The future of the defense – Part 1, Outfield

As Pirate fans, our focus is currently on the future. The team is likely two seasons away from any clear improvement, and a potential championship club is years away. With that in mind, I wanted to take a futuristic look at an important aspect of the team that often receives little attention: the defense. Let’s start with the outfield.

The Pirates’ defense was near the bottom of the league in 2008, as it has been for the last several years. When the team dealt Jason Bay and Xavier Nady at the trade deadline, they also unloaded two pretty poor fielders. Nate McLouth won a Gold Glove, but virtually every advanced defensive statistic had him well below average among center fielders. I think McLouth was shortchanged a bit by those metrics, but Gold Glove caliber defense is a stretch. He’s probably about average, maybe slightly below. Long story short, the Pirates boasted a pretty lousy defensive outfield in the first half of 2008.

The 2009 outfield will likely consist of Nyjer Morgan in left, McLouth in center, and Brandon Moss in right. Moss is similar in ability to Nady. With younger legs and sturdier hamstrings, he is probably a tad better. With limited space to cover at PNC Park, we’ll say he is about an average fielder. Morgan, despite a weak arm and the occasional bizarre route, is a much better fielder than Bay. His tremendous speed allows him to cover a great deal of ground, which is necessary in the vast left field of PNC Park. That speed will also compensate for his lack of arm strength a bit, as he can get to balls much more quickly. Over the course of a season, replacing Bay with Nyjer is probably a two-win defensive improvement in itself.

The most exciting part is that the outfield should be greatly improved over the next two years. Andrew McCutchen will join the team sometime this season, and Jose Tabata will likely be arriving in 2010. McCutchen will push McLouth to left, and Tabata will switch from center to right when he arrives. That will give the Pirates three outfielders that originally came up as center fielders. That is quite a bit of range to work with.

Further down the road, there is some additional athleticism we can envision wandering around the outfield grass. Robbie Grossman and Wesley Freeman, two highly-touted high school outfielders from the most recent draft, are center fielders with good range. They may find a place in the Pirates’ outfield one day.

Overall, there is an encouraging outlook for the future outfield defense. Next up, the infield.

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Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable – Draft picks

The Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable is a weekly collaboration of Pirates writers from around the internet. Thank you to all of the authors that have contributed to this post. To read more of their work, please click on the link next to each name. If you would like to submit a question to our panel, please e-mail me here.
Question:
Now that the signing deadline has passed, which Pirates’ draft pick are you most excited to see entering the system? Were there any selections that you were disappointed to see go unsigned?

Mike from Hyzdu Headquarters
The excitement of the past few days has almost been too much to handle. When looking back at the flurry of signings that were made this past week, any Pirate fan should be happy with the work of the new management team.
I am excited about many of the players that have come into the system, but perhaps Robbie Grossman is the one that has me most excited. In Grossman we have a high upside high school outfielder that is something that we have never really had much of in the past. I really like his high upside potential.
I am a little disappointed that they were unable to sign Tanner Scheppers but it seems that his injury would have made his signing be a huge question mark. But I’d say that the ones that I find myself wishing we could have signed were Patrick Palmeiro and Jaron Shepherd. Palmeiro obviously is a very high upside player, but his father wanted him to go to school. Shepherd is a terrific athlete, who is fine tuning his baseball skills. I thought both would have been excellent additions.
For the most part I am extremely pleased and excited about the potential of these players that they have brought into the organization. I think this past week has made many come to the realization that there is a plan in place, a solid actual plan that is being executed in a precise manner. I hope that the good times continue to roll.
Nancy from Sandlot Swashbucklers
It’s not that I’m not excited about Pedro Alvarez…
But I’m more excited, or maybe more impressed, with the guys who signed what was considered a reasonable offer and then showed up and got to work.
I’m excited most about Matt Hague (9th round), another third baseman. He was first assigned to State College, where he hit .333 in 7 games. Now he’s at Hickory, hitting .320 in 40 games, with 13 doubles, 5 homers, and 25 RBI. He’s hitting .372 with RISP.
Jordy Mercer (3rd round), a shortstop, started a bit slower, but is doing better now. He’s hitting .280 for August in Hickory, and .345 in his last 8 games. He has 4 homers and 16 RBI.
Chase d’Arnaud (4th round), another shortstop, is at State College, hitting .339 in 28 games, with 8 doubles, 5 triples (in 28 games!), and 12 RBI.
RHP Brian Leach (25th round), also at State College, has pitched 42 innings, with a 3.64 ERA, 11 walks, and 29 strikeouts.
Teammate Alan Knotts (38th round), another RHP, has thrown 33.2 innings, and has a 4.01 ERA, with only 6 walks and 35 strikeouts. And remember, those two are pitching for a team that is … well, pretty crummy.
Shortstop Jarek Cunningham(18th round) is with the GCL Pirates in Bradenton. He’s hitting .310 with 15 RBI.
And, don’t forget outfielder Craig Parry. He was the 50th pick, signed right away, and got busy. He’s hitting .308 with 14 RBI in 16 games in Bradenton, and he’s 4-for-13 in this last week.
Those are the guys I’m looking forward to watching as they move through the Pirates’ system.
Jesse from Raise the Jolly Roger!
Obviously it is Pedro Alvarez. He is a Miguel Cabrera type third baseman with more speed. I am excited to see what level we send him to. I was not very disappointed with not signing Scheppers because of his injuries, and I am glad we signed a lot of shortstops.
Andy Smith from Bugs and Cranks
Surprise, surprise, I’m most excited about Pedro Alvarez. I realize the baseball draft contains the least certainty of all four of the major sports, but from what I understand, Alvarez isn’t the kind of hitting prospect that comes around every year. Although I also think I heard, during the negotiation process, that if Alvarez had to re-enter the draft in 2009, he might not be picked so highly considering the depth at third base. So who knows. It’s just awesome that after years of talking about it, the Pirates have a mythical left-handed power bat in their system. On the less obvious side, I’m excited from what I hear about outfielder Robbie Grossman. I don’t know what his peripheral numbers look like, but he’s five-tool player with an abundance of athleticism which is something else the Pirates system has been lacking for a long time.
Matt Bandi from Pittsburgh Lumber Co.
Obviously, Pedro Alvarez is the gem of the draft. He is a rare talent, and it is great to have him in the organization. But I am very interested to see how Wesley Freeman ultimately turns out.
The new front office has been in place for about a year now, and we have seen many instances of improvement throughout the franchise. We have seen a strong draft, as well as two bold trades at the deadline. One aspect of the revamped organization that we still have not learned about is player development. That will take years to properly evaluate. If the new front office can judge talent well, player development very well may be the final hurdle to clear in order to field a winning team.
Freeman, a high school outfielder drafted in the 16th round, has loads of raw tools. He’s big, strong, and possesses above average speed. He also has some mechanical issues with his swing. Freeman has the athletic ability to be a special player. He will need capable coaching at the minor league level to reach that potential. I am excited to see whether our development of prospects has also improved with the implementation of the new front office in 2007.
I would have loved to see the Pirates sign tenth round pick Drew Gagnon. If there was one issue with the draft, it was the limited amount of pitching acquired. The team signed 20th rounder Quinton Miller after it became apparent that Tanner Scheppers would not sign, but I would have liked to have added another high-upside player.

Draft implications

Today I figured that, after staying up to hear confirmation that Pedro Alvarez had signed, I would write up a synopsis of the 2008 draft. But if you are reading this, I’m sure I won’t tell you anything you don’t know. Pedro Alvarez was arguably the best talent in the draft, and the Pirates signed him to a reasonable $6 million bonus. The Pirates took a risk in drafting Tanner Scheppers in the second round, and did not sign him due to health concerns. They inked several talented high school players that had dropped due to signability concerns. That included sixth rounder Robbie Grossman, 16th rounder Wesley Freeman and 20th rounder Quinton Miller. Overall, the team signed eight of their top ten picks. They added both high-end talent and depth to the farm system.
But we know all that. Let’s take a look at some of the other implications of the Alvarez signing and the draft class as a whole. First of all, this is another indication that Bob Nutting is willing to provide the funding necessary to field a winning team. Early reports have the Pirates as one of the top spenders in this year’s draft, something that was essential in order to replenish the minor leagues. Many fans will not be convinced about Nutting’s commitment to winning until the Major League payroll is increased to a competitive level. They will not be content until the Pirates lock up their young core (McLouth, Doumit, Maholm, etc.) and bring in top free agents when the time is right. The willingness to spend in this year’s draft is a good indication that there will be a greater financial commitment in the future.
Another way to look at the Alvarez signing is the reputation that management may have created. From what I can tell, the Pirates made the offer for $6 million and stuck to it. Scott Boras waited as long as he could, hoping the Pirates would cave, then agreed to the deal when the front office did not blink. It appears that the team used the same strategy with other draft picks as well. Management made what they felt were competitive offers to Scheppers and Justin Wilson, and told each that they would not budge. In the end, they stuck to their word. Wilson lowered his demands and signed. Scheppers did not.
It is possible that future draft picks and agents will notice this, and may come into negotiations with the knowledge that Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington are fair and straightforward negotiators. Obviously, Scott Boras likes to sit back and milk the trade deadline as much as possible. If the Pirates select one of his clients next year, is there a chance that Boras will encourage an early signing? He may have learned that Pirate management will not play games in the negotiation process.
Probably not. But it’s interesting to think about.

Pirates sign Grossman

The Pirates have signed Robbie Grossman, another of their high-upside draft picks. The sixth round selection signed for well over slot, with a bonus of $1 million. That puts him on a level with supplemental first round picks. This is great news, as Grossman was considered one of the better high school talents in the draft. Neal Huntington seemed pretty excited about the signing:

“The addition of Robbie Grossman is a big step forward for the organization. We gave Robbie strong consideration as our second-round pick but, as part of our calculated strategy, we were thrilled that a player of his ability was still available when we selected in the sixth round due to his strong interest in playing collegiate baseball.”

In other news, Dejan reports that Justin Wilson’s signing yesterday was surprisingly for $195,000. That is exactly the recommended bonus for his draft slot. He was expected to command more after his performance in the College World Series
The Buster Posey signing could inflate Pedro Alvarez’s asking price.

Posted in Justin Wilson, Neal Huntington, Pedro Alvarez, Robert Grossman. Comments Off on Pirates sign Grossman

Scheppers throws for Pirates

Tanner Scheppers, the Pirates’ second round pick in the draft, worked out at PNC Park yesterday. Pirate management observed as Scheppers threw 25-30 pitches in the bullpen, and everything sounds positive. He threw only fastballs, but it appears he is progressing in his recovery from a labrum injury. The Pirates are expected to make a contract offer before Friday’s deadline.
Signing Scheppers would be a huge boost to the draft. Assume that Pedro Alvarez signs shortly before the deadline. There have been reports that fifth round pick Justin Wilson and sixth rounder Robbie Grossman will sign. 16th round pick Wesley Freeman was inked last week. Add Scheppers, a potential top ten talent, and maybe a couple other high-upside picks that remain unsigned, and the new regime would have to be extremely satisfied with their first draft.

Posted in Justin Wilson, Pedro Alvarez, Robert Grossman, Wesley Freeman. Comments Off on Scheppers throws for Pirates

Remaining unsigned draft picks

The deadline to sign 2008 draft picks is Friday at midnight, making this week a very important one in Pittsburgh. The new front office has followed through with their two most significant promises, to draft high-ceiling players and to focus on long-term success rather than breaking the streak of losing seasons. The final step is signing those high-upside draft picks and adding talent to the farm system. Let’s check in with the remaining unsigned players among the team’s top ten picks.
First Round – Pedro Alvarez
Being the first round pick, Alvarez has received the most publicity as the deadline approaches. Many fans are worried that he will not sign, and MLB.com beat writer Jenifer Langosch has doubts about a deal getting done. However, I am extremely confident that Alvarez will be a Pirate on Saturday. The team is under quite a bit of pressure from fans to make it happen, and it would clearly be in Alvarez’s best interest to sign. He is unlikely to be selected as high next year, leaving him with a smaller bonus in the distant future. In addition, the chance of an injury or drop-off in production makes it a huge gamble. It is very likely that a deal will be struck late Friday night.
Second Round – Tanner Scheppers
The Pirates want to be convinced that Scheppers’ shoulder is healthy before signing him, and he is currently in Pittsburgh to meet with the team’s doctors. If he is deemed healthy, he will most likely be signed for an above-slot bonus. If he is still having issues with the labrum, the Pirates will probably let him go and take the compensatory pick in the 2009 draft. I have no idea what will happen with this situation.
Fifth Round – Justin Wilson
Wilson pitched very well in the College World Series in June, and decided he was worth more because of it. I disagree, and it seems the Pirates do as well. Wilson is not a unique talent, and the Pirates should not cave to his demands. He will have to drop his asking price drastically for a deal to get done.
Sixth Round – Robbie Grossman
Grossman was drafted out of high school, and most expected him not to sign so that he may attend college. However, after visiting Pittsburgh, Grossman stated that there was a 50-50 chance that he would sign. Rocco Demaro has stated numerous times on the Pirates’ postgame show that his sources have indicated that Grossman will sign close to the deadline. I would not be surprised if this is true.
Tenth Round – Drew Gagnon
Gagnon rounds out the top ten. To be honest, I know very little about him. I believe he throws in the low 90’s with a good curveball. In order to sign him, the Pirates will have to offer a bonus well above slot.
The Pirates must sign at least a few of these guys (and hopefully a few other high-upside picks in later rounds) for this to be considered a successful draft. The front office has indicated that it will attempt to lock up all of the top ten picks, which would be great news to hear on Saturday morning. Considering Major League Baseball encourages teams to hold off on above-slot signings until closer to the deadline, I am confident that things will go well in the next 84 hours.

Posted in Drew Gagnon, Justin Wilson, Pedro Alvarez, Robert Grossman. Comments Off on Remaining unsigned draft picks

Report indicates Pirates will sign Grossman

Rocco Demaro reported on tonight’s postgame show that the Pirates are expected to sign sixth round draft pick Robert Grossman. Grossman is a high school centerfielder, a player that was set to attend college if he did not receive an above slot bonus. Rocco mentioned a possible bonus of about $500,000.
Nothing is confirmed at this point, and Grossman still may not sign until close to the August 15 deadline.
EDIT (7/25/2008 11:35 AM): Just a quick additional note. Dejan reported a little over a week ago that the Pirates were unlikely to sign fifth round pick Justin Wilson. Wilson pitched very well in the College World Series, and subsequently increased his asking price. Dejan indicated that the Pirates would focus on other high upside players if Wilson did not sign, specifically mentioning Grossman. This news may be confirmation that Wilson will not sign.

Posted in Justin Wilson, Robert Grossman. Comments Off on Report indicates Pirates will sign Grossman