I prescribe to the old scouting maxim that a team should get one starter and one bench/bullpen guy out of each draft, in order to call it a successful draft. Getting some talent out of each successive draft is important to keep the young, cost-controlled talent faucet flowing. Now, getting two contributors to the Majors out of forty draft picks may sound easy (that’s only a 5% success rate!), but it’s incredibly difficult.
Firstly, not every player drafted gets signed by the team. Out of the (now) 40 draft rounds, the Pirates may only sign 30 guys. Some guys are drafted as flyers, to see if the team can tempt them to give up riches three years down the road for the opportunity to start playing professional ball now. Secondly, others are signed with the intent to be purely organizational soldiers — players that occupy roster spots in the lower levels to fill rosters and provide some stability to a roster. These guys are never really expected to advance past Double-A, with most shaking out of the system after just a year or two. Most of the talent that the team is actively interested in is within the first 10 rounds of the draft, so now you’re really dealing with a 20% success rate.
We’re now one month out from the 2016 MLB Draft that will be held from June 9th-11th, so it’s fair to cast an eye back five years to the 2011 Draft. It’s also said that it takes 4 to 5 years to truly evaluate a draft in whole, although I think some drafts are easier than others to know when the talent is not up to par, so let’s gaze upon a draft that I already consider a success that’s about to get even better.
The Pirates drafted first overall in 2011 and took a young flamethrowing pitcher out of UCLA named Gerrit Cole. If the Pirates decided to kick their feet up and not draft anyone of note after Cole (like the Pirates seemingly did in the Dave Littlefield years after their 1st round picks), then this draft would be deemed a win by me. Cole is an ace and those are a rare commodity in the game. Don’t listen to people who ride the ebb and flows of every start and nitpick every facet of Cole’s inning-by-inning progression through a game — he’s an ace. Cole is a horse that will consume 200+ innings, get better than a strikeout per inning, keep his ERA/FIP under 3.00, and (most tellingly for me) gets better as the game progress along.
Is Cole the best pitcher in the Majors? No, he’s not, but that’s just as much a byproduct of the ridiculous pitching times that we live in more than anything. Are there things he could do better, like holding runners on base, perhaps? Sure. No pitcher is a machine. Except Arrieta. He might be a machine.
But by the end of June, Cole may have some company in the Pirates’ rotation in the form of 2011 draft mate, 5th round pick Tyler Glasnow. I wrote about why Glasnow won’t be up until at least mid-June (mark me down for June 11th in the office pool) and if you’re reading this article, you probably already know about Glasnow and his potential.
For me, Glasnow’s a #2 pitcher at his peak. Cole is under control through 2019 and Glasnow is under control through 2022, so the Pirates will have their top two pitchers for at least three+ years together. (Although not germane to this article about the 2011 draft, in 2017 the Pirates will also have Jameson Taillon in the rotation and the last year of Francisco Liriano. Cole-Liriano-Glasnow-Taillon is a far different 1 through 4 than this year.)
Getting two top of the rotation pitchers (potentially) from one draft would be a bonanza. But the cherry on top of the draft may also be arriving in Pittsburgh at some point this year in 2nd round pick, 1B Josh Bell. I’ve not been the biggest Bell supporter in the past due to his lack of in-game power, but he’s forcing me to re-evaluate my opinion so far this year. At Triple-A, Bell is off to a .290/.385/.450 start with 3 HR’s in his first 26 games. He’s not threatening Joey Gallo for the minor league home run chase, but considering his single year high of homers is 13, this is a move in the right direction.
For an upcoming TPOP article, Steve, Michael, and I were coming up with some ceilings/floors/likely outcomes for various Pirates prospects. For Bell, one of us tossed out a Will Clark ceiling and that one’s starting to grow on me. Clark is in the Hall of Very Good, with great contact and moderate power for a 1B. I think we would all take Clark’s career for Josh Bell.
So getting two stud pitchers and a starting 1B out of one draft? That’s a bingo. It would clearly be the most productive draft of Neal Huntington’s tenure, better than the foundational 2008 draft that produced Pedro Alvarez, Jordy Mercer, and Justin Wilson (who begat Francisco Cervelli), and far outpacing any of the others to date.
There are a few other players that could be the metaphorical sprinkles on top of the sundae in the form of Jason Creasy, Dan Gamache, and Clay Holmes, but none are stars and may just receive a cup of coffee (it at all). If Glasnow and Bell can complement the work already being put forth by Cole, it really won’t matter. And as a postscript, remember when I mentioned up-article about taking flyers on players? The Pirates did that with a high school shortstop in the 20th round named Trea Turner. The same stud prospect that will be up with the Nationals this year and a soon-to-be-fixture in their lineup at SS. Now that would have been an epic draft.