Risks pay off as Bucs ink 19 of 21 picks

August 2nd, 2021

PITTSBURGH -- The Draft signing deadline has passed, and Pittsburgh was able to bring a lot of fresh talent into the organization in the process.

The Pirates ended up signing 19 of their 21 selections in the MLB Draft. The two who didn’t sign were junior college lefty Chazz Martinez (12th round) and high school shortstop Daniel Corona (16th round), both of whom chose the college route over the professional.

However, there is a lot for Pirates fans to be excited about in this year’s Draft. Here are three takeaways from the MLB Draft for Pittsburgh.

Top dogs

Arguably the biggest success in the Pirates’ Draft was not just the No. 1 overall pick, but the sheer number of top-tier prospects accumulated.

The Pirates selected Louisville catcher Henry Davis, MLB Pipeline’s No. 5 Draft prospect, at No. 1 overall. Then they drafted three Top 100 Draft prospects in a row, then added another one on Day 3 (more on that in a second). Even bigger, they all signed with the club.

It’s very rare a team is able to acquire that many Top 100 Draft prospects. The last club to sign more than five such players was the D-backs in 2019, but it took some extraordinary circumstances for that to happen.

The D-backs had picks at No. 16, 26, 33, 34, 56, 74, 75 and 93. Why so many early selections? Pick No. 26 was compensation for failing to sign first-rounder Matt McLain in 2018; picks 33 and 34 were compensation for losing Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock in free agency; and pick 75 (a Competitive Balance selection) was acquired from the Cardinals as part of the Paul Goldschmidt trade.

There was only one other team this year that drafted five Top 100 Draft prospects and signed all of them: the Reds. However, four of those five players were college players with less leverage who signed for near their slot value. Meanwhile, for the Pirates ...

Up the upside

Four of the Top 100 Draft prospects that Pittsburgh signed were high school players. The first three were selected on Day 2: Left-hander Anthony Solometo (No. 17 Draft prospect), right-hander/shortstop Bubba Chandler (No. 21) and outfielder Lonnie White Jr. (No. 72).

All of them had strong college commitments, including White’s and Chandler’s commitments to play for Division I football programs. But the Pirates took calculated risks, and they paid off.

“Those are guys that we had targeted that we really liked,” Pirates general manager Ben Cherington said after Day 2. “Didn’t know obviously how the board would fall, but we’re really excited to get all of them, and we had them all rated pretty highly on our board.”

The fifth and final Top 100 Draft prospect to sign was outfielder Braylon Bishop (No. 94), an Arkansas commit whom the Pirates took in the 14th round. It seemed like they were just taking a long shot, but Cherington said conversations between Bishop and Pittsburgh’s scouting team indicated a strong interest in pro ball.

“He just continued to express interest in getting started with his professional career,” Cherington said. “We tried to put as much information in front of him as we could in terms of what that would look like, and we’re really excited to get him signed and get him going.”

In order to snag all four highly touted high schoolers, the Pirates went over-slot in the first three cases, then gave Bishop $268,700 -- more than double the $125,000 that doesn’t count against the bonus pool in rounds 11-20.

Speaking of money ...

Over the top

The Pirates had the largest bonus pool available in this year’s Draft: $14,394,000. They used every bit of it, then strategically exceeded it. The club spent $15,113,700 on the 19 selections it signed, a sum that is 5% over its allotted pool.

That threshold is crucial; clubs that outspend their allotment by 0-5% pay a 75% tax on that overage. Beyond that, clubs begin to lose future picks: a first-rounder and a 75% tax for exceeding their pool by between 5-10%; a first- and a second-rounder and a 100% tax for between 10-15%; and two first-rounders and a 100% tax for going more than 15% over their pool allotment.

Cherington said the Pirates planned to use all the time available to make their decision, then to use all of their bonus pool to select the players they decided on. He was right -- and more.