Now let me be clear up front. I think it would be a mistake not to retain Neal Hunington. I think the clear improvement in the on field product at basically every level is reason enough. I think the vast improvement in the Latin American presence is reason enough. But recently a lot of criticism has arisen over his drafts. The good people at Bucs Dugout for example make a case for why the draft classes of NH are not good. I want to take my own look at the class of 08-12 to see if Neal's drafts are as bad as some think.
We should begin by looking at 1st round picks because that is where every team has a shot at an impact player. Neal changed the thinking of the Front Office and has gone for the big name, usually. In 08 it was Pedro Alvarez. He may have been rushed, but he appears to be the impact player now. In 09 it was Tony Sanchez, which we will come back to as Tony is still in the minors. In 10 it was Taillon, who still appears to be on track as an ace. In 11 it was Gerrit Cole, who is another ace. In 12 it was Mark Appell, who did not sign. So, we see three of the five NH did what he should and has helped the franchise. Appell's case is interesting since he did not sign, but it is under the new system. The Pirates did everything they could without being punished by MLB, and Appel just would not sign. And they get a comp pick at #9 overall next year, so it makes trying to sign Appel a good gamble. Appel was the best talent on the board. In 09 the draft class was weak, and NH had a strategy to sign lots of HS arms later in the draft and so he saved some money. In the end, Sanchez will still be a starting catcher for the Pirates, perhaps as soon as next year. I would stop short of saying he is an impact player, but he will be a starter, so it is hard to classify it as a failure pick. And for the record only three All Stars have come out of that draft, one of which is Strassborg, who was already gone by the Pirates 4th pick. The other two are Aaron Crow, as a bullpen arm, and Mike Trout, who was a high school bat at the time. Just to show the Pirates were not alone in that mess, the second overall pick was Dustin Ackley who hit .232 this year for the Mariners. Third overall pick Donavan Tate played in High A ball this year. Mike Minor and Mike Leake are good pitchers the Pirates might could have gotten, but not a big whiff.
Let us now look at this strategy of signing younger players with big bonuses to see if has worked out.
In 08 we signed 8 guys to bonuses over 100,000. Jordy Mercer, Chase d'Arnaud, and Justin Wilson appear poised to make contributions the Pirates and have already played for them. Robbie Grossman was traded in the Wandy deal, so he was clearly good enough to aid the team as a trade piece. Can't hold that against him. Benji Gonzales, Wes Freeman, Quinton Miller, and Jeremy Farell appear to be organizational guys only. So NH hit 50%.
In 09 there were there were 12 late round big bonus guys. Brock Holt is already on the team and looks very good at the plate. Others who appear ready or on track to help the Pirates include only Victor Black. Black may even break camp with the Pirates and looks like a future closer. However before throwing out the rest of this class, we need to note that Colton Cain was part of the Wandy trade, and Brooks Pounders was traded for Navarro this past off season. Both those guys then need to count as good picks. In addition, it is still to early to give up on Dodson and Von Rosenberg. ZVR showed improvement and Dodson had a good year in the past before an injury. Next year is make or break for both. That makes the success rate at a possible 50% again, but will probably be a little lower if ZVR and Dodson do not pan out.
2010 was a major year where the Pirates signed Stetson Allie to a big multimillion dollar deal. He has since been removed as a pitcher and put in the field. No matter what happens in my opinion that is a big whiff. At least let him try to be a closer. That is the biggest mistake made by NH, but I hardly think it is worth burying him over. Let us also remember that Brandon Crumpton still looks like a back of the rotation possibility, Tyler Waldron looks like a bullpen contributor. Nick Kingham also looks like a middle to back of the rotation guy. So three decent picks who are all on pace. Mel Rojas Jr. and Drew Maggi are not tearing it up with the bats, but neither looks overmatched at this point either. Both could show a little more plate discipline, but they are still on track as potential MLB guys . Ryan Hafner followed up his good last season with an absolute disaster this year. Still, he was always a project and it is too early to give up on him. Jared Lakind is probably too early to give up on either, but he and Sadler look like misses. So here you have 3 good picks, 3 misses (including a big one), and 3 maybes.
In 2011 the Pirates took 11 more big bonus guys. And it is too early to rule any of these guys out and it should be noted that the Pirates likely knew this was the last year they could do the bonus game, so why not throw a lot of money around. They did, so maybe we ought to be a little easy on them for going for broke the last year one could. Josh Bell is the highlight of this group, and he was doing great before a knee injury ended the season for him. While Dickerson (3rd round pick) was disappointing, but not awful, the Pirates look pretty good in this group. Candon Myles hit .279 and has speed. Colten Brewer had an up and down year but is striking out 6.5 per 9 innings. Tyler Glasnow was at 10 K/9. Jake Burnette struggled, but was pitching at Low A, which ought to be remembered. The same is true of Jason Creasy. They are still interesting prospects. Clay Holmes also pitched at Low A, and frankly was pretty good winning 5. Walks are a bit high, but that is to be expected. I think Holmes may make the jump to West Virginia this next year. Taylor Lewis was okay, and Dan Gamache was good and shows utility infield kind of defense. The only one that looks to be shaping up as a miss is Jordan Cooper who is throwing out the bullpen and giving up lots of long balls (almost 3 per 9 innings).
2012 is way to early to read, but the number of big bonuses is now really kind of set at 10 thanks to the new CBA. The Pirates look like they got a real winner in Wyatt Mathewson who tore up Rookie league along with Max Moroff. Interestingly Moroff walked more than he struck out. Eric Wood did well there too. Barrett Barnes looked good in Low A. Sandfort struggled a bit in 8 appearances, but that is to be expected. Adrian Sampson was striking out 9 per 9 innings with a nice 2.82 ERA. And John Kuchno only threw 5 innings.
And remember this does not say anything about late round finds that are turning out well and signed for under $100,000 like Matt Curry and Phil Irwin, both of whom look like the have at least limited MLB roles in their future.
It is possible that the draft strategy of Neal Hunington is only going to be right 50% of the time. Still, is that a bad failure rate? The big miss of Allie has many questioning the decisions. Even if you think that this is an unacceptable draft philosophy it is all moot now. MLB got rid of that possibility in the CBA with the hard slotting system. Now Neal cannot do it anymore. So, I think the draft should not be a reason to fire NH. And I think it is a possibility that the Pirates are going to end up with a lot of good players from the last two drafts under the old system (10 and 11). I think you can see that Neal grew in his drafts. In 09 he threw money at young projectable pitchers. He still did a lot of that in 10 and 11, but also moved on to get good position players. Players like Josh Bell, Candon Myles, and Max Moroff are exciting additions and less likely to flop big as some high school pitching arms. The growth of the Pirates in the draft has me excited for drafts, which was never true under the old regime. Let us not forget how bad it was when we drafted Daniel Moskos and Bryan Bullington. Those days are gone. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
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