Pirates' all-time draft: Which squad is best?

May 18th, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- With no live Pirates games for the last two months, we thought we'd fill the void by debating the ultimate Pittsburgh baseball showdown: a tournament with four teams teams composed of some of the greatest players in franchise history.

To help pick these totally hypothetical all-time teams, we enlisted Pirates broadcasters Greg Brown and Joe Block along with Jack Zduriencik, the longtime baseball executive who serves as a co-host on the Pirates’ pre- and postgame radio shows. (We probably should have thought a little bit more about putting Jack Z -- a man who’s made a living running Drafts and shaping rosters -- up against a beat reporter and a couple broadcasters.)

The rules were simple: Pick eight starting position players, a starting pitcher and a closer to give you the best chance to win one game. And we’re picking players at their peaks with the Pirates. So you’d get the 2013 version of Andrew McCutchen, for instance, or the 1990-92 version of Barry Bonds or the 1971-72 version of Steve Blass.

Here’s how our Pirates draft went down, followed by a look at the complete rosters. Who do you think picked the best team?

First round
Brown: , shortstop
Zduriencik: , right field
Berry: , first base
Block: , third base

Analysis: The draft order was randomly generated, so Brown had a no-brainer with the first pick by taking a first-class Hall of Fame shortstop. Zduriencik had an equally easy pick with the iconic Clemente. Given the Pirates’ relatively short list of stars at first base, I figured I’d bet on the powerful Pops with my first selection. Block immediately began creating an excellent infield with Traynor.

Second round
Block: , shortstop
Berry: , left field
Zduriencik: , left field
Brown: , center field

Analysis: Block locked up another Hall of Fame shortstop to begin the second round of this snake-style draft. I regret not taking Bonds when I had the chance here, but I went for pure home run power by complementing Stargell’s left-handed bat with the right-handed thump of Kiner, who led the National League in homers seven straight years and went deep 54 times with 127 RBIs in 1949. (And good luck with the middle of my lineup: Stargell, Kiner and my next pick.) Zduriencik was all too happy to capitalize on my potential mistake, immediately taking Bonds. Other than Wagner, nobody in Pirates history has had a better all-around season, per Wins Above Replacement, than Bonds’ 1990 campaign. Brown stayed strong up the middle by picking McCutchen, the 2013 NL MVP and an all-around star in his own right.

Third round
Brown: , left field
Zduriencik: , center field
Berry: , right field
Block: , second base

Analysis: We’d barely settled into our seats and Zduriencik had drafted three of the best outfielders in Major League history: Clemente, Bonds and Waner. Our only hope is that Waner, who spent nearly all of his career in right field, struggles to handle center at PNC Park; then again, he’s flanked by Clemente and a young Bonds. Brown and I added big-time bats in the outfield -- Cobra felt like a steal here, considering how incredible he was from 1977-79 -- while Block cemented his infield advantage by picking the best defensive second baseman of all time. (Fun coincidence: Each of us has a player with a statue outside PNC Park -- Wagner for Brown, Clemente for Zduriencik, Stargell for me, Maz for Block.)

Fourth round
Block: , closer
Berry: , center field
Zduriencik: George “Boots” Grantham, second base
Brown: , third base

Analysis: Block made an early play for a closer, a risky strategy but one he felt was worth taking for Teke. I snagged a leadoff hitter, an elite basestealing threat and a strong defensive center fielder to put between Kiner and Parker. Zduriencik reached back into the late 1920s to grab an excellent offensive second baseman, and Brown added thump to his lineup with Bobby Bo.

Fifth round
Brown: , starting pitcher
Zduriencik: Jake Beckley, first base
Berry: Tommy Leach, third base
Block: Jake Stenzel, center field

Analysis: It’s worth noting that we agreed on hypothetically playing our games at PNC Park, which favors left-handed pitchers and left-handed power hitters, so Brown made one of the smartest picks in the draft by selecting the left-handed Candelaria to be his starter. Good luck to the rest of us facing the 1977 version of Candy Man, who went 20-5 with a 2.34 ERA in 230 2/3 innings. Zduriencik scooped up a Hall of Fame first baseman from the 19th century, while I went for the underappreciated Leach and Block stayed in the 1890s to select Stenzel. (It was a little surprising to see him taken over Andy Van Slyke and Lloyd Waner, but here’s a fun Stenzel stat line from 1894: .352/.440/.577 with 13 homers, 20 triples, 39 doubles, 121 RBIs and 61 stolen bases.)

Sixth round
Block: , right field
Berry: , catcher
Zduriencik: , catcher
Brown: , second base

Analysis: Block spent most of the early going drafting long-ago stars, which is why we nicknamed his squad “Team Pittsburg” -- yes, reminiscent of a time before the “h.” I started the run on catching with Kendall, a good athlete behind the plate who got on base and ran well at his peak. Zduriencik responded and beat the rush to Sanguillen. Brown added to his infield and, once again, tried to play to his ballpark, betting on the left-handed power of the switch-hitting Walker.

Seventh round
Brown: Smoky Burgess, catcher
Zduriencik: Dick Groat, shortstop
Berry: Roy Face, closer
Block: , first base

Analysis: Block couldn’t hide his frustration when Brown snagged Burgess, the third catcher taken. Zduriencik quietly picked up the 1960 NL MVP in the seventh round. I figured it was a good time to scoop up a closer, one who can work multiple innings at that. And Block, perhaps rebelling against the perception that he’d only pick late 19th century/early 20th century Pirates, jumped all the way to 2019 to snag Bell, fresh off a 37-homer campaign.

Eighth round
Block: , left field
Berry: , second base
Zduriencik: , closer
Brown: , closer

Analysis: Block filled the void in left field with not just a Hall of Famer, but a player/manager. I’m hoping Stennett can deliver another seven-hit performance while holding down second base. Zduriencik picked the steady Melancon, then Brown stunned the draft room by selecting Goose Gossage, who posted a 1.62 ERA with 26 saves in 133 innings over 72 appearances during his only season with the Pirates in 1977.

Ninth round
Brown: Dale Long, first base
Zduriencik: Babe Adams, starting pitcher
Berry: Vern Law, starting pitcher
Block: , starting pitcher

Analysis: Once again looking for left-handed power, Brown started the round by selecting Long and his 27 homers in 1956. Then came the run on starters, from Adams (the franchise’s leader in WAR among pitchers) to Law (the 1960 NL Cy Young) to big-game Blass (a former broadcast partner of Brown and Block). Another fun coincidence, at least to the beat reporter in the room: With Blass and Tekulve, Block picked the pitchers who recorded the final outs of the Pirates’ two most recent World Series championships in 1971 and '79.

Tenth round
Block: , catcher
Berry: , shortstop
Zduriencik: , third base
Brown: , right field

Analysis: You could do a whole lot worse behind the plate than the 2014 version of Martin, and after selecting Game 7 winner Blass, Block felt like he continued his big-game theme by taking the guy who hit that home run you might remember off Johnny Cueto. I waited out the shortstop rush and landed Bell, who hit .310 while winning Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards in 1993. Zduriencik continued his streak of infuriatingly smart picks by selecting a four-time batting champ in the final round. And Brown, sticking with the strategy that landed him Gossage, selected another one-season wonder in Sanders; the outfielder posted a 131 OPS+ with 31 homers in 2003, his only year in Pittsburgh.

Here are the complete rosters.

C: Smoky Burgess
1B: Dale Long
2B: Neil Walker
SS: Honus Wagner
3B: Bobby Bonilla
LF: Brian Giles
CF: Andrew McCutchen
RF: Reggie Sanders
Starting pitcher: John Candelaria
Closer: Goose Gossage

C: Manny Sanguillen
1B: Jake Beckley
2B: George “Boots” Grantham
SS: Dick Groat
3B: Bill Madlock
LF: Barry Bonds
CF: Paul Waner
RF: Roberto Clemente
Starting pitcher: Babe Adams
Closer: Mark Melancon

C: Jason Kendall
1B: Willie Stargell
2B: Rennie Stennett
SS: Jay Bell
3B: Tommy Leach
LF: Ralph Kiner
CF: Max Carey
RF: Dave Parker
Starting pitcher: Vern Law
Closer: Roy Face

C: Russell Martin
1B: Josh Bell
2B: Bill Mazeroski
SS: Arky Vaughan
3B: Pie Traynor
LF: Fred Clarke
CF: Jake Stenzel
RF: Kiki Cuyler
Starting pitcher: Steve Blass
Closer: Kent Tekulve