On the Pirates: Special all-draft edition

Technology helping to select, court top talent


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The image most have of a Major League Baseball team's draft room is one dominated by a giant eraser board and filled out with reams of paper, a factory's output of smoke and a bunch of guys in Hawaiian shirts barking at each other.

Well, take away the paper and the smoke, keep the Hawaiian shirts, and one begins to have a clear picture of the Pirates' weeklong meetings leading up to the amateur draft Thursday and Friday.


Run-up to
MLB's Draft 2008

Monday: Georgia's Tim Beckham is the top high school talent available. Does that make him less of a known commodity? Or the one with the highest upside?

Tuesday: For months, Vanderbilt University's Pedro Alvarez was the consensus No. 1. Then, he broke a bone in his hand. Is he still No. 1?

Wednesday: It is not often that a superior athlete goes behind the plate. But that is where Buster Posey, a converted shortstop and pitcher, has excelled at Florida State.


Oh, and take away the eraser board.

New management has acknowledged having an elaborate new setup in the main conference room of its Federal Street headquarters, one that has greatly advanced its ability to process information on potential picks, and that setup is believed to include an electronic draft board of some kind. But management also is being plenty secretive about all this, to the extent it has politely denied media requests to photograph it.

"We feel it's something that will give us a competitive advantage," general manager Neal Huntington said.

What he will say ...

"It's a championship room. It's our goal to do things the right way, and there are a lot of tools in there to help us do that."

The Pirates apparently are equipped to take some of this high-tech approach on the road, too.

When their scouts recently visited the Georgia home of high school shortstop Tim Beckham, who might be the top pick in the draft, they showed Beckham's family an internally produced video -- on a laptop -- to illustrate positive traits of their system, from development to the majors.

"Very impressive," said Jimmy Beckham, the shortstop's father. "I follow the game pretty closely, and I never heard of a team doing something like that."

21 feet tall, but a million miles away

One shortcoming of the previous scouting administration under Ed Creech was a failure to infuse talent that best suited PNC Park's quirks, particularly on offense: No more than a handful of left-handed power-hitting types were drafted in Creech's six drafts, and none came close to Pittsburgh.

Neither Huntington nor new scouting director Greg Smith will promise to draft such players, but they did say it could function as a tiebreaker.

"As we build a major-league team, we have to take into account ballpark factors," Huntington said. "So, yeah, it's one of many pieces in the equation. But it comes down to hitters first before you look at power or being left-handed. There are amateur hitters who can drive the ball to the moon but can't get the barrel of the bat to the ball very often. If you swing and miss in high school, you're going to swing and miss a heck of a lot more in the pros."

Huntington added that there might be a secondary reason to favor left-handed hitters.

"I've been told that they have a two-year advantage over someone right-handed because of the odd-side platoon, plus the ability to better deal with the slider from the right-handed pitcher."

Grim reminders

On this draft eve, a quick recap of the Pirates' past 10 first-rounders:

1998 Clint Johnston. Arm surgery. Out of baseball.

1999 Bobby Bradley. Arm surgery. Out of baseball.

2000 Sean Burnett. Multiple arm surgeries. Battled back.

2001 John Van Benschoten. Multiple arm surgeries. Battled back, now in Class AAA.

2002 Bryan Bullington. Arm surgery. Battled back.

2003 Paul Maholm. Made it in one piece.

2004 Neil Walker. Struggling in Class AAA, but coming.

2005 Andrew McCutchen. Blowing away Class AAA, and sure to arrive by September.

2006 Brad Lincoln. Arm surgery. Battling back.

2007 Danny Moskos. Still in one piece.

Deal rather than draft?

If this were not Major League Baseball, the Pirates might be able to trade that No. 2 overall pick for quite the bounty. But that long has been forbidden and, according to team president Frank Coonelly, who previously worked in commissioner Bud Selig's office, that will not change soon.

The reason, as Coonelly explained it, is that agents might be able to dictate which teams draft which players if trades were allowed.

"If you don't have a pure slotting system like the NBA and allow the trading of draft positions, you will have agents absolutely running negotiations," Coonelly said. "The clubs selecting at Nos. 1-5 might not be getting best talent because an agent already would have cut a deal with a club selecting, say, 27th. The flexibility to trade draft selections is something I and, I think, most clubs would favor. But there would have to be a pure slotting system first."

A proposal to allow the trading of draft picks was discussed in 2002, he added, but without rigid slotting. The players' union was in favor, but the owners were mostly opposed.

Speaking from experience

Bryan Bullington can empathize like few others with the kind of week Beckham, Buster Posey and Pedro Alvarez -- the consensus top three prospects in the draft -- are about to have.

Six years ago, he was the No. 1 overall pick of the Pirates, out of Ball State University.

"It was a similar situation to the one I'm reading about now, where it was down to three or four guys -- B.J. Upton and a couple others -- and you're wondering where you're going to go," Bullington said. "I thought it was a fun time. I knew I was going to be in the top 10-15, with maybe an opportunity to go No. 1. To me, that was exciting."

He got the word about being No. 1 through a Web simulcast, surrounded at home by family and friends.

"It was something I'll never forget. I came from a small school, mid-major conference, had a good year, and everything just seemed to come to a head all at once. It was a great time."

His advice to the current pack?

"Have fun with it."


First Published June 1, 2008 4:00 AM


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