Now armed with a year of data and experience as the first test case of the new rules, the Pirates have two shots at a first-rounder in today's draft.
The Pirates own the Nos. 9 and 14 selections in the Major League Baseball first-year player draft, which begins at 7 p.m. on MLB Network. Their No. 14 selection resulted from their .488 winning percentage in 2012. They received an extra first-round pick after a showdown with Mark Appel and the rewritten rules governing the draft.
The Pirates selected Appel, a right-hander from Stanford projected to go in the top few picks, at No. 8 overall in the 2012 draft. They offered him a $3.8 million bonus, the most they could spend without losing a draft pick as a penalty, but Appel, who was advised by Scott Boras, declined. The Pirates got the ninth pick this year as compensation.
"It's really allowed us to spend a lot of resources on those two picks because we're picking from the general window of players," general manager Neal Huntington said. "Not that we've taken effort away from other levels. But instead of hoping to get one at 14, we're going to get two guys, one at nine, one at 14. We've really been able to sharpen our knives, so to speak, on those guys."
First round of the 2013 first-year player draft.
Pick ninth and 14th in the first round.
The compensation pick gave the Pirates financial leeway within the top 10 rounds. The new labor deal agreed upon between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association in November 2011 introduced signing bonus pools governing what teams could spend on the draft. MLB assigned a value to every pick in the top 10 rounds. The aggregate value of a team's selections in the first 10 rounds represents its bonus pool. Teams pay a tax if they go over, and if they exceed the pool by 5 percent or more they forfeit a first-round pick in the following draft.
Huntington said the new rules heightened the importance of area scouts and their ability to determine bonus demands.
"If you don't have good information, that can become a challenge that you're not going to be able to sign that player," he said. "Every dollar that you give over slot to one player is money you're taking away from some other slot. That's not a bad thing if you do it intentionally."
This year, the Pirates have $8,884,600, the fifth most in MLB, to spend on their 11 selections in the first 10 rounds, according to Baseball America. They have an extra $3,029,600, the value of their No. 9 pick according to the publication, because they did not sign Appel. Their No. 14 pick has a $2,569,800 value, according to Baseball America.
The Houston Astros, who have the first pick for the second year in a row, lead the league with an $11,698,800 bonus pool. The overall value of the 30 bonus pools increased by 8.2 percent this year, according to The Associated Press.
Players can be drafted out of high school, but if they go to a four-year college they usually aren't eligible again until after their junior year. If they choose not to sign with the team that picked them, they can go back for their senior season and be eligible for the following draft.
Appel remains a candidate for the top overall pick, along with Oklahoma right-hander Jonathan Gray. In Appel's senior year, he went 10-4 with a 2.12 ERA and struck out 130 in 1061/3 innings. Gray struck out 138 in 119 innings for the Sooners and had a 1.59 ERA.
A mixed bag of talent falls behind those two.
"It's not quite as pitching-heavy as it has been in the past," Huntington said. "College arms are down a little bit."
Arkansas right-hander Ryne Stanek, Nevada right-hander Braden Shipley and Indiana State left-hander Sean Manaea represent the best college pitchers available. Injuries knocked Manaea, a potential top-five pick, lower in the draft.
On the high school side, Houston area right-hander Kohl Stewart and Indiana left-hander Trey Ball will be drafted in the first round. Stewart is committed to play quarterback at Texas A&M, which might increase his signing bonus demands.
Two of the best high school hitters play in the same city for different high schools. Outfielders Clint Frazier of Loganville High and Austin Meadows of Grayson High, both in Loganville, Ga., are first-round talents. University of San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant hit 31 home runs this season and ranks at the top of available college hitters.
"There's some depth now," Huntington said. "There's not the franchise-altering player. There's some good players, there's some depth to it. We certainly believe at nine, we'll get the player that we would have taken at eight last year had Appel not dropped a couple spots to us. We believe we're going to get a good player at 14."
In addition to the prospects mentioned above, the Pirates are believed to have interest in high school catcher Reese McGuire and New Mexico infielder DJ Peterson. McGuire, from Kentwood High in Washington, hit .436 and has a strong arm behind the plate. Peterson hit .408 with 18 home runs for the Lobos.
In the past three drafts under Huntington, Greg Smith and Kyle Stark, who are now assistant general managers, the Pirates selected a right-handed pitcher with their first pick. They took Appel last year, Gerrit Cole first overall in 2011 and Jameson Taillon in 2010. The front office took Pedro Alvarez second overall in 2008, its first draft in charge, and catcher Tony Sanchez fourth overall in 2009.
And the Pirates select...
Ten players who could be available when the Pirates pick at Nos. 9 and 14.
Austin Meadows • CF
Grayson (Ga.) High
The skinny: The 6-foot-3 Meadows is committed to Clemson.
Colin Moran • 3B
The skinny: Moran hit .348 with 13 home runs for the Tar Heels this season.
Reese McGuire • C
Kentwood (Wash.) High
The skinny: Defense, arm outweigh bat at this point.
Hunter Renfroe • OF
The skinny: Led the Bulldogs with a .352 average and 15 home runs.
Dominic Smith • 1B
Serra (Calif.) High
The skinny: Smooth swing helped him hit .472 this season.
DJ Peterson • 3B/1B
The skinny: How much of .807 slugging percentage was the high altitude?
Trey Ball • LHP
New Castle (Ind.) High
The skinny: Plays OF well enough to merit consideration there, too.
Braden Shipley • RHP
The skinny: Shipley struck out 102 batters in 1071/3 innings this season.
Sean Manaea • LHP
The skinny: Did not match Cape Cod League performance due to injury this spring.
Ryne Stanek • RHP
The skinny: 99th pick in 2010 out of high school, chose Arkansas rather than Mariners.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.