On the Pirates: The slow pitch game of signing deadline
Dace Kime couldn't take the waiting and opted instead to attend Louisville.
Jason Hursh and Nick Kingham remain stuck in slow-going talks with the Pirates while Oklahoma State and Oregon linger on hold until their respective decisions.
And the top two pitchers chosen by the Pirates in June's draft, Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie, hardly have their negotiations off the ground. After all, the final date to sign is still half a month away Aug. 16.
Hours after the first pivotal summer date passed on the major league calendar -- Saturday's non-waiver trade deadline -- perhaps it's time to turn to the next one and ask: Can't we move it earlier?
"I think every baseball guy you'd talk to would like to move the [draft-signing] deadline up to July 1," said John Hart, MLB Network analyst and longtime Cleveland Indians general manager. That way, teams have three weeks minimum to sign however many of their 50-round picks they desire, rather than "pulling guys off the [first-semester college] lawn" after a process made sluggish by above-slot delays and near-deadline deals.
"I think you could shorten the game. Give them July 1. Aug. 1, the latest," added J.P. Ricciardi, the former Toronto Blue Jays GM who now works as an ESPN analyst. "How should it be a long, drawn-out process? Once a kid gets drafted, he knows how much money he's going to get, who's getting what, the guys around them."
Part of the problem: teams hold close their above-slot prices so nobody else can see their cards. Another part: Major League Baseball's approval of mass quantities of above-slot deals, many of them arriving on their desks in late July at the earliest or the first and second week of August normally. Perhaps it would behoove all parties concerned if the draft-signing process carried a six-week window, maximum, until around mid-July.
Hart and Ricciardi agreed that an absolute slotting system, particularly for first-rounders, would expedite the process and place so many more draftees into teams' minor-league systems earlier. Only 11 of the Pirates' top 30 picks over the past three years were signed by June's close. Another 10 signed July 15 or later. Eight of this year's top 10 picks remain unsigned, with 16 shopping days left.
Two points Hart made about taking a little time with above-slot players: 1.) " 'If we can't beat the Yankees in the free-agent market, we can get in here and compete with lesser dollars. We'll just earmark more money for the draft." And 2.) the extra time allows teams to better scout picks competing in wood-bat or higher-competition summer leagues, where "you're likely to get a coup. 'This guy is better than our second- or third-round guy. We were lucky to get him in the 20th round.' "
Don't fret too much about draftees going late in August to the minors, with only a few games left. As Hart said, you can still send them to the Instructional League and work with them further, much like the Pirates did with above-slot bonus babies Zack Von Rosenberg, Zack Dodson and Colton Cain last year.
Ricciardi disagreed, though: "The hitters, the high school kids ... it's really, really important to get them out there [soon after the draft]. I think that's a big part of their development. If they get off to a good start, they put them there [to the majors] that much faster."
Bryan Morris and Tim Alderson continue to merit attention from their trade-deadline arrivals (Jason Bay 2008 and Freddy Sanchez 2009, respectively) to their divergent 2010 paths (up to and down from Altoona).
But two less heralded starters -- right-hander Aaron Pribanic in Bradenton (Jack Wilson 2009) and lefty Jeff Locke (Nate McLouth 2009) in Altoona -- are a couple of other pick-ups providing a pick-me-up.
"When I came over, they said it was a weak system," said Pribanic, 23, who came from the Mariners with fellow Marauders starter Nathan Adcock (8-5, 3.70), 22. "Since I've been here, I think there's more talent here than when I was in Seattle."
"It's been a pleasure every day I've been with the organization," added Locke, 22. He began the weekend with a combined 3.22 ERA this season and 10 victories that lead the system. He has 17 strikeouts in 17 innings since being promoted to Altoona, a 1.59 ERA and just two walks. Opponents are batting .222. And he's adjusting still.
"All my friends from the [Class A] championship Lynchburg team told me it was pretty much the same. But everything is different to me," Locke said of Class AA. "I just like to be ahead. I'd rather give up a well-earned hit any day of the week than walk a guy. You have to believe you can get everybody out."
Pribanic has been fairly unbeatable of late. He is 4-1 with a 1.43 ERA, 21 strikeouts, seven walks and 38 hits in 44 innings in his past seven starts. He is 6-5 overall with a 3.87 ERA. The single-best pitch in the Pirates' minors just might belong to Pribanic, who came upon it by accident.
"My first full season last year, to be honest I didn't know I had a sinker," said Pribanic, who went a combined 11-8 with a 2.89 ERA. "I had a two-seamer. The more I threw it, at the beginning of last year ... I got a lot of ground balls. It's my bread and butter now."
He mixes the sinker with a diet of fastballs. Even though left-handers are batting .313 and righties .271 against him, nobody has hit much off him lately: Four of his past five foes hit .217 or worse.
Locke quoted Bradenton pitching coach Wally Whitehurst about Pribanic: That sinker moves two arm lengths at 92 mph.
Said Pribanic: "Coming out of spring training, my mechanics weren't where we wanted them. The adjustments we made last season weren't coming through as well as last year. The first half, every outing I was like I didn't know who I am today. I wasn't sure what was supposed to go where at any time.
"I finally have a real solid idea of what to do. ... It's a world of difference when you're not thinking about it. Still a long way to go. But definitely going in the right direction."
Manager John Russell, amazed at how often Ryan Doumit gets hit by foul balls, bats, pitches and bodies, has talked with coaches about altering anything from his plate placement to his mask. Doumit has been on the disabled list since July 23 due to a third incident with concussions this season.
"We've looked at his positioning, we've looked at where he sets up, and don't see anything drastic there," Russell said. "He's catching some foul tips square.
"We talked about: Is there another mask, or something else he might be able to wear?" Russell added. "I haven't heard anybody say at impact that it makes a big difference, and maybe that straight impact is going to have the same effect no matter what mask you wear. ... We'll continue to monitor it."
First Published August 1, 2010 12:00 am