’t had a ton of luck getting on base (6.7 BB%, .308 OBP) or stealing bases once he’s there (21/34 in steals). It’s been a rough adjustment to pro ball for Lakind, who’s just 19. Repeating Rookie Ball after receiving a small taste in 2010, the first baseman is hitting just .136/.269/.273 in 88 at-bats. The left-handed hitter has struck out 10 times in 19 at-bats versus southpaws.

A big, strong pitcher, Kingham has had a solid season in short-season ball. His strikeout rate has been low (6.80 K/9) and he’s gotten a lot of fly-ball outs, but he’s shown good control (2.00 BB/9) and has decent velocity (88-93 mph) on his heater. The right-hander should see his strikeout rate rise as he improves his breaking ball. Kingham’s teammate Hafner has had a respectable season in 2011. His strikeout rate is also low (5.48 K/9) but his control has been OK (3.16 BB/9) and he’s done a better job of keeping his pitches in the lower half of the strike zone. Hafner is not as far along as Kingham and has a chance to add more velocity as he adjusts to pro ball.

Because Pittsburgh spent the majority of its cash on prep picks, it will be a while before we know just how well flashing the cash worked for the organization in 2010.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

7 Responses to “Big Spenders: Pittsburgh’s 2010 Draft Class”

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  1. johnnycuff says:

    Strikeout rates for pirates minor league pitchers, especially those in short-season ball, are always going to be suspect because of the team’s standing preference that pitchers first refine their fastball command before going heavy on the breaking stuff. Anyone with a decent breaking ball can get good results at that level, so the idea is to force the pitcher to use his fastball as much as possible. As a result, strikeout rates are lowered.

    I’ve heard mixed reviews on Taillon’s breaking pitches. Some, like this one, say he needs to refine his breaking stuff. Some, like this one from Pirates Prospects ( which quotes an unnamed AL scout who is more glowing. The money quote:

    “I spoke with an American League scout about Taillon earlier this year, and got a great review. The scout called Taillon’s curveball the best in the game. Not the South Atlantic League. Not minor league baseball. All of baseball. If you’ve ever seen Taillon’s curveball, you’d agree that the pitch has to at least be up there. It’s a major league pitch already, and is making low-A hitters look foolish.”

    Granted this is from a Pirates blog so there’s a a risk of homerism, but these guys aren’t afraid to trash Bucco prospects when warranted.

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    • baty says:

      Well, the Bucs are a different organization these past few years. The Stetson drafting and signing convinced me. That’s a pick they would never have considered 5 years ago.

      I didn’t know that about the Pittsburgh farm system pitching philosophy. I wouldn’t be worried at all about the breaking stuff at this point. I agree, that especially for a guy as powerful as Jameson, he needs to perfect his fastball before anything else anyway. If and when he’s able to consistently place his fastball where he needs to, just the change of speed with the breaking stuff will put him in a position to get average major leaguers out. So far he’s still putting up some really nice GB/FB ratios.

      I love the idea of making pitching prospects overuse their fastball all the way up past A+ ball. Too many top flight prospects coast their way way through the lower levels by just by flashing breaking balls. Save it for AA and AAA when you start facing worthy competition. It’ll keep guys like him from being seemingly ready for the next level, when they aren’t.

      I think we saw that especially with curveball guys like Homer Bailey and Phil Hughes… tearing apart the lower levels, but struggling quite a bit with command at the MLB level. It’s not too tough to put up gaudy numbers on the farm with good raw stuff.

      It’ll be interesting to see what repertoire Jameson ends up with. You get lots of young pitchers going through major overhauls on the fly with their pitch types the first 3-4 years in the bigs anyway… getting rid of a pitch… adding a new one… throwing a type less frequently… adding velocity to a breaking ball… whatever… The only pitch that sticks is the fastball, so if they are taking the fastball approach, I like it.

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      • RC says:

        We saw the same thing with Clay Bucholz, and boston did the same thing. They sent him down and had him basically throw nothing but fastballs.

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  2. Steve Zielinski says:

    Among the pitchers drafted in 2010, the Pirates have to be pleased with the performance of the top tier. Only Allie has greatly struggled, and he was known to be a project when he was drafted. Kingham, Hafner and Taillon have performed good enough. And Pirates pitchers in the low minors are required to rely heavily on their fastball. So, their stats may reflect that fact.

    The Pirates also signed Luis Heredia last summer, and he’s held his own as a 16 year old pitcher in the GCL.

    The 2010 pitching class — draftees and international signees — have been a bright spot for the organization in 2011, knock on wood.

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  3. Ian says:

    Mel Rojas Jr. was actually a Juco player.

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