I can’t say I approve of the Pirates’s draft strategy. But at least they are consistent.

The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Jameson Taillon, the top-ranked high school pitcher, in the first round.

Then, unexpectedly, Stetson Allie, the second-ranked high school pitcher in the second round after no other team took him in the first.

That is, after Bryce Harper was taken by the Washington Nationals with the first overall pick.

The keys here are “high school,” and “pitcher.” High school players (as a group), are notoriously less reliable than college players. And high school pitchers are the least reliable of all.

A “normal” fielder has two functions; batting and fielding. If such a player doesn’t live up to his promise in one area, there is always the other one that might provide compensation.

But that’s not true for pitchers, who normally “can’t hit,” and in any event, plays in at most one game out of five. And that’s in the National League. Because in the American League, the designated hitter makes this a moot point.

Basically, a pitcher’s SOLE function, is to pitch. And of all the fielding functions, that is the hardest of all. Because a pitcher has to locate balls with a desired speed and pinpoint accuracy.

A small deviation from plan could make the difference between an out and a home run. There is no allowance for getting it “in the zone,” the way there would be for a position player.

Because of the demands, pitchers are arguably the most injury prone. As such, they need to be drafted with care, with an eye for durability, as well as raw skill.

Such durability is much better exhibited in college, against “real” competition, than in high school. Drafting a high school pitcher is just a crap shoot.

So what were the Pirates’ alternatives? If they wanted a pitcher, the most reliable choice was Drew Pomeranz, a college player, who at least, has weathered a few storms.

On the other hand, if the Pirates wanted a high school player, a safer choice might have been Manny Machado, whose position was shortstop (a key defender), who hits better than the average position player. That’s in the manner of the New York Yankees’ Derek Jeter (who hasn’t yet gone to college).

And even though they want pitching, the best way to “get there” might be to draft the best available player, even though he plays another position.

In the 2001 draft, three of four teams ahead of the Texas Rangers drafted pitchers (only one of whom became an All-Star), as did four teams right after the Rangers (two of whose pitchers didn’t make the majors). But Texas drafted future All-Star Mark Teixeira, who could have been trade bait for any (established) pitcher you could name.

And there is another reason that the low-budget Pirates, (like the low-budget Oakland A’s), should sign mainly college players.

That’s due to issues like the six-year period of club control, and fact that the average baseball player peaks at age 28.

Suppose the team signs a college player at age 20, keeps him three years in the minors, and brings him to the majors at age 23. He will become a free agent at age 29, probably AFTER his peak.

Change the signing age to 18, and the arrival in the majors to age 21, and he becomes a free agent at age 27, with his future peak captured by a higher-paying team.

There might be a reason that Stetson Allie was available to the Pirates at the beginning of the second round. The conventional wisdom regarding high school players might have turned off all the first-round pickers (plus the Nationals in the second round).

On the other hand, the Pirates did get two or three of the best high school pitchers. One of them may just pan out, despite the odds.

In drafting as they did, the Pirates followed a deeply “contrarian” strategy that might turn out to be very right or very wrong.



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