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What's left for Bucs to achieve this offseason?

MLB.com @adamdberry

LAS VEGAS -- The Pirates addressed a couple of glaring needs before setting up shop this week at the Winter Meetings, and their offseason work continued at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino.

Pittsburgh entered the Winter Meetings having already signed third baseman Jung Ho Kang and right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall. The Pirates then traded starter Ivan Nova to the White Sox on Tuesday for future considerations and, of more immediate concern, more than $8.5 million worth of payroll space. The same day, they agreed to a one-year deal with free-agent right-hander Jordan Lyles, who could replace Nova or carve out a role in the bullpen.

LAS VEGAS -- The Pirates addressed a couple of glaring needs before setting up shop this week at the Winter Meetings, and their offseason work continued at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino.

Pittsburgh entered the Winter Meetings having already signed third baseman Jung Ho Kang and right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall. The Pirates then traded starter Ivan Nova to the White Sox on Tuesday for future considerations and, of more immediate concern, more than $8.5 million worth of payroll space. The same day, they agreed to a one-year deal with free-agent right-hander Jordan Lyles, who could replace Nova or carve out a role in the bullpen.

But the offseason did not end when executives from all 30 teams flocked from the Rule 5 Draft to Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport on Thursday. There is still work to be done in the two months before Spring Training begins.

For one, the Pirates must finalize their agreement with Lyles in the coming days. Doing so will fill up their 40-man roster again.

Video: Pirates have reportedly agree to deal with Lyles

General manager Neal Huntington said the Pirates will reallocate Nova's salary elsewhere, seemingly indicating that there are more moves in their future. They will continue to weigh trade offers for catcher Francisco Cervelli, although there's no guarantee they will move him. The Pirates remain on the lookout for upgrades in the bullpen and at shortstop, and they'll have to fill Nova's spot in the rotation.

"We hope to get better. We're looking to take this week [to explore] how else can we add to this club," Huntington said. "We feel very comfortable and very committed to the rotation, the four young arms who are going to be the foundation of the rotation for years to come. We'd like to add to the back four in the bullpen. … That's a great anchor as we head into the '19 season."

Video: Hurdle addresses Cervelli trade rumors

BIGGEST REMAINING NEEDS
1. Fifth starter:
It could wind up being Lyles. It might be Nick Kingham or Steven Brault. It could even be an "opener" rather than a true fifth starter. But the Pirates cleared a spot in their rotation by trading Nova to the White Sox, and they'll need someone to fill it before Opening Day. The competition could carry into Spring Training, and it's possible that top prospect Mitch Keller will eventually take the job next summer. Pittsburgh's front office views its rotation as one of the team's strengths, and that is based largely on the potential of Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove.

Video: Hurdle on the possibility of using an opener in 2019

2. Left-handed reliever: The Pirates' need for a lefty reliever may be overstated, because they have a strong back-end quartet in closer Felipe Vazquez, setup man Keone Kela and right-handers Kyle Crick and Richard Rodriguez. They also have potential long men in Kingham, Brault and Lyles, a high-upside arm in Nick Burdi and a handful of other middle-relief candidates. But expect the Pirates to at least bolster their depth in this area, because Vazquez and Brault are the only lefty pitchers on their 40-man roster. They could make room for a higher-leverage southpaw if they intend to use one of their late-inning relievers as an "opener" on occasion.

3. Shortstop: Yes, the Pirates are comfortable with internal options Erik Gonzalez and Kevin Newman. No, that does not mean they'll stop looking for an upgrade to improve their infield. The Pirates checked in with the D-backs this week about slick-fielding shortstop Nick Ahmed, and they will likely continue to monitor the free-agent market that includes veterans Jose Iglesias, Freddy Galvis and Adeiny Hechavarria. It's entirely possible the job will go to Gonzalez or Newman, or that the duo will split time there, but it remains a position to watch now that longtime shortstop Jordy Mercer is set to sign with the Tigers.

Video: Shortstop Mercer signs with the Tigers for one year

RULE 5 DRAFT
The Pirates passed on making a pick and didn't lose any of their unprotected prospects in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. They were more active in the Minor League phase, when they selected outfielder Randolph Gassaway from the Orioles and right-hander Winston Nicacio from the Cardinals. They also lost Double-A corner infielder/outfielder Jordan George to the White Sox and Class A catcher Rafelin Lorenzo to the Cubs.

Gassaway, 23, hit .268/.345/.385 with six homers and 43 RBIs in 109 games for Class A Aberdeen and Class A Advanced Frederick last season. A 16th-round Draft pick in 2013, Gassaway has mostly played left field. The 21-year-old Nicacio, who spent last year in Class A ball, has posted a 4.13 ERA in 180 2/3 innings spanning 49 appearances (including 28 starts) over the past three seasons.

Hours after the Rule 5 Draft ended, the Pirates acquired right-hander Cristofer Melendez, who was picked in the first round of the Minor League phase, from the Padres in exchange for cash considerations. Melendez, 21, put together a 1.54 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings over 15 appearances (11 starts) for the Dominican Summer League White Sox last season.

GM'S BOTTOM LINE
"Our focus is more on what we have and how do we maximize what we have. We remind ourselves that in 2013, '14 and '15, we were supposed to be a fourth-place team and our two best projected records were for '16 and '17. We need to take those better record projections … and figure out how to add a win or two per month to put ourselves back in the postseason hunt." -- Huntington, on competing in the National League Central

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Francisco Cervelli, Randolph Gassaway, Jordan Lyles, Winston Nicacio

Hurdle sees '19 Bucs to have untapped potential

MLB.com @adamdberry

LAS VEGAS -- General manager Neal Huntington summarized the Pirates' offseason acquisitions so far with one word: "ceiling."

Jung Ho Kang could swing a 30-homer bat, if he returns to form. Lonnie Chisenhall played at a high level when he was healthy the last two years, but the trick was staying on the field. They believe Erik Gonzalez could be a quality everyday shortstop, if given the opportunity. All of the pitching prospects they've added are projectable, high-upside teenagers.

LAS VEGAS -- General manager Neal Huntington summarized the Pirates' offseason acquisitions so far with one word: "ceiling."

Jung Ho Kang could swing a 30-homer bat, if he returns to form. Lonnie Chisenhall played at a high level when he was healthy the last two years, but the trick was staying on the field. They believe Erik Gonzalez could be a quality everyday shortstop, if given the opportunity. All of the pitching prospects they've added are projectable, high-upside teenagers.

Manager Clint Hurdle believes there's untapped potential everywhere on the Pirates' roster, which is why he thinks Pittsburgh can contend in the loaded National League Central next season.

"For me, as important as anything is we have position players that are going to take the field that all have room for improvement," Hurdle said Wednesday at the Winter Meetings. "Everyone has an opportunity for improvement."

Nobody is going to pick the Pirates to finish first in the NL Central after an 82-79 fourth-place finish in 2018. The defending division-champion Brewers are bringing back their core. The Cubs remain one of the most talented teams in the Majors. The Cardinals added Paul Goldschmidt to their lineup. The Reds are starting to turn a corner in their rebuild, which they proved by acquiring starter Tanner Roark on Wednesday.

What's the case for the Pirates? Hurdle pointed to their talented rotation, although they currently don't have a certain fifth starter after trading Ivan Nova on Tuesday, and the four dominant relievers at the back end of their bullpen. He also believes the Pirates will take a step forward if their lineup puts together a more consistent season under new hitting coaches Rick Eckstein and Jacob Cruz.

"I think the combination of the two is going to give us an opportunity to do a job, hopefully a more productive, more consistent job than we've been able to do in the past," Hurdle said.

Hurdle addressed a number of other topics during his annual session with reporters at the Winter Meetings.

On using an opener

Huntington brought up the possibility Tuesday, and Hurdle said Wednesday that they discussed it at times last season. The Pirates might eventually settle on a traditional fifth starter, but Hurdle said they at least discussed relievers who could play the part.

Video: Hurdle on the possibility of using an opener in 2019

"The common sense part of it is real. I mean, it's just rearranging the mentality of the people that are involved and working them through it," he said. "We'll see how our internal competition works itself out, see if it makes sense. But we've planned to have that conversation. We've had the conversation to see where it takes us."

On Goldschmidt joining the fray

The Cardinals brought one of the game's most feared hitters into the division, so the Pirates will see a lot more of the former D-backs star, who's hit .270/.387/.479 in 199 career plate appearances against Pittsburgh.

"The one thing I like about our guys, come game time, they're ready to go out and get outs. And the name on the back, I don't think we have any stargazing going on," Hurdle said. "I think they'll look at it as a very professional challenge to get another really good hitter, to get him out or trying to figure out what he can do. Good players are always fun to compete against."

On a potential Cervelli trade

The Pirates will at least listen to offers for catcher Francisco Cervelli, one of their most valuable players last season. There is no indication that Pittsburgh is actively looking to move Cervelli, but Hurdle believes that the Bucs could compete even if they move Cervelli and make Elias Diaz their starting catcher.

Video: Hurdle addresses Cervelli trade rumors

"He's a Pirate right now," Hurdle said. "If we get to there. I think there's a path of contention. … It wouldn't be the same team, obviously. It would be a different skill set [with Diaz]. But I think it's still one that would contend."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Young Bucs duo eyes SS with Mercer to Tigers

Gonzalez, Newman could be set to take reins as Bucs keep 'mind open'
MLB.com @adamdberry

LAS VEGAS -- It seemed unlikely that the Pirates would reunite with longtime shortstop Jordy Mercer this offseason, and that possibility was eliminated Wednesday when the veteran infielder agreed to a one-year deal with the Tigers.

For the first time since 2013, the Pirates' Opening Day shortstop will be someone other than Mercer. Could that player already be on their roster? General manager Neal Huntington is still looking for an upgrade as the Winter Meetings draw to a close, but he and manager Clint Hurdle continue to speak highly of recently acquired infielder Erik Gonzalez and rookie Kevin Newman.

LAS VEGAS -- It seemed unlikely that the Pirates would reunite with longtime shortstop Jordy Mercer this offseason, and that possibility was eliminated Wednesday when the veteran infielder agreed to a one-year deal with the Tigers.

For the first time since 2013, the Pirates' Opening Day shortstop will be someone other than Mercer. Could that player already be on their roster? General manager Neal Huntington is still looking for an upgrade as the Winter Meetings draw to a close, but he and manager Clint Hurdle continue to speak highly of recently acquired infielder Erik Gonzalez and rookie Kevin Newman.

"We'll keep our mind open, and our eyes and ears open in the free agent and trade markets to see how things evolve," Huntington said during a mostly quiet day at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. "But we do like what we have at shortstop right now. If something better comes along, we'll entertain it. But between those two, we like where we're going at shortstop."

The Pirates are particularly intrigued by Gonzalez, a strong defensive infielder who wasn't able to play on a regular basis in Cleveland because he was blocked by All-Stars Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. Gonzalez hasn't been tested as an everyday player in the Majors, but Huntington referred to his upside as that of a "good, regular shortstop."

Hurdle said Gonzalez will have a chance to compete for the starting job in Spring Training.

"We like the player. We like the skill set. This type of environment, this could be a really good match for both of us," Hurdle said. "I'm basically excited for what our scouts said today -- watched him at length, a volume of games -- and what our coaches have seen from him."

Gonzalez, 27, has hit just .263/.292/.389 with five home runs in 275 Major League plate appearances. Newman, 25, slashed .209/.247/.231 in 31 games after making his big league debut late last season. Behind them is the club's No. 5 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline, Cole Tucker, who will begin next season in Triple-A after a strong second half in 2018 and an excellent showing in the Arizona Fall League.

At the end of the season, Huntington wouldn't rule out the idea of re-signing Mercer, and Mercer said he would be open to a return if the situation presented itself. But the Tigers, in need of a veteran shortstop, moved quickly to add him.

The list of available shortstops still includes players like Jose Iglesias, Freddy Galvis and Adeiny Hechavarria, the latter of whom spent most of August with the Pirates before being traded to the Yankees, plus potential trade candidates like the D-backs' Nick Ahmed. Only a handful of clubs, including the Padres and Yankees (to fill in for the injured Didi Gregorius), need to add a regular shortstop this offseason.

Around the horn
• The Pirates did not officially announce their one-year, $2.05 million contract with right-hander Jordan Lyles on Wednesday. The signing could be finalized Thursday.

Video: Pirates have reportedly agree to deal with Lyles

• The Pirates have an open spot on their 40-man roster after trading Ivan Nova, so they could select someone in the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday morning. Huntington said the Pirates' front office was discussing a handful of players who might be available when they pick.

Last year, the Pirates selected right-hander Jordan Milbrath, who was eventually returned to the Indians, and acquired reliever Nick Burdi immediately afterward. Burdi joined the Pirates in September after spending most of the year recovering from Tommy John surgery, so if he makes the Opening Day roster, he would have to spend two months on Pittsburgh's roster before he could be optioned to the Minors.

"It's tough to carry a Rule 5 pick when you're competing. It's that much tougher to carry two," Huntington said. "That said, it is an access to talent. We'll see how the Draft plays out."

• The Pirates previously protected prospects Tucker, Mitch Keller, Jason Martin and J.T. Brubaker from the Rule 5 Draft. Among the unprotected prospects who could be selected Thursday are Brandon Waddell, Eduardo Vera and Elvis Escobar.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Erik Gonzalez, Jordy Mercer, Kevin Newman

Bucs trade Nova to White Sox, pick up Lyles

Pittsburgh receives righty Rosario, international bonus pool space in deal
MLB.com @adamdberry

LAS VEGAS -- The Pirates opened a spot in their starting rotation and unloaded one of their largest salaries on Tuesday by trading veteran right-hander Ivan Nova to the White Sox. They also added to their pitching staff by agreeing to a deal with free-agent right-hander Jordan Lyles.

Pittsburgh received 19-year-old right-hander Yordi Rosario and $500,000 in 2018-19 international bonus pool space in exchange for the 31-year-old Nova, who will earn $8.5 million next season. General manager Neal Huntington said the Pirates will use that salary "in different areas." One of them may be Lyles.

LAS VEGAS -- The Pirates opened a spot in their starting rotation and unloaded one of their largest salaries on Tuesday by trading veteran right-hander Ivan Nova to the White Sox. They also added to their pitching staff by agreeing to a deal with free-agent right-hander Jordan Lyles.

Pittsburgh received 19-year-old right-hander Yordi Rosario and $500,000 in 2018-19 international bonus pool space in exchange for the 31-year-old Nova, who will earn $8.5 million next season. General manager Neal Huntington said the Pirates will use that salary "in different areas." One of them may be Lyles.

"My job is to maximize the dollars that we allocate to payroll, to maximize the dollars that we allocate to everything else in baseball operations," Huntington said. "As we looked at our projected production for Nova, as we looked at the actual salary for Nova, we felt that we could redistribute that other places on the club and meet and/or exceed the production level that we expect out of Nova."

The Pirates have not officially signed Lyles, but industry sources confirmed to MLB.com that Lyles has agreed to a deal, pending a medical review later this week. Financial terms of the deal are not yet known. The 28-year-old right-hander could fill a number of roles for Pittsburgh as a starter or long reliever.

Video: Pirates have reportedly agree to deal with Lyles

Pittsburgh was particularly intrigued by the changes Lyles made late last season. He increased his curveball usage during the second half and saw his four-seam fastball velocity tick up. Overall, he posted the highest strikeout rate (22.6 percent) of his career last season while holding hitters to a .249 average.

Lyles should enter camp as one of several candidates to replace Nova in the rotation. Huntington said the Pirates will consider internal possibilities -- out-of-options right-hander Nick Kingham and lefty Steven Brault -- while remaining open to another addition via free agency or trade. They might even use an opener, Huntington said.

"We will absolutely continue to explore the free-agent market," Huntington said. "Is there this year's version of [A.J.] Burnett, [Francisco] Liriano and [Edinson] Volquez out there? Is there this year's version of a pitcher that's turned a corner that we feel we can continue to help and reestablish himself? Or do we go with one of our young starters? Or do we get really creative and go with the opener? There's a variety of potential solutions out there."

The White Sox needed a veteran starter to eat innings, and Nova fit the criteria after putting together a 4.19 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 161 innings over 29 starts last season. Nova will be a free agent after next season, and trading him dropped the Pirates' projected payroll for next season to about $71 million.

Nova, the Pirates' Opening Day starter this past season, more realistically slotted in behind Pittsburgh's other four starters: Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove. Whoever takes Nova's spot in the rotation might not hold it for long, as top prospect Mitch Keller could reach the Majors next summer after starting the season in Triple-A.

The Pirates acquired Nova from the Yankees prior to the 2016 non-waiver Trade Deadline. The right-hander thrived in his first stint with the Bucs, posting a 3.06 ERA over 11 starts down the stretch in '16. He settled in as a durable mid- to back-end starter, putting together a 4.16 ERA in 60 starts over the past two seasons.

"Ivan Nova was a pro while he was here, and he did some really good things for us," Huntington said. "He took the ball, kept us in games. I don't want to downplay what Nova did. He helped us. That stability has a certain value."

The Pirates' return from the White Sox won't make an impact in the Majors anytime soon, but the move gave international scouting director Junior Vizcaino the ability to spend up to $500,000 more during this signing period. Rosario is the fourth projectable teenage pitcher the Bucs have acquired this offseason; they received 19-year-old righties Tahnaj Thomas and Dante Mendoza in a five-player trade with the Indians and added 18-year-old Wilkin Ramos when they sent Tanner Anderson to the A's.

"We've added four young arms this offseason that'll just help replenish the pitching that you never have enough of," Huntington said.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Jordan Lyles, Ivan Nova

Pirates exploring the use of an opener in '19

MLB.com @adamdberry

LAS VEGAS -- The Pirates are open to the idea of using the opener next season.

Shortly after completing the trade that sent right-hander Ivan Nova to the White Sox, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington acknowledged that Pittsburgh has discussed the possibility of filling his rotation spot with an "opener" and an innings-eating "follower," a strategy that turned out to be surprisingly successful for the Rays last season.

LAS VEGAS -- The Pirates are open to the idea of using the opener next season.

Shortly after completing the trade that sent right-hander Ivan Nova to the White Sox, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington acknowledged that Pittsburgh has discussed the possibility of filling his rotation spot with an "opener" and an innings-eating "follower," a strategy that turned out to be surprisingly successful for the Rays last season.

That's only one option for the Pirates as they look to round out their rotation. Huntington said they aren't committed to it yet. Pittsburgh will continue to look at starters who are available as free agents or on the trade market. Jordan Lyles could compete for that spot with current candidates like Nick Kingham and Steven Brault.

Or maybe the Pirates will eschew traditional every-fifth-day roles and trot out an opener: a reliever who starts the game.

"How do we build a bullpen that equips us to be able to utilize the opener, if that's the direction we decide to go in?" Huntington said Tuesday at the Winter Meetings. "As of right now, Brault and Kingham are internal options that we feel good about. Do we get creative with the opener? And where else can we go on the free-agent [or] trade market?"

The Rays utilized the opener most often, mainly out of necessity to prop up their injury-ravaged rotation, but other clubs adopted the strategy as the year went on. The Twins experimented with the opener in September. The A's used Liam Hendriks in the role to start the American League Wild Card Game. The Brewers created their own terminology, referring to their starters as "initial out-getters" as they bullpenned their way deep into the postseason.

It's different from an old-fashioned "bullpen game," because one pitcher is still responsible for covering most of games started by openers. But that "follower," as Huntington called it, doesn't have to face the top of the lineup, which is typically stacked with a club's best hitters, three times in one game. Statistics show that most pitchers are significantly less effective the third time through the order.

The Pirates might not do it at all if someone establishes himself as a reliable fifth starter, but Huntington said he's had conversations about the concept with manager Clint Hurdle. It would require a deep, durable bullpen with plenty of viable relief options waiting in Triple-A. But they wouldn't need to put that plan into action as often as the Rays did because they have four established starters: Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove.

"If we go in that direction, it will take some conversations. It will take some explaining," Huntington added. "It will take some buy-in, not only from those who are involved, but from those who are around it."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Bucs listening, but expect to hold on to Cervelli

MLB.com @adamdberry

LAS VEGAS -- The Pirates almost always listen to offers for players nearing free agency, so it comes as no surprise that they are at least willing to consider trading someone as important to their team as catcher Francisco Cervelli.

But on the first full day of the Winter Meetings, general manager Neal Huntington didn't sound especially eager to part with pending free agents Corey Dickerson, Ivan Nova and Cervelli.

LAS VEGAS -- The Pirates almost always listen to offers for players nearing free agency, so it comes as no surprise that they are at least willing to consider trading someone as important to their team as catcher Francisco Cervelli.

But on the first full day of the Winter Meetings, general manager Neal Huntington didn't sound especially eager to part with pending free agents Corey Dickerson, Ivan Nova and Cervelli.

"We don't look to trade players just because they're in their last year [of their contracts]. But if it makes sense to us to continue the chain and be able to reallocate some of those dollars, we'll always listen," Huntington said Monday at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. "There are times we'll be more aggressive than others, and in Cervelli, Dickerson and Nova's case, they fit really well for us. So it's going to have to be something that makes sense for us in the big picture to have us entertain that."

Video: Berry discusses the Pirates' offseason needs

Obviously, the right offer could change the Pirates' mind. But it's particularly hard to see them trading Dickerson, a National League Gold Glove Award-winning left fielder who hit .300 last season, when right fielder Gregory Polanco is expected to start the season on the disabled list.

Cervelli is a more likely trade candidate considering his $11.5 million salary for next year, Elias Diaz's emergence last season and Jacob Stallings being out of Minor League options. But Cervelli was one of the Majors' most productive catchers when he was healthy last season, and the Pirates' catching depth is thin behind the three backstops on their 40-man roster.

It likely would take a significant offer, as Huntington said, to convince Pittsburgh to move Cervelli this offseason. Clubs like the Dodgers and Mets could use a veteran catcher, but may be more intrigued by Marlins star J.T. Realmuto. There are also a number of experienced backstops available in free agency, which might lessen the demand for Cervelli.

The Pirates have considered carrying all three catchers on their roster next season.

Around the horn
• Huntington said the Pirates will "continue to take a look" at the market for left-handed relievers. Closer Felipe Vazquez and converted starter Steven Brault are the only lefties on their 40-man roster. Beyond those two, their top internal option would be prospect Brandon Waddell, who was left unprotected prior to Thursday's Rule 5 Draft.

• Polanco's recovery from September shoulder surgery is going well, Huntington said, but the Pirates won't have a better understanding of his availability until he begins a throwing program between mid-January and the start of Spring Training. Pittsburgh's initial estimate stated Polanco, who sustained season-ending injuries on an awkward slide into second base, could return any time between mid-April and mid-June.

Video: MIA@PIT: Polanco helped off the field after slide

• With Lonnie Chisenhall signed to play right field in Polanco's absence, the Pirates plan to make Adam Frazier their regular second baseman. Frazier's defense improved down the stretch last season, when he began to receive everyday work there, and he put together a .306/.357/.533 slash line in the second half after adjusting his swing in Triple-A.

• Huntington said right-handers Chris Archer (bilateral hernia) and Joe Musgrove (abdominal wall muscle strain) are on schedule in their rehabilitation from offseason surgery. Both pitchers are expected to be ready for Opening Day.

"Both are meeting the timelines, meeting the demands of their rehab. Both feel really positive," Huntington said. "Both are excited about how they're feeling post-surgery. Both are excited about having a full season of health and not having the abdominal discomfort that they had over the course of the year last year."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Francisco Cervelli

Why Huntington turned down Giants' big offer

MLB.com @adamdberry

LAS VEGAS -- Pirates general manager Neal Huntington had his family's blessing. The Giants reached out earlier this offseason and expressed interest in making him their new president of baseball operations, sweeping him out of a smaller market and trusting him to run a franchise that won three World Series earlier this decade.

Huntington turned down the opportunity to pursue that job, which ultimately went to former Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi. It would have been a chance to move out west with a promotion and a larger budget, like former Rays executive Andrew Friedman did with the Dodgers. Why not take it? Huntington cited his "sense of commitment" to the Pirates and a "sense of excitement" about what's to come in Pittsburgh.

LAS VEGAS -- Pirates general manager Neal Huntington had his family's blessing. The Giants reached out earlier this offseason and expressed interest in making him their new president of baseball operations, sweeping him out of a smaller market and trusting him to run a franchise that won three World Series earlier this decade.

Huntington turned down the opportunity to pursue that job, which ultimately went to former Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi. It would have been a chance to move out west with a promotion and a larger budget, like former Rays executive Andrew Friedman did with the Dodgers. Why not take it? Huntington cited his "sense of commitment" to the Pirates and a "sense of excitement" about what's to come in Pittsburgh.

"I have nothing but respect and appreciation for the Giants and [CEO] Larry Baer, and the Giants are a great organization. They got a tremendous leader in Farhan," Huntington said Monday at the Winter Meetings. "The people that I have the opportunity to work with here, the opportunity to bring another World Series championship to the city of Pittsburgh, the opportunity to push this thing forward again, it was something that meant a lot and means a lot."

The Giants' pursuit of Huntington was first reported by MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal, but Monday was the first time Huntington publicly acknowledged the situation. He didn't elaborate about how long he considered the opportunity, nor was he concerned with what the Giants' interest says about his standing in the industry.

"What it means, I don't know," Huntington said. "But it means that I want to be a Pirate."

Huntington, the Pirates' general manager since September 2007, led a rebuilding process that culminated with Pittsburgh's return to the postseason from 2013-15. The Bucs haven't made it back since then, going through two losing seasons before finishing 82-79 this past season.

Last September, the Pirates signed Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle to contract extensions through the 2021 season. Huntington feels like he has unfinished business in Pittsburgh.

"We had pushed this organization forward and were in a really good spot, and the appreciation for making baseball [in Pittsburgh] relevant again was something that we didn't take lightly," Huntington said. "And the [Andrew] McCutchen trade and the [Gerrit] Cole trade that I made a year ago, we cut some of those bonds that we had begun to reestablish."

Huntington twice mentioned the McCutchen and Cole trades, which were not received well by fans, when explaining his loyalty to the Pirates.

"To put [chairman] Bob Nutting in the situation I put Bob in last January, trading Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, those were baseball decisions that 98 percent of our fanbase isn't going to believe were baseball decisions," Huntington said. "There was a sense of commitment to this organization, to Bob, to [team president Frank Coonelly], because of the damage that I did in making those decisions.

"A sense of excitement about this group and where we're headed and the young players that we had at that point in time, the young players that we have coming, the change in the international market, the progress that we're making in the Draft, the progress that we're making in development. I felt like we were moving in a really good direction and I wanted to see that through."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Tucker, Craig make AFL's Top Prospects team

MLB.com @wboor

Braxton Davidson's dramatic walk-off homer in the 10th inning back on Nov. 17th lifted the Peoria Javelinas to back-to-back Arizona Fall League titles and signified the end of the AFL season.

However, here at MLB Pipeline, coverage of the AFL is constant. Following the on-the-field play, we have released our top 10 breakout prospects, the top 25 prospects of the AFL and our All-Arizona Fall League Team.

Braxton Davidson's dramatic walk-off homer in the 10th inning back on Nov. 17th lifted the Peoria Javelinas to back-to-back Arizona Fall League titles and signified the end of the AFL season.

However, here at MLB Pipeline, coverage of the AFL is constant. Following the on-the-field play, we have released our top 10 breakout prospects, the top 25 prospects of the AFL and our All-Arizona Fall League Team.

Of course, there's always room for more accolades and that's just what we have below as the Arizona Fall League announced its 2018 Top Prospects team on Monday morning.

The team, selected by league managers and coaches, recognizes players who distinguished themselves against other top prospects throughout the AFL. Voters were asked to consider not only a player's AFL performance, but also their Major League projectability.

Catchers

Daulton Varsho, D-backs No. 5 prospect: Varsho, who put together four multihit efforts over a five-game span, hit .262 and drove in nine runs in 18 games.

Keibert Ruiz, Dodgers No. 2 prospect (No. 39 on Top 100): Ruiz played in just 13 games, but left a strong impression on the league's managers and coaches. The 20-year-old hit .286 with six RBIs and also drew six walks while striking out just twice.

Video: Top Prospects: Keibert Ruiz, C, Dodgers

First Base

Tyler Nevin, Rockies No. 11 prospect: Nevin hit a career-best .328 over 100 games during the regular season and carried that momentum with him into Arizona. Nevin got off to a fast start in the AFL, opening play with a 10-game hitting streak. From there, it was more of the same. The 21-year-old was the AFL's only .400 hitter and ran away with the batting title, slashing .426/.535/.593 and also finished third in the league with 20 RBIs.

Video: SRR@PEJ: Nevin recovers nicely to end the 3rd

Evan White, Mariners No. 5 prospectWhite, who collected 14 RBIs over 18 games, hit .257 with a pair of homers in the AFL. White put together a nine-game hitting streak from late October to early November and also stole two bases after stealing just four during the regular season.

Second Base:

Keston Hiura, Brewers No. 1 prospect (No. 30 on the Top 100): Hiura's ability to hit was no secret -- something his 70-grade hit tool clearly indicated. However, just because it was known that Hiura can hit doesn't mean that watching him do so was any less impressive. The Brewers top prospect went to Arizona to work on his defense and while he made strides in that department, it was his offense that led to him MVP honors. Hiura, who hit .323, led the league in hits (31), RBIs (33) and total bases (54). He also hit the only grand slam of the AFL, put together 11 multihit games and turned in two five-RBI performances.

Jahmai Jones, Angels No. 4 prospect: Jones, coming off a season during which he hit just .239 over 123 games, hit .321 with two homers and 11 RBI in 19 AFL contests.

Third Base:

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays No. 1 prospect (No. 1 on Top 100): Guerrero entered the AFL as the most talked-about prospect and certainly didn't disappoint. Guerrero picked up a trio of hits on Opening Day and kept the hits coming as he began the season with a 13-game hitting streak. The 19-year-old also impressed on the league's biggest stage, hitting a 117 mph double in the Fall Stars Game and concluded his stint in Arizona with a .351 batting average.

Video: Chisholm on Vlad Jr.'s Fall League performance

Yu Chang, Indians No. 6 prospect: Chang, who also played in the 2017 Fall League, put together a strong offensive showing. The shortstop hit .337, thanks in large part to a stretch where he strung together eight multihit efforts over 12 games. Chang also finished tied for third in total bases (45) and fourth in hits (29).

Shortstops:

Cole Tucker, Pirates No. 5 prospect: Tucker's .370 average certainly jumps off the page, but the 22-year-old impressed defensively as well. Tucker's 11 multihit games tied for the league lead (Hiura) and his 30 hits left him tied for second. Tucker also impressed off the field, reguarily staying after the game to take photos and sign autographs and was honored with the league's sportsmanship award.

Video: Cole Tucker talks about his Fall League experience

 Lucius Fox, Rays No. 9 prospect: Fox, who hit .326 over 21 games, put together an eight-game hitting streak in mid-October and tied for second in the league with 10 multihit games. Fox also drew 16 walks and stole seven bases.

Outfielders:

Luis Robert, White Sox No. 4 prospect (No. 44 on Top 100): Robert missed a little bit of time with a minor injury during the AFL, but still hit .324 over 18 games. The winner of the week five Player of the Week Award, Robert put up a 14-game hitting streak from Oc. 9 to Nov. 9. The hitting streak was the longest in the AFL since 2014.

Cristian Pache, Braves No. 6 prospect (No. 68 on the Top 100): Pache hit .279 and turned in four straight multihit games in late October, but the 20-year-old may have been even more impressive defensively. Pache showed off his 60-grade arm and his 70-grade speed on numerous occasions in the outfield and also used that speed to steal three bases.

Ryan McKenna, Orioles No. 12 prospect: McKenna hit .315/.410/.457 over 127 games during the regular season, his best season since the Orioles picked him in the fourth-round of the 2015 Draft, and continued the breakout campaign in Arizona, where he hit .344/.474/.590.

Sam Hilliard, Rockies No. 9 prospectHilliard played in just 16 games, but the small sample size didn't keep him from producing. Hilliard had multiple hits in nearly half (seven) of the games he played and finished with two homers and a .328 average.

Daz Cameron, Tigers No. 8 prospectCameron stole 24 bases in the regular season and then swiped nine bases, which tied him for fourth, during the AFL. The son of former Major Leaguer Mike Cameron hit .342 over 20 games.

Nick Heath, Royals: Heath posted a .427 on-base percentage and once he got on base, he made the most of the opportunities. The Royals prospect led the AFL in stolen bases (13) and runs scored (21), while batting .338 over 21 games.

Designated Hitters:

Peter Alonso, Mets No. 2 prospect (No. 58 on the Top 100): Alonso tied for the Minor League home run lead with 36 during the regular season and then tied for the AFL lead with six. In addition to his six homers, Alonso also hit seven doubles and often showed off his power with eye-popping exit velocities.

Video: EAST@WEST: Alonso lays out for impressive diving stop

Will Craig, Pirates No. 16 prospectCraig tied with Alonso and Davidson for the home run title, while also hitting .304 over 21 games.

Starting Pitchers

Nate Pearson, Blue Jays No. 4 prospect (No. 90 on the Top 100): Pearson racked up 23 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings and although his ERA sat at 6.20, he did spin three scoreless outings. What's more, Pearson garnered plenty of attention during the Fall Stars Game when his fastball was clocked at 104 mph.

Video: EAST@WEST: Pearson flashes 101 mph+ with regularity

Erick Leal, Cubs: Leal nearly finished the AFL with a perfect 0.00 ERA, but gave up seven runs (six earned) in his final start. The right-hander began the AFL with a 19 1/3-inning scoreless streak and finished 2-1 with a 2.66 ERA over six starts.

Relief Pitchers:

Melvin Adon, Giants No. 19 prospect: Adon, a hard-throwing right-hander, was consistently missing bats out in Arizona. Adon notched 21 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings and limited opponents to a .163 batting average against. He was particuarily tough on right-handers as they managed to hit just .091 against him.

Justin Lawrence, Rockies No. 16 prospect: Lawrence tied for the AFL lead with three saves and used a nasty fastball-slider combo to strike out 13 batters in 10 2/3 innings.

William Boor is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor.

Did Bucs already make biggest moves for '19?

Archer, Kela might be Pirates' splashiest deals for next season
MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- The Brewers made their big splash last offseason, swiftly scooping up Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain then riding their success to a National League Central title. Like Milwaukee a year ago, the Cardinals put the division on notice Wednesday with their trade for All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.

What about the Pirates? They'll continue to explore the market for upgrades, particularly in the infield and bullpen. But it's more likely that they've already made their biggest additions for next season -- not Jung Ho Kang or Lonnie Chisenhall, but Chris Archer and Keone Kela.

PITTSBURGH -- The Brewers made their big splash last offseason, swiftly scooping up Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain then riding their success to a National League Central title. Like Milwaukee a year ago, the Cardinals put the division on notice Wednesday with their trade for All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.

What about the Pirates? They'll continue to explore the market for upgrades, particularly in the infield and bullpen. But it's more likely that they've already made their biggest additions for next season -- not Jung Ho Kang or Lonnie Chisenhall, but Chris Archer and Keone Kela.

The Pirates parted with former top prospects Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows along with 2017 first-round Draft pick Shane Baz to get Archer. They sent hard-throwing prospect Taylor Hearn and 19-year-old infielder Sherten Apostel to Texas for Kela. Those Trade Deadline deals were deemed out of character for general manager Neal Huntington and his front office, and it's difficult to foresee a similarly splashy move this winter.

"We went for it aggressively this summer," Huntington said last month on KDKA-FM. "We felt that that was the ability to impact our '19 and '20 clubs as well by making an aggressive move in the summer time. We felt that that was the one access point we would have to talent at that level."

Hot Stove Tracker

Archer will spend a full season in Pittsburgh's rotation next year, and his contract includes club options for 2020 and '21. Kela, who is under club control for two more seasons, will work high-leverage innings as a setup man for closer Felipe Vazquez. In a way, Archer and Kela wound up replacing two young pitchers who underwent Tommy John surgery late in the year: starter Chad Kuhl and reliever Edgar Santana.

Video: Archer happy to call Pittsburgh his new home

"We went and got what we believe to be one of the best starting pitchers in the game, one of the best relievers in the game," Huntington said in the KDKA-FM interview. "We gave up a lot in return, but in doing so, we felt like we made our '18 club stronger as well as our '19, '20 and, in Chris' case, our '21 clubs stronger."

Kela was immediately effective, posting a 2.93 ERA and 0.98 WHIP with 22 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings before the Pirates shut him down in early September. Over the last two years, the 25-year-old put together a 3.08 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 93 appearances.

Video: PIT@MIL: Kela gets key strikeout to end threat

But what can they expect from Archer after paying such a high price to get him?

Archer had a rough first month in Pittsburgh and ended the year with a pedestrian 4.31 ERA, but he finished strong in September. In his last five starts, Archer posted a 2.70 ERA with 36 strikeouts, 23 hits allowed and nine walks in 30 innings despite pitching through a left groin strain.

Archer attributed his success to catcher Francisco Cervelli, who was behind the plate for nine of his 10 starts with the Pirates. After working with four different catchers over four months with Tampa Bay, Archer asked manager Clint Hurdle for some stability behind the plate. Before his Sept. 1 start in Atlanta, Archer decided he was going to trust Cervelli's game plan and just focus on making pitches.

"Everything started to shift when I stopped shaking Cervy. It's him knowing the hitters, knowing the league," Archer said after his final start of 2018. "It also allows me to not have to think too much. Just go with what he puts down. The month of September, I've been doing that, and I've been pitching much more like myself."

His slider remained a dominant pitch, and opponents had a harder time hitting his four-seam fastball and changeup along with the two-seamer and curveball he reintroduced last season.

Archer had surgery last week to repair a bilateral hernia, but the way he finished the season gives the Pirates hope heading into next year -- even if they don't follow up their unexpected summer splash with another one this winter.

"We feel that September Chris Archer is the guy we're excited about," Huntington said in September. "The next three years, he's going to help us compete to win a World Series."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Chris Archer, Keone Kela

Inbox: Is shortstop really a need for Pirates?

Beat reporter Adam Berry fields offseason questions from fans
MLB.com @adamdberry

Is it really that important for the Buccos to get a shortstop this offseason? I like what I've heard about Cole Tucker, and I bet Kevin Newman gets better with more experience. I would rather have another pitcher.
-- Frank K., Pittsburgh

Good place to start with the Winter Meetings almost upon us, because shortstop seems to be their only unsettled position. Right field was a question mark, but Lonnie Chisenhall should be the answer while Gregory Polanco is recovering.

Is it really that important for the Buccos to get a shortstop this offseason? I like what I've heard about Cole Tucker, and I bet Kevin Newman gets better with more experience. I would rather have another pitcher.
-- Frank K., Pittsburgh

Good place to start with the Winter Meetings almost upon us, because shortstop seems to be their only unsettled position. Right field was a question mark, but Lonnie Chisenhall should be the answer while Gregory Polanco is recovering.

At this point, Newman and Erik Gonzalez are their top options at shortstop. I think it's worth noting that general manager Neal Huntington referred to those two as "an interesting pair of options" and "a solid starting point." At no point did he say they're done searching for an upgrade. He said just the opposite, actually: "It does not mean that we'll stop looking."

I still think it would make sense for them to acquire a veteran shortstop to shore up their infield defense and at least split time with Newman as the rookie continues to adjust to the speed of the game. Gonzalez would still have a place on the roster as a super-utility guy, which they'll need with Adam Frazier taking over at second base.

Beyond next season, they should be able to fill the job from within. I agree that Newman should improve with more experience, and evaluators believe Tucker has a higher ceiling. Tucker will spend next season in Triple-A, putting him in line for a promotion late next year or more likely in 2020.

Video: Cole Tucker talks about his Fall League experience

As for adding a pitcher: I don't see them bringing in a starter unless they first move Ivan Nova, who has one more year on his contract. They likely won't get involved in the late-inning relief market because they're set with Felipe Vazquez, Keone Kela, Kyle Crick and Richard Rodriguez (with Edgar Santana returning in 2020). They have room for another lefty, but pursuing a middle reliever and a shortstop shouldn't be an "either/or" situation.

:: Submit a question to the Pirates Inbox ::

I'm a little nervous about Chris Archer and Joe Musgrove needing surgery, even if they're not major procedures. Justin Verlander had core muscle surgery a few years ago and wasn't the same all year. Do the Pirates have enough starters to handle losing them?
-- Josh R., Erie

I've heard a lot of stories over the past few years that stress the importance of having a "normal" offseason as opposed to an offseason spent rehabbing, so your concern is valid. But Musgrove and Archer underwent surgery early enough that they should have plenty of time to rest, rehab and get ready for Spring Training.

The Pirates have rotation depth in Nick Kingham, Clay Holmes, Steven Brault (if they stretch him out as a starter again), J.T. Brubaker and non-roster invitee Alex McRae. They're not sure things, but they could fill a spot right away. Mitch Keller -- the Pirates' top prospect per MLB Pipeline -- won't be ready on Opening Day but could join the fray later next summer, giving them one higher-upside option.

If the season started today, what would the team look like?
-- Matthew D., Wheeling, W.V.

Love this question, Matthew. We're a long way from having to worry about the Opening Day roster, but let's make a projection using players currently on the roster who are expected to be healthy on March 28 ...

Rotation: Jameson Taillon, Archer, Trevor Williams, Musgrove, Nova
Bullpen: Vazquez, Kela, Crick, Rodriguez, Brault, Kingham, Nick Burdi
Lineup: 2B Frazier, CF Starling Marte, LF Corey Dickerson, 1B Josh Bell, C Francisco Cervelli, RF Chisenhall, 3B Colin Moran, SS Newman
Bench: C Elias Diaz, 3B Jung Ho Kang, INF Gonzalez, INF/OF Pablo Reyes, C Jacob Stallings

I don't feel great about my bench picks, but Stallings is out of options and Reyes is in there as someone who can play around the outfield. It's tough to find a fit for Kevin Kramer or Jose Osuna if the Pirates carry three catchers, and a veteran shortstop could bump Reyes. Keep in mind this will change when Polanco returns, likely pushing the lefty-hitting Chisenhall to an otherwise righty-laden bench.

The last few bullpen spots are always tough, but I feel pretty good at the moment about Brault (their only other lefty) and Kingham (out of options). Burdi still has his Rule 5 Draft restrictions; if not Burdi, that spot could go to someone like Michael Feliz or Dovydas Neverauskas.

I don't understand trading Jordan Luplow. Seems like we gave up on a young outfielder who might be a pretty good hitter, switched utility players and got a couple of kids. Are the prospects anything special?
-- Dan E., Waynesburg

The Pirates definitely like Gonzalez, who will play some sort of role next season because he's out of options. But the player with the most upside in the deal might be 19-year-old right-hander Tahnaj Thomas, who was Cleveland's No. 30 prospect according to MLB Pipeline. The Pirates scouted him heavily in the Bahamas as an infielder, and they're really intrigued by how his athleticism has already transferred to the mound.

Video: Rosenbaum on Pirates' return of Gonzalez and Thomas

He's 19 in the low Minors, so obviously a lot could change before he reaches the big leagues -- and it could take a while for him to get there. But he's projectable at 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, and he's already throwing two good pitches with signs that he'll develop a better changeup. He'll be an interesting prospect to watch.

The Pirates also like 19-year-old right-hander Dante Mendoza, a 12th-round Draft pick in 2017 and the cousin of lefty reliever Zach Britton, but Thomas has the higher ceiling.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Each team's best 1st-rounder of the past decade

MLB.com

The release of the 2019 Draft Top 50 list had the MLB Pipeline staff thinking about Drafts in years past. Teams always want to get that first pick right, and there have been some real home runs hit in the first round.

Who were the best first-round picks for each team over the last decade? MLB Pipeline dug through the first rounds of the last 10 years (2009-18) and picked the top first-rounder for each organization. Only those chosen in what was the official first round each year were considered -- no supplemental picks were allowed. The 2014 Draft has been the most fruitful, with six players from that first round making the list. The Drafts from 2012 and 2009 are right behind with five selections, with the latter boasting the player who has to be the single best first-round selection over the last 10 years.

The release of the 2019 Draft Top 50 list had the MLB Pipeline staff thinking about Drafts in years past. Teams always want to get that first pick right, and there have been some real home runs hit in the first round.

Who were the best first-round picks for each team over the last decade? MLB Pipeline dug through the first rounds of the last 10 years (2009-18) and picked the top first-rounder for each organization. Only those chosen in what was the official first round each year were considered -- no supplemental picks were allowed. The 2014 Draft has been the most fruitful, with six players from that first round making the list. The Drafts from 2012 and 2009 are right behind with five selections, with the latter boasting the player who has to be the single best first-round selection over the last 10 years.

AL East

Marcus Stroman, RHP, Blue Jays, 2012 (No. 22 overall)
Stroman's profile scared away many teams in the 2012 Draft, but the Duke product has done his part to overcome the stigma associated with being an undersized right-hander. Though he regressed in 2018, while dealing with right shoulder fatigue and, later, a blister issue, Stroman posted back-to-back 200-inning seasons (2016-17) and has been worth 10.6 WAR over five seasons with the Blue Jays.

Manny Machado, SS, Orioles, 2010 (No. 3 overall)
Machado made the jump straight from Double-A to the Majors as a 19-year-old in late 2012, and quickly became a star. His 33.8 WAR is the highest among 2010 first-round position players, second only to Chris Sale, and after helping guide Baltimore to two postseason appearances as a four-time All-Star, Machado netted the organization five Top 30 prospects when it dealt him to the Dodgers this past July.

Ryne Stanek, RHP, Rays, 2013 (No. 29 overall)
Drafting in the first round has long been a problem for the typically savvy Rays, and even their selection of Stanek isn't a hands-down win for the organization, considering he was viewed as a starter (before needing hip surgery) out of the Draft. That said, the right-hander emerged as a legitimate late-inning weapon (and, at times, an "opener") for the Rays in 2018, when he compiled a 2.98 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings over 66 1/3 innings (59 appearances).

Andrew Benintendi, OF, Red Sox, 2015 (No. 7 overall)
Benintendi went from unheralded Arkansas freshman to consensus College Baseball Player of the Year as a sophomore, soaring up Draft boards in the process. The Red Sox had him No. 2 on theirs (behind Dansby Swanson), which he justified by becoming a regular in their 2018 World Series championship lineup just 13 months after signing.

Video: 2015 Draft: Red Sox draft OF Andrew Benintendi No. 7

Aaron Judge, OF, Yankees, 2013 (No. 32 overall)
Judge was the second of three Yankees first-rounders in 2013, sandwiched between Eric Jagielo (No. 26) and Ian Clarkin (No. 33), and lasting that long because there were questions about how well his massive raw power would translate into production. After only hitting 18 homers in three years at Fresno State and 56 in three seasons in the Minors, he exploded for a rookie-record 52 in 2017.

AL Central

Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians, 2011 (No. 8 overall)
Cleveland landed perhaps the best player in a historically good first-round class, as Lindor has become one of the faces of game while totaling 23.9 WAR -- second to Mookie Betts (35.2) among 2011 draftees -- and leading the Indians to an American League title (2016) since his debut in '15, when he finished second in AL Rookie of the Year Award voting. Entering his age-25 season, he's garnered All-Star honors and finished Top 10 in MVP voting in each of the last three years.

Aaron Crow, RHP, Royals, 2009 (No. 12 overall)
The Royals haven't fared well in the first round during the last decade, though Crow made the All-Star Game as a rookie in 2011, and was an effective reliever for four seasons until he blew out his elbow shortly after a trade to the Marlins. Cristian Colon (No. 4 overall, 2010) didn't have as much sustained success but delivered the championship-winning hit in the 2015 World Series.

Casey Mize, RHP, Tigers, 2018 (No. 1 overall)
Perhaps this one is more aspirational because he's thrown only 13 2/3 career innings since being the top pick in last June's Draft, but Mize should be able to use his three plus pitches and his plus control to move quickly through the Tigers' system. Look for him in Detroit sooner rather than later.

Alex Kirilloff, OF, Twins, 2016 (No. 16 overall)
The rules for this story don't allow for a supplemental first-round pick to be chosen, otherwise Jose Berrios might be the guy. But after missing the 2017 season, Kirilloff erupted in '18, his first real full season, and is looking like one of the best hitting prospects in all of baseball.

Chris Sale, LHP, White Sox, 2010 (No. 13 overall)
After 2010's Big Three of Bryce Harper, Jameson Taillon and Machado, Sale should have been the next player taken. But teams psyched themselves out over worries about his low arm slot and desire for a big league contract (typical for top college arms at the time), allowing the White Sox to steal him at No. 13. He was saving games for Chicago by September and has been an All-Star in each of his seven seasons as a starter.

Video: WS2018 Gm1: Sale K's Dozier to start off World Series

AL West

Matt Chapman, 3B, A's, 2014 (No. 25 overall)
Chapman emerged as the A's next homegrown star in his first fully healthy season, as he ranked third in WAR (8.2) among all position players, finished seventh in AL MVP voting and took home the revered Platinum Glove award as baseball's best defensive player. His 11.7 WAR in 229 career games is tops among positional players from his Draft class -- ahead of even Trea Turner (10.4), who's played 360 games.

Mike Trout, OF, Angels, 2009 (No. 25 overall)
The teams that say they had Trout No. 2 on their board are sort of like the million people who say they were present for The Shot Heard Round the World. Their loss was the Angels' gain, obviously, as he's turned into one of the game's top stars, with seven All-Star appearances and two MVP Awards.

Carlos Correa, SS, Astros, 2012 (No. 1 overall)
George Springer (No. 11, 2011) and Alex Bregman (No. 2, 2015) can also make a case, but our choice is Correa. A series of impressive pre-Draft workouts gave him late helium and made him the first Puerto Rican taken with the top choice. He won AL Rookie of the Year Award honors in '15, then received All-Star recognition and won a World Series two year later.

Video: ALCS Gm1: Correa knocks go-ahead single in 6th

Mike Zunino, C, Mariners, 2012 (No. 3 overall)
Zunino struggled for several years after being rushed to the Major Leagues and hit .207 over 2,000 plate appearances with Seattle. His combination of right-handed power and strong defense behind the plate, however, became increasingly valuable, especially with the quality of the position on the decline across the Majors.

Lewis Brinson, OF, Rangers, 2012 (No. 29 overall)
The Rangers' 13 first-round picks from the last decade have produced only three big leaguers and a combined -0.4 WAR so far. An exceptional athlete who has yet to hit in the Majors, Brinson went to the Brewers in a deal for Jeremy Jeffress and Jonathan Lucroy in July 2016, and to the Marlins in a trade for Christian Yelich last January.

NL East

Kyle Wright, RHP, Braves, 2017 (No. 5 overall)
The Braves hoped Wright would move quickly when they took him with their first pick in the 2017 Draft out of Vanderbilt. Starting his first full season in Double-A was a good sign and reaching Atlanta before the year was over was ahead of schedule, even for a fast-tracker.

Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins, 2010 (No. 23 overall)
One of the 2010 Draft's better hitters as a California prep, Yelich reached the Majors in mid-2013 and received a seven-year, $49.57 million contract extension two years later. He hit .290/.369/.432 (18.6 WAR) over 643 games with Miami, and then helped the organization restock its farm system with four prospects, including Brinson and Monte Harrison, when they dealt him to Milwaukee last offseason. In his first year with the Brewers, Yelich won the batting title (.326) and powered the club to the National League Championship Series en route to MVP honors.

Video: NLCS Gm7: Yelich crushes solo homer to right-center

Michael Conforto, OF, Mets, 2014 (No. 10 overall)
It took the Oregon State product only a year to get to the big leagues, and while his performance has been a little up and down, he's hit 56 homers the last two years and has an All-Star nod already on his resume. Still only 25, he has already amassed nearly 1,400 Major League at-bats.

Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals, 2010 (No. 1 overall)
The Nationals' selection of Harper with the first pick in the 2010 Draft forever changed the course of the franchise, as it gave the club a player with near-immediate impact potential as well as generational-star upside worthy of building around. Over seven seasons with the Nats, Harper -- a six-time All-Star and the 2015 NL MVP -- hit .279/.388/.512 with 184 homers in 927 games, good for a 27.4 WAR.

Aaron Nola, RHP, Phillies, 2014 (No. 7 overall)
Nola took his combination of solid stuff and outstanding command and made a beeline to Philadelphia, joining the rotation in just over a year following his selection. And the 25-year-old is just getting going, making his first All-Star team and finishing third in NL Cy Young Award voting in 2018.

NL Central

Keston Hiura, 2B, Brewers, 2017 (No. 9 overall)
The Brewers' track record with first-round picks isn't great, but Hiura could soon help reverse that trend. After leading all Division I hitters in average (.442) as a UC Irvine junior, Hiura raked his way up to Double-A this past season and then took home MVP honors in the prestigious Arizona Fall League. He still needs some more time in the Minors, but it shouldn't be long before Hiura is driving in runs from the middle of Milwaukee's order.

Jack Flaherty, RHP, 2014 (No. 34 overall)
The Cardinals have had some solid back-half-of-the-first-round selections, like Michael Wacha and Kolten Wong, but Flaherty made it to the big leagues in 2017, then finished fifth in NL Rookie of the Year voting in '18. Flaherty will be only 23 in 2019, so the best may be yet to come.

Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs, 2013 (No. 2 overall)
Bryant had a stunning junior season at San Diego, swatting 31 homers to not only lead NCAA Division I but also topping 223 of the 296 teams at that level. He raced to the big leagues, winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2015 and encoring with an NL MVP Award and World Series championship the next season.

Video: STL@CHC: Bryant belts a towering solo homer to center

Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pirates, 2011 (No. 1 overall)
Cole's 17.4 WAR is more than double any other Pirates' first-rounder in the last decade. Perhaps his tenure with Pittsburgh was up and down, but he made the All-Star team, finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting and made three postseason starts in 2015. He's also topped 200 innings in three of the last four years (albeit the last one coming for the Astros).

Mike Leake, RHP, Reds, 2009 (No. 8 overall)
Leake spent exactly zero days in the Minor Leagues between getting drafted and his Major League debut, breaking with the Reds' rotation on Opening Day in 2010. He's compiled more WAR than any Reds first-rounder in the last 10 years (15.6) and his trade to the Giants in 2015 netted them Adam Duvall (two years of 30-plus homers) and Keury Mella, who should contribute to the pitching staff in '19.

NL West

A.J. Pollock, OF, D-backs, 2009 (No. 17 overall)
When Pollock was coming out of Notre Dame, he was a solid college performer, but one who didn't have a plus tool, so some thought he might end up a bit of a tweener. There have been some injuries, but there's also been an All-Star appearance and a Gold Glove as an everyday center fielder, one who is currently coveted on the free-agent market.

Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers, 2012 (No. 18 overall)
After taking pitchers with their previous six first-round choices -- landing Clayton Kershaw and five non-impact big leaguers -- the Dodgers changed course and went for Seager, who was one of the better all-around high school bats but also came with some signability concerns in the first Draft with bonus-pool rules. He signed for $2.35 million ($400,000 above the assigned value at No. 18) and proved well worth it, earning the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2016 and All-Star recognition in each of his two full big league seasons.

Zack Wheeler, RHP, Giants, 2009 (No. 6 overall)
He wasn't a cornerstone of World Series championships like Giants 2006-08 first-rounders Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey, but the guy who followed them has been a quality big league starter when healthy. Wheeler didn't last long with San Francisco, however, going to the Mets in a 2011 trade for Carlos Beltran.

Trea Turner, SS, Padres, 2014 (No. 13 overall)
Turner played the first half of his pro debut on borrowed time, as he'd already been dealt to the Nationals as part of a three-team trade with Tampa Bay (that netted the Padres Wil Myers) by the time the 2015 season began. He's emerged as one of the more impactful young players with the Nats.

Video: Draft 2014: Padres draft SS Trea Turner No. 13

Kyle Freeland, LHP, Rockies, 2014 (No. 8 overall)
The Rockies hoped for Kyle Schwarber or Nola, but the Cubs and Phillies foiled those plans and led them to Freeland, whose elbow worried some clubs because he had arthroscopic surgery as a Denver high schooler. He had bone chips removed from his elbow in 2015 but has been otherwise healthy, winning 11 games as a rookie in '17 and finishing fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting last season.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.