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Top-of-the-draft philosophy: Take the hitter!

6/6/2011

My philosophy on building a baseball team is the same as most. I would begin with five No. 1 starting pitchers, all capable of 20 wins and an ERA under 2.00 with WHIPs under 1.00, followed by three impact hitters in the middle of the order who would have an OPS over 1.100 with 140-RBI potential who would also win Gold Glove awards at catcher, shortstop and center field, an impact closer who converts every save opportunity, and a leadoff hitter with a .400 OBP who could steal 50 bases and score 120 runs. I would take the proven ace pitcher over the best hitter every time. If we could all implement this philosophy, world championships would follow.

This blueprint is pretty simple. There are 30 teams that would like to carry out this plan. Logic says that when it comes to the first five selections in the draft, clubs should choose starting pitchers. History, however, says that is high risk and usually not successful.

In fact, since 1990, the only top pitchers taken in the top five of the draft who lived up to the scouting reports were Mark Mulder, Josh Beckett, Justin Verlander, David Price and Stephen Strasburg (who is now injured). That's exactly five pitchers out of a possible 105 draft picks.

Here is a list of pitchers who were taken with one of the top five selections in the draft since 1990: Kurt Miller, Brien Taylor, James Henderson, Billy Wallace, Jeff Granger, Wayne Gomes, Dustin Hermanson, Ariel Prieto, Matt Anderson, Jeff Austin, Adam Johnson, Mike Stodolka, Justin Wayne, Dewon Brazelton, Chris Gruler, Kyle Sleeth, Greg Reynolds and Daniel Moskos.

In most cases, the clubs weren't wrong to draft them. The stuff was there, so were their proven track records -- and in many cases they had good makeup. However, some of the pitchers were later injured, their physical abilities regressed, or their off-field behavior and lifestyle changed for the worse. Of course, some of the failures also had to do with poor scouting of deliveries, lack of deception, intelligence and overall makeup.

Position players have a much better track record, especially those whose best tool was the "hit" tool. For examples, look no further than Chipper Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Josh Hamilton, Adrian Gonzalez, Joe Mauer, Mark Teixeira, Ryan Braun, Ryan Zimmerman, Evan Longoria, Buster Posey and future stars such as Eric Hosmer, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have the first pick in this year's draft. Gerrit Cole, a right-handed pitcher from UCLA; Danny Hultzen, a left-handed pitcher from the University of Virginia; and Dylan Bundy, a right-hander from Owasso High School in Oklahoma, are considered by some scouting directors to be the top three players in this year's draft. Each has the potential to be a 12-15 game winner in the major leagues. However, most scouts rate their potential below that of a Josh Beckett, Justin Verlander, Stephen Strasburg or David Price.

Therefore, based on history, the Bucs should be debating between the sure-thing college bat of Anthony Rendon, a third baseman from Rice who can really hit and whose power wasn't seen this year only because of an injured shoulder, or the high-risk, high-reward athlete in this year's draft: Bubba Starling, the high school center fielder from Kansas who has committed to Nebraska to play football.

In my opinion, the Pirates should have learned from draft history and taken shortstop Manny Machado last year over Jameson Taillon with the No. 2 pick. This year, they should draft Rendon over Cole, Hultzen or Bundy. Pittsburgh should then use the rest of its draft picks to stockpile pitching. That doesn't mean Rendon and Machado have more talent or potential compared with Cole, Bundy or Hultzen; it just means they're not pitchers.

Impact position players who can hit, such as Joe Mauer, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr. and Chipper Jones, sure do make an organization look smart for taking them in the top five of the first round for a long, long time. When you draft some of the best potential pitchers, such as Kris Benson, Ben McDonald or Mark Prior, an organization can look dumb in a hurry, even though they were scouted and ranked high on almost all 30 draft boards.

Bottom line: If you are a Pirates fan, hope for Rendon or embrace the high risk and high reward of Starling rather than drafting another Bobby Bradley, Daniel Moskos or Bryan Bullington.

Here is a breakdown of some draft history that supports the "If it's close, take the hitter" philosophy:

  • 1990: Braves took Chipper Jones over pitcher Todd Van Poppel.

  • 1991: Yankees chose LHP Brien Taylor over Manny Ramirez.