Ranking Bucs' best homegrown Draft talent
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates have a lot to look forward to this July, as they hold the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft.
But a first-round talent is not a certainty to be an impact player. It could be someone taken in the double-digit rounds that ends up becoming synonymous with a franchise. In one exceptional case below, it could be someone taken in the Rule 5 Draft.
Here are our rankings of the top five homegrown Draft talents in Pirates history, listed with their Baseball-Reference WAR (bWAR) for their career and for their Pittsburgh tenure.
1. Roberto Clemente (94.8 career bWAR)
Yes, that’s right: Clemente was actually drafted by the Pirates. Though the first-year player Draft, which we now refer to as just the MLB Draft, was not implemented until 1965, the Rule 5 Draft existed long before, allowing teams to draft players from other club’s Minor League teams.
Clemente was one such case. The Brooklyn Dodgers signed Clemente as an international free agent in February 1954, then he saw only 155 plate appearances at Triple-A Montreal and spent no time on the big league roster. The Pirates snapped him up in the Rule 5 Draft that November, and while he didn’t have incredible success in his first five seasons (89 OPS+), he turned the corner in '60 and quickly became the most iconic player in franchise history.
2. Barry Bonds (162.8 career bWAR, 50.3 bWAR with Pirates)
Bonds was high on teams’ radars entering the 1985 MLB Draft, having set the freshman record for home runs at Arizona State and helping the team to the 1983 and ‘84 College World Series. He fell to the Pirates at No. 6 overall, and he was in black and yellow the next year.
Though the majority of his career came with the Giants, Bonds won two of his seven career National League MVP Awards in Pittsburgh, where he batted .275/.380/.503 with 176 homers and 251 stolen bases in seven seasons. He has the career bWAR advantage over Clemente, but given Clemente’s Pittsburgh legend and Bonds’ connection to steroid usage, the Great One gets the edge over the MLB home runs leader.
3. Andrew McCutchen (44.6 career bWAR, 40.4 bWAR with Pirates)
Of all the Pirates drafted in the 21st century, McCutchen is the most successful -- and universally loved -- in Pittsburgh. Selected 11th overall in the 2005 MLB Draft out of the Florida prep ranks, the outfielder hit at every level of the Minor Leagues and reached the big leagues by ‘09.
From 2012-15, McCutchen finished in the top 5 in NL MVP Award voting each season, including his lone win in ‘13, when the Pirates snapped a 20-year playoff drought and advanced to the NL Division Series. Like Bonds, Cutch went from Pittsburgh to San Francisco, but via a trade that netted the club Kyle Crick, Bryan Reynolds and international bonus pool money.
4. Dave Parker (40.1 career bWAR, 34.8 bWAR with Pirates)
The Cobra was a late-round diamond for the Pirates, who selected the Ohio prepster in the 14th round of the 1970 MLB Draft. Parker, who was taken as a catcher, evolved quickly into one in a long list of great outfielders to don the black and yellow.
Parker finished third in NL MVP Award voting twice, before winning the honor in 1978, posting a Major League-leading .334 batting average and .979 OPS.
5. John Candelaria (39.9 career bWAR, 32 bWAR with Pirates)
But we’ve got to show love to the pitchers, too. Candelaria, a second-rounder in the 1972 MLB Draft, needed little development time out of LaSalle Academy in Brooklyn, N.Y. As a 20-year-old, he jumped from Class A to Triple-A before cracking the Majors the next season in ‘75.
In his first full season, Candelaria wrote the first chapter of his Pittsburgh legend by no-hitting the Dodgers on Aug. 9, 1976. He cemented his legacy in '79, pitching six shutout innings in Game 6 as the Pirates came from behind three games to one to win the World Series. In between those two feats, he led the Majors in ERA in 1977 with a mark of 2.34.