Pirates face new, different set of challenges in draft

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SAN DIEGO — Due to their success last season, the Pirates face a challenge they haven’t seen in some time for the amateur draft today. They’re not complaining.

The Pirates do not pick until No. 24 overall in the first round of the Major League Baseball first-year player draft, which begins at 7 p.m. with the first and second rounds along with the competitive-balance lottery selections. MLB.com and MLB Network will broadcast the draft, starting with a preview show at 6 p.m.

In addition to the 24th pick, the Pirates have the No. 39 selection in the supplemental round following the first round; their regular second-round pick at No. 64; and No. 73 in the supplemental round after the second round.

“It’s a lot easier when you’re picking one, two or four to have a pretty good feel of who’s going to get to you,” general manager Neal Huntington said earlier this season. “It’s a bit more of a challenge this year picking 24, which we’ll gladly take, and, hopefully, figure out a way to start picking 28, 29 and 30 at some point here in the near future.”

The lower selection resulted from the Pirates’ 94-68 record in 2013. Records from the previous year correspond inversely to draft order. In addition to taking the Pirates out of the running for the draft’s top talent, not picking until late in the first round reduces the amount of money the Pirates can spend on players they draft in the top 10 rounds.

The previous time the Pirates selected as low as 24th was 1991, when they took college outfielder Jon Farrell. They drafted in the top 10 for each of the past eight years. Since Huntington’s front office first ran the draft in 2008, the Pirates have taken three college hitters, three college pitchers, two high school hitters and one high school pitcher with their first-round picks, including supplemental selections.

Picking lower, Huntington said, means the Pirates focus on players that could conceivably fall to them without spending too much time or resources on those likely to go near the top of the first round.

“Typically, we get into almost the double digits with guys that we’ve got supervisor looks at, not just our area guys, which is a good thing for us as an organization,” Huntington said.

Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle met to discuss the draft over the weekend while the Pirates were in Los Angeles to face the Dodgers.

“Profiled the first potential 10 people that we liked, how it might fall,” Hurdle said.

The best, albeit most far-fetched, example of late-first round talent is Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, who fell to No. 25 in 2009. The Boston Red Sox found center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury at No. 23 in 2005 — one of the best drafts ever — and starting pitcher Matt Garza went to the Minnesota Twins two picks later. There are more — Baltimore outfielder Adam Jones, San Francisco pitcher Matt Cain, New York Mets third baseman David Wright, St. Louis starting pitcher Adam Wainwright and former Houston Astros star Craig Biggio all were taken outside the top 20 — but finding major league talent there is harder.

Talent exists in the neighborhood of the Pirates’ first supplemental selection as well. Jones went No. 37, Washington pitcher Gio Gonzalez 38th, Wright 38th and former major league outfielder Johnny Damon 35th.

Mock drafts from Baseball America, ESPN.com and MLB.com have mentioned Missouri high school outfielder Monte Harrison, California high school shortstop Jacob Gatewood and California high school pitcher Luis Ortiz as options for the Pirates. Projecting that far down, though, remains an educated guess.

Huntington said some of the higher projected picks still need evaluation in case they fall.

“You do your homework, you make sure you’re comfortable that, if they get to you, you’re happy, and you know why you’re happy and you know maybe why they got to you,” Huntington said.

The Pirates corrected slightly for the lower bonus pool by trading reliever Bryan Morris to the Miami Marlins for the Marlins’ competitive-balance pick (No. 39 overall). The added $1,457,600 that came with the pick brought the Pirates’ total bonus pool allotment to $7,063,700, according to Baseball America.

They received the supplemental pick after the second round in the competitive-balance lottery, the same lottery that originally distributed the Marlins the 39th pick. The 10 clubs with the lowest revenue and the 10 clubs in the smallest markets are entered into a lottery, weighted by winning percentage from the previous season, for six additional picks after the first round. Those that didn’t receive a pick, plus any team that receives money under the revenue-sharing plan, are entered into another lottery for six picks after the second round.

The same changes in the new collective bargaining agreement enacted in 2012 that created the lottery also set penalties for exceeding the allotted bonus pool. The pool covers the aggregate value of the team’s picks in the top 10 rounds and the portion of bonuses in the final 30 rounds that exceeds $100,000. The Pirates exceeded their bonus pool last year, but not by more than 5 percent, which would have required forfeiting a future pick. Instead, they paid only a tax on the overage.


Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.

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