Pirates Spend Big Bucks On Draft

Neal Huntington

PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Pirates signed 23 of their 51 drafted amateur players in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, including each of the team's first 14 selections.

"We feel good about the draft," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "We feel like we added a lot of talent to the system at various levels and various positions, high school pitching, some college pitching, high school position players, college position players. Obviously, it was a pitching heavy draft and we played into the strength."

The Pirates spent $8,919,000 for their 23 signed players, sixth-highest payout in Major League Baseball, general manager Neal Huntington said. Last year, the Pirates spent a franchise-record $9,780,500 in signing 32 of 50 picks, and owner Bob Nutting had authorized them to spend up to that level again this year. Huntington said there were "four or five" other players the Pirates had hoped to sign but that, for various reasons, it did not work out.

"When you can be aggressive as we are trying to be, it's almost like you're speeding up the process," scouting director Greg Smith said. "A typical Draft class, you're only going to spend so much money and you're only going to bring in so much talent. With Bob's resources, we've been able to jump-start that."

Pittsburgh attacked the draft with an eye toward spending back-end money. The strategy was to use big signing bonuses to lure top-end high-school pitching talent that slipped in the draft.

Pittsburgh was able to add three such pitchers to the organization by convincing them to forgo college and take high guaranteed signing bonuses. Left-hander Zackry Dodson (fourth round, committed to Baylor University) signed for $600,000; right-hander Zachary Von Rosenberg (sixth round, committed to Louisiana State University) signed for $1.2 million; and lefty Colton Cain (eighth round, committed to University of Texas) signed for $1.15 million.

Each of those pitchers was considered higher-round talent than the round in which they were chosen, but had been bypassed by other clubs fearful of the bonus demands.

Dodson, Von Rosenberg and Cain weren't the only promising late-round talent secured either. In the Pirates' Draft class, seven players received above-slot money.

"We didn't create the model," Huntington said. "We just decided this was the year to exploit the model. We're not the only team that's taken this approach; we might be one of the more aggressive teams."

Some critics say the draft system is broken; Huntington said many teams, especially in larger markets, have exploited the system. "Until (they change the rules), we are going to try to play within the rules and do what's the right thing for the Pirates," he said. "For us, it was a situation where we could get a number of good players."

All 23 of the drafted players are either at Single-A ball in West Virginia and State College or with Bradenton in the Gulf Coast League.

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