Published on September 5th, 2012 | by John Friend0
Pittsburgh Arms Race—Tracking Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon & Luis Heredia on Paths to the Majors
Pittsburgh Arms Race
2007. Zack Duke, Paul Maholm and Matt Morris were the staff aces of a rotation that helped complete a 70-92 season. John Van Benschoten and Bryan Bullington were the staff’s future studs.
Then 2008 came around and brought with it General Manager Neal Huntington. Huntington assessed the Pirates farm system and quickly realized there was no help on the way in the form of pitching.
Over Huntington’s first two seasons, the popular maneuver became trading away bats for young pitching. In 2008, the Pirates traded for pitchers Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen, Bryan Morris and Craig Hansen. 2009 was more of the same as the Pirates acquired Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke and Tim Alderson through trades.
In 2009, the team discovered a different way to acquire pitching, one that would take a long time reap the benefits from, if ever. The Pirates selected five high school pitchers in 2009, overpaying each of them compared to what their draft slot would traditionally receive to ensure the player would accept the Pirates offer instead of attending college.
That season, the Pirates selected Brooks Pounders, Zack Dodson, Zack Von Rosenberg, Colton Cain and Trent Stevenson. Out of these five, only Von Rosenberg and Dodson are still with the Pirates. The Pirates would soon learn that drafting young pitchers was a high risk, high reward situation.
While many of the pitchers the Pirates have traded for turned out to be serviceable major leaguers, none of them developed into the shut-down ace of the staff that Huntington once envisioned. By 2010, the Pirates farm system was nicely recovering from several years of inadequate drafting of pitchers, but Huntington decided to continue and even ramp up the “high risk” approach in the subsequent draft years.
With the second overall pick in the 2010 draft, the Pirates selected high school standout pitcher Jameson Taillon. With their second round pick, the team selected pitcher Stetson Allie. In that same year, the Pirates signed international free agent pitcher Luis Heredia.
Taillon and Allie were high school pitchers, while Heredia was barely in high school. It became obvious that these were high risk, high reward picks, but that approach is sometimes needed with small-market clubs.
“[Taillon] has the stuff that allows you to envision, down the road, a top-of-the-rotation starter.”
- Neal Huntington, Post-Gazette: Pirates Take ‘Risk’ with Pitcher
“It’s a great day for the Pittsburgh Pirates to add a player and a person like Luis,” Rene Gayo, the Pirates’ Latin American scouting director said. “We consider him to be the best arm in Latin America.“
- Rene Gayo, Pirates Add Best Arm in Latin America in Heredia
The Pirates were acquiring players that were undoubtedly the best at their current level. Whether or not it would translate into MLB success no one knew, but that was a risk the team was willing to take.
“We have to acknowledge the risk,” said Pirates general manager Neal Huntington. “You study the draft and see the large percentage of high school starting pitchers that don’t make it. … As we make an evaluation projecting into the future, we look at everything, and this pick gives us what we want, both on an off the field. We saw all the necessary traits in him that will make him successful for us.”
- Neal Huntington on high-risk strategy, Post-Gazette: Pirates Take ‘Risk’ with Pitcher
In 2010 the Pirates added three standout arms that all had the potential to become staff aces down the road. When 2011 came around, Huntington and the Pirates were not about to alter their stance on pitching.
The first overall selection in the 2011 draft belonged to the Pirates and they selected stud college pitcher Gerrit Cole with that pick. Unlike Taillon, Allie and Heredia, Cole seemed to be more of a sure thing, as he pitched three seasons in college for UCLA.
In 2012, the Pirates stance on dominant arms clearly did not change, as the team selected pitcher Mark Appel from Stanford with the eighth overall pick. Appel was considered the best pitcher in the draft, but not many believed he would sign with a MLB team in 2012. The Pirates missed out on Appel, as he decided to return for his senior season at Stanford.
With the draft strategy the Pirates have followed since 2010, the team has gathered a nice collection of standout arms. While many are still working their way through the system, there are three pitchers that have set themselves apart from the rest of the crowd due to sheer talent and attitude.
Slew Footers is proud to present the “Pittsburgh Arms Race.” In this ongoing series, we will keep you updated with the progress of each pitcher on his respective path to the majors.
In the following installments, we will provide you with everything a fan wants to know about each individual pitcher—detailed draft descriptions, pitch arsenals and complete background information on each pitcher will be provided in this opening edition of Pittsburgh Arms Race.
Pittsburgh Arms Race
Image wallyg @ flickr