The Pittsburgh Pirates spent nearly $9 million to draft two high school pitchers, Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie. Throw in $2.6 million for 16-year old Mexican Luis Heredia, and the total tops $11 million.

Less than half of first round draft choices become established players (playing more than a few games) in the majors. For long shots like high school or teenage pitchers, the chances may be as little as one in three.

All three are “power arms,” which mean that they have the greatest chance to dominate, but also to “crash and burn” if they turn out not to have the requisite endurance.

On the other hand, if even one of the three turns out to be the next “Ben Sheets,” the $11 million investment will have been worth it. During his period of club control, Sheets was worth about $60 million more to Milwaukee than he was paid, according to FanGraphs.

Still, the odds are longer than yours truly, for one, would like. Only Paul Maholm, of the Pirates’ first round pitching choices in the past decade has clearly worked out, and he would be only a second or more like third starter on another team.

Bryan Bullington was a pitcher drafted in the first round. Ditto for John van Benschoten (who, however, was more like a “Bryce Harper” who’s probably a better bet as a position player). So, too, were Brad Lincoln and Dan Moskos.

Even pitchers drafted in the first round by others and acquired in trade often fit this sorry mold. These include busted reliever Craig Hansen, and capable but Tommy John-plagued Bryan Morris. Tim Alderson has also been a disappointment, having been demoted this year.

If anything, acquired first-round pitchers are an even greater risk than those taken via draft. Like used cars of very recent vintage, they might not have been released by their former owners without a good reason.

On the other hand, the Pirates’ best recent first-round draft choices have been of position players; Neil Walker in 2004, Andrew McCutchen in 2005, and Pedro Alvarez in 2008 (good thing the Tampa Bay Rays opted for Tim Beckham in that year).

Meanwhile, the Pirates acquired pitchers Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, and Dan McCutchen in trade for outfielder Xavier Nady (attributing Jose Tabata to reliever Damasco Marte).

The trade of outfielder Nate McLouth brought Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke (as well as a potential replacement in Gorkys Hernandez), and it’s still possible that at least one of the two pitchers will work out. And the Bucs recently received James McDonald for reliever Octavio Dotel.

With the exception of McCutchen and Locke, these were advanced prospects with a bit of Major League playing time, and therefore were easier for Pittsburgh to evaluate than draft choices.

Ohlendorf appears to be a genuinely good pitcher that the Yankees may regret trading away. Karstens and McCutchen are hurlers who didn’t quite meet Yankee standards, but may still be reasonably good Pirates.

The Bucs need good pitching to succeed. But it’s the above-mentioned position players that now hold the keys to the Pirates’ future success. And trading position players for pitchers seems like the sure way to get there.

That seems like a better idea than say, taking reliever Daniel Moskos ahead of either of the fielders named Matt (Wieters or LaPorta) in the 2007 draft.

Right now, no one would suggest trading Andrew McCutchen or Pedro Alvarez for  a pitcher of the caliber of Tim Lincecum (taken after Brad Lincoln in 2006) for a pennant race.

But the 1971 Pirates did just that with the trade of center fielder Mattie Alou for pitcher Nelson Briles, and won the World Series. That group of Bucs had fielders to spare, with Al Oliver coming up in center field.

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