Pirates Draft Preview
By Allan Simpson
Scouting Director: Ed Creech (first draft: 2002).
2000 Draft (First five rounds, picking 19th)
2001 Draft (First three rounds, picking eighth)
2002 Draft (First five rounds, picking first)
General manager David Littlefield made it a priority to reverse a losing atmosphere in the minors in his first full year on the job, and Pirates affiliates responded by winning at a .571 clip--second best in the minors. Both of the organization's Class A clubs won league championships.
The Pirates also made the smart-money pick in the draft when they selected Ball State righthander Bryan Bullington No. 1 overall. Bullington was the only college player selected among the first eight players last year, and though he didn't sign until September, he is expected to be the first player from that group to reach the big leagues.
The last time the Pirates picked first, 1996, they also went for a college pitcher, Clemson righthander Kris Benson. He is the only Pirates first-rounder since the decade-long losing streak began in 1993 to make a meaningful contribution in Pittsburgh. The only other first-rounders to even reach Pittsburgh are outfielders Chad Hermansen (1995) and J.J. Davis (1997), who have combined to hit .197. Hermansen has since been traded away.
Since drafting Benson, the Pirates have gambled with their first-round picks three times by converting players to different positions. The results have been mixed. Davis was one of the top high school power pitchers in the 1997 draft, but he was moved to the outfield. In his seventh season, he is in Triple-A. In 1998, the Pirates took Clint Johnston, an All-America outfielder at Vanderbilt, and tried to make him a closer; Johnston never made it out of Class A and is no longer in the organization.
In 2001, the Pirates surprised almost everyone by drafting NCAA home run king John VanBenschoten of Kent State and making him a pitcher. So far, that experiment has met with positive reviews--though Van Benschoten is only in Class A.
The Pirates have another decision to make in dual-position athlete Wardell Starling, one of the top two-way players in last year's draft. Starling, a righthander and outfielder, didn't sign but remained under the Pirates' control because he attended Odessa (Texas) Junior College. He is eligible to sign with the Pirates until a week before this year's draft.
The Pirates have the eighth selection for the fourth time in seven years, and hope to limit their risk by zeroing in again on a college pitcher--the strength of this year's draft. They hope that one of righthanders Kyle Sleeth (Wake Forest), Tim Stauffer (Richmond) or Brad Sullivan (Houston) slides to them. The Pirates also have a strong interest in Florida high school lefthander Andrew Miller, the nation's top-rated prep pitching prospect.