Pirates Drafting in the Neal Huntington Era

As a small market team with limited resources to acquire Major League talent, the First-Year Player Draft is absolutely vital for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The draft replenishes the minor league system with new talent, handing the keys to the player development staff to get these players prepped for The Show.

On Thursday, the Pirates will be drafting outside of the top 10 for the first time since 2005 (the year they took Andrew McCutchen at #11). The Bucs hold the 24th overall pick, thanks to their tremendous success in 2013 (and a few teams that lost first round picks to sign qualifying offer free agents). They’ll pick again at #39 (Competitive Balance Round A), thanks to the Miami Marlins and Sunday’s Bryan Morris trade, then at #64 (2nd round), #73 (Competitive Balance Round B), #100 (3rd Round), and so on.

Since his first draft with the team in 2008, Neal Huntington has been praised for having stronger drafts than the previous front office. After all, the draft is one of the primary reasons how & why Huntington & Co. took the Bucs’ farm system from one of the worst in MLB to one of the best. Here’s a breakdown of the Pirate drafts in the NH era…

Player Data

– High School vs. College

A big debate year in and year out: is it better to go the high school or college route when drafting young players? Prep players have a ton of upside and room to grow. College players are more mature, with the ability to jump onto the fast track to the big leagues.

The Pirates have generally leaned towards taking college players, though it has varied year-to-year. The breakdown:

High School College
2008 34% 66%
2009 41% 59%
2010 52% 48%
2011 48% 52%
2012 44% 56%
2013 24% 76%

pirates high school college drafting

There was a huge college focus in 2013. Both first round picks — Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire — came from high school backgrounds… then 31 of the last 39 were college guys.

The 2010 and 2011 drafts showed the most prep picks, headlined by names such as Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie, Nick Kingham, Josh Bell, and Tyler Glasnow.

– Positional Breakdown

via Baseball-Reference Draft Tool

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
RHP 15 21 27 16 17 16
LHP 6 13 5 5 5 4
C 2 4 3 3 4 4
1B 4 1 3 2 0 1
2B 0 1 1 2 3 2
3B 8 1 0 4 3 4
SS 5 3 3 5 4 3
“Infield” 0 0 1 0 0 0
“Outfield” 10 1 2 1 1 0
LF 0 3 1 2 1 0
CF 0 2 4 7 3 6
RF 0 1 0 3 0 1

pittsburgh pirates drafting by position

See “Reflections in the Farm System” below for thoughts on this distribution. 

Signed vs. Unsigned

pirates signed unsigned

Of course, not all players sign a contract with the organization. According to pirates.com, 153 of the 283 draftees (54%) have inked deals with the team since 2008. While most unsigned players fall in the later rounds, two highly rated players went unsigned recently: Tanner Scheppers – now with the Texas Rangers – second round in 2008, and everyone remembers Mark Appel in the first round two years ago.

Reflections in the Farm System

– Strengths

Right-Handed Pitching: As you can see in the charts above, the Pirates have selected a ton of right-handers — mostly tall, “projectable,” hard-throwing guys such as Taillon and Glasnow. Those two, as well as the likes of Nick Kingham and Clay Holmes, are within 1-2 years of the majors, meaning these pitching-heavy drafts could soon pay off for the Bucs.

Outfield: The Pirates have taken some talented outfielders over the years — Austin Meadows, Josh Bell, etc. — adding to their organizational outfield strength which already includes Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco.

– Weaknesses

Corner infield: Since drafting Pedro Alvarez with the second overall pick in 2008, the Pirates have not had success with corner infielders. Their top prospect at either first or third base is Stetson Allie — yes, he who was drafted as a pitcher and converted to a position player just two years ago. The inability to draft a first baseman has hurt the big league team for years, and there’s really nothing on the way.

Catching: Taking Reese McGuire in the first round last year turned this into a stronger area. However, he’s years away from the majors, and the Pirates really hadn’t taken an impact catcher since ’09 first rounder Tony Sanchez.

Middle Infield: Other than Jordy Mercer (3rd round, ’08), they haven’t signed many solid middle infielders. They added shortstops Trae Arbet and Adam Frazier in the fifth and sixth rounds last year, though both are struggling to hit thus far in 2014. Alen Hanson, signed out of the Dominican as a 16-year-old five years ago, is the team’s best bet up the middle in the near future, though it’s unclear if he’ll have the defense to play shortstop.


The draft has changed over the last five years — numbers of picks (from 50 to 40); allotted money for your draft pool (thanks in large part to the Pirates’ own binge-spending on Gerrit Cole and Josh Bell — but the importance has remained the same. The Pirates need to consistently find young talent that can make an impact in the organization, draft them, sign them, develop them — probably easier said than done.

Thursday begins another chapter and brings the next wave of talent. The draft starts at 7:00 pm and will air live on MLB Network for Round 1, Comp. A, Round 2, and Comp. B, meaning we’ll see four Pirate picks this evening. Rounds 3 through 10 will be held on Friday, then rounds 11 through 40 on Saturday.

Go Bucs

All data courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Pirates.com

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