If the Pirates are, as believed, leaning toward high school shortstop Manny Machado over prep pitcher Jameson Taillon as the second overall pick tonight in the Major League Baseball draft, history seems to be in their favor. Should you want to call it that.
Their past four first-round high school shortstops never started at that position for them in the big leagues: Chad Hermansen (1995), became an outfielder; Mark Farris ('94); Austin Manahan ('88) and Willie Greene ('89), who was traded. At least they mined five previous contributors from high school infields: Sammy Khalifa ('82), Rich Renteria ('90), Dale Berra ('75), Craig Reynolds ('71) and Richie Hebner ('66).
A look at players and stories that figure prominently for the Pirates and the area in the draft:
Thursday: More room for Pomeranz?
Friday: Texas pitcher makes his name
Saturday: Machado compared to Rodriguez
Today: The Pirates' approach to the draft.
• Event: Round 1 of Major League Baseball first-year player draft.
• When: 7 p.m.
• TV: MLB Network.
• Of note: The Washington Nationals have the first pick and are expected to take Bryce Harper. The Pirates pick No. 2.
But a starting pitcher from high school?
They are still waiting to succeed there: 0 for 45 years.
From their seven such first-round picks since the June draft started in 1965, the Pirates have converted just three high school players into major league pitchers -- with little luck (9-10 record and 27 starts).
Most of that belongs to Rod Scurry ('74), with seven starts before he settled as a Pirates reliever for most of his 257 career games, and Sean Burnett (2000), with 13 starts before surgeries helped to render him a reliever for most of his 109 career Pirates games.
After that, it is John Morlan (1969, seven starts in 49 games) and a series of first-round failures: Bobby Bradley ('99), Kurt Miller ('90), Jim Parke ('76) and John Bedard ('70).
The overall major league draft history is worse: In the past 30 years, two high school pitchers selected Nos. 1, 2 or 3 became regular big league starters, Atlanta's Steve Avery and Florida's Josh Beckett (now with Boston).
As it is, the Pirates proceeded with considerable caution in the 2009 draft, when they skipped top-rated high school pitchers for Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez at No. 4.
"We passed on some high school pitchers last year because, quite candidly, we didn't think they had the stuff that allowed [some] to be the exceptions," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said.
For every Christopher Gruler (the most recent such pitcher taken in the top three at No. 3 with Cincinnati in 2002) or Brien Taylor (1991 No. 1 with the Yankees) or Roger Sakeld (1989 No. 3 with Seattle), there has been the occasional exception as with Beckett, the No. 2 in '99 from Spring, Texas, that neighbors Taillon's The Woodlands. Again, Huntington continued, the success stories carry certain, intangible "traits that allow them to overcome the odds that are against them.
"It's a balance between the risk and the reward. You have to take a look at each individual player, what he does, how he does it, and make an evaluation seven years into the future. What is the upside, and what is the probability he will reach that upside?
"You can throw caution into the wind and take the guy with the highest upside on the board, and be right 5 percent of the time. It's a case-by-case player situation. We take a look at the player, everything we know about him. In some cases, that upside is worth the risk."
Therein rests the Pirates' draft plan. Should you want to call it that.
They do not have a boiled-down formula, especially this time with four selections in the top 114 picks of a draft rife with high school talent, particularly pitchers. Whether you consult baseball's overabundance of statistical minutiae or Ross Ohlendorf's senior thesis at Princeton about first-round economics, top picks in particular and draft selections in general are, simply put, valuable commodities. Huntington and staff assess risks, rewards, downsides, upsides, then chart players on a board. Cut to its core, their sole strategy is to snag the best players available for the best value.
For the record, the Pirates contend they have no hesitancy in selecting a Scott Boras client as is Machado.
"Each year, Mr. Boras is asked to represent many highly talented players. Our sole focus in the draft is adding highly talented players to our system who can become winning players for the Pirates. As a result, we do not hesitate to select highly talented players based on who they decide to represent them."
Money, in his words, is not an issue when it comes to talent.
"Had [Stephen] Strasburg been available when we selected last year, we would have selected him and I am confident that we would have signed him," Coonelly added. "If [Bryce] Harper is available when we draft this year and he is at the top of our draft board, we will select him and make every effort to sign him."
They consider their draft picks to be critical bricks in not only rebuilding a franchise, but constructing a winner. That's why they spent the most money of any major league team in the past two drafts: some $18.3 million.
Huntington declines to specify a budget allotment for this 2010 draft -- otherwise, agents might hold them up -- or a number of prospects to sign. They signed 30 after second-overall Pedro Alvarez in a collegiate-rich 2008 draft, at a time when their minor league system was parched. They signed 22 after Sanchez.
"Way too much is made over the number of players signed," Huntington said. "Last year, we were on the lower end. But we were on the lower end [for a reason]. We just don't have enough spots in the development system."
There are inherent risks with drafting teenagers. A safer road might be left-handed pitchers Drew Pomeranz of the University of Mississippi or Chris Sale of Gulf Coast University, but sometimes those less-rocky college paths lead to role players or end-of-rotation starters.
"In the Major League Baseball draft, you don't draft for need," Huntington said. "It's not like the NFL where you can drop a player on special teams or if we need a defensive tackle we go get the best defensive tackle out there. These guys are a long way from the major leagues. But the biggest thing in the draft for us is to be aggressive. "We're excited to add another quality draft class with depth and upside."