PITTSBURGH -- Under Neal Huntington's watch, the Pirates' DNA -- Draft Need Analysis -- has been pretty easy to pinpoint: Big arms, primarily those out of high school with longer development curves, but if an elite collegiate power pitcher is on the board, bag him.
The foundation of any rebuilding organization has to be pitching, so it all made sense. And it has been seen through: Pitchers are headlining throughout the Pittsburgh chain, from Class A right through to the Majors.
With that foundation in place, you'd think the Pirates would be ready to focus on the other levels. Also easy to pinpoint: As of May 30, the entire Pirates system included a trio of .300 hitters: Class A second baseman Alen Hanson, Triple-A shortstop Jordy Mercer (until his promotion to the big club) and Major League outfielder Andrew McCutchen.
But while the Pirates' needs are easy to determine, their 2012 First-Year Player Draft intentions are not. Aware of the competitive disadvantage of being an easy read, Huntington offered the perfect caveat.
"In our mind, the worst idea is drafting for need," said the Pirates' general manager. "You take the best player available. With each pick, you take the best player on the board. Now, between two players of equal standing, you can factor in depth. But you never pass on a better player just because you need someone at a different position."
Here's a glance at what the Pirates have in store as the Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
"Best player available." That's the Pittsburgh mantra, whatever the issue. College or high school? Ease up the arm hoarding (18 of the top 26 picks in the last two Drafts)? Address, specifically, a power deficiency? The answer remains the same. "Follow the integrity of the board," is another way Huntington puts it.
The consensus holds that this isn't an very strong Draft class overall. No breaking news there. But that means that the new MLB Draft rules designed to curb over-slot spending come about at the right time for the Pirates, who'd have no temptations anyway to repeat their recent splurges: $47.6 million spent on Draft picks since 2008, including a record $17 million on 24 picks last year alone.
At No. 8, the Pirates have their lowest pick since 2005, when they had No. 11 and used it on McCutchen. The aim, of course, is to keep falling on a totem pole based on the previous season's record. In this year's Draft, No. 8 could already be outside the can't-miss sphere. Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero has consistently been tied to the Bucs, but they may prefer to add depth at catcher and be leaning toward the University of Florida's Mike Zunino.
Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team has an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of that club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. The signing bonuses for a team's selections in the first 10 rounds, plus any bonus greater than $100,000 for a player taken after the 10th round, will apply toward the bonus-pool total.
Any team going up to 5 percent over its allotted pool will be taxed at a 75-percent rate on the overage. A team that overspends by 5-10 percent gets a 75-percent tax plus the loss of a first-round pick. A team that goes 10-15 percent over its pool amount will be hit with a 100-percent penalty on the overage and the loss of a first- and second-round pick. Any overage of 15 percent or more gets a 100-percent tax plus the loss of first-round picks in the next two Drafts.
There is a tremendous disconnect between a team's obvious current holes and the Draft means available to them. The two virtually operate in different tenses, present versus future. You could fall into the trap of projecting a selection for 2016 and "have your needs change dramatically over four years," Huntington points out. So this is where the "best talent available" mantra is most sensible. The Pirates have a couple of other "premium" picks -- a sandwich pick at No. 45 (for Minnesota's signing of free-agent catcher Ryan Doumit) and their second-round pick at No. 69. They would like to stockpile some left-handers to balance out the recent haul of righties.
Of those 18 pitchers among the top 26 picks in the last two Junes, 17 were right-handers and 13 were out of high school. Huntington's crew continues to show a preference for the younger set, more receptive to absorbing the specific ways the Pirates like things being done, which essentially focuses on attacking hitters rather than trying to fool them. A Major League-ready arm like that of Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon is always the exception, but those don't come around very often.
Recent Draft History Rising fast
The only reason the rapid developments of Cole and Taillon haven't gotten more attention is the ongoing staff-wide success at the big league level. Even so, fans are getting impatient for the two young hurler to be bumped up from the Class A Florida State League, particularly Cole (50-15 SO-BB ratio in 51 innings). Catcher Tony Sanchez (No. 1, 2009) is raising his stock back up in Double-A, but there are no other position players on the true fast track.
Pirates' recent top picks
Class A Bradenton
Class A Bradenton
One "Cinderella" lost his slipper when Alex Presley, an eighth-round pick in 2006 who made such a good impression when he broke in last season, hit his way back to Triple-A. But Tony Watson ('07, ninth round) is now the primary lefty in the Bucs' bullpen, and Matt Hague ('08, ninth round), once considered pure DH material, is currently the team's regular first baseman.
In The Show
Homegrown talent runs the show, with veteran acquisitions, particularly on the mound, filling in gaps. An infield alignment frequently seen now -- third to first: Pedro Alvarez, Jordy Mercer, Neil Walker, Hague -- and one-third of the regular outfield -- McCutchen -- are Pittsburgh products. The one area that does not have a single homegrown guy, interestingly, is the rotation -- but they're lined up in the bushes to break in.