Pittsburgh Pirates: 1997-2007; 10+ Years of Draft Blunders

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Pittsburgh Pirates: 1997-2007; 10+ Years of Draft Blunders
(Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images)

A quick note before I begin.  I will only be looking at players selected within 10 picks of each Pirate pick.  Keep that in mind when you read this.  At the end of the article I will put together the Pirates 2009 Opening Day roster with the adjusted picks.

It all started in 1997 when the Pirates, with the 8th overall pick, selected J.J. Davis.  Davis was an OF from California who was a 3-sports star.  He also had scholarship offers from USC (Basketball), and Oregon State (Football). 

The Pirates selected Davis over Michael Cuddyer, Jon Garland, and Lance Berkman.  At the time Davis, was only the 10th highest rated high school player, suggesting that the Pirates may have selected him too high.

Davis struggled mightily in the Pirates minor league system up until 2002 when he .287 and had 20 homers for AA Altoona.  In 2003, he got a shot in AAA with the Nashville Sounds of the Pacific Coast League and hit .284 with 26 homers, and 23 steals. 

He received a late-season call-up, but wasn't played in favor of Jason Bay. He, however, at the time was at the same age as Davis, but hadn't put up the same kind of numbers Davis did in the minors. 

It was baffling to some why Lloyd McClendon chose to start Bay over Davis.  One source cites "Character Issues" as the reason.  Davis never recovered from the incident, and was out of baseball by the 2006 season. 

What could have happened to Davis if he was started over Jason Bay back in 2003?  No one knows.  To correct the mistake on drafting Davis, I have the Pirates selecting 1B Lance Berkman.

In 1998, the Pirates had the 15th overall pick and selected 1B Clint Johnson out of Vanderbilt University.  Brad Lidge and C.C. Sabathia were among the notables selected within 10 picks of Clint Johnson.  Johnson was a positional player turned pitcher.

Clint Johnson could quite possibly be the biggest bust during this 10 year period of draft blunders.  Johnson never played above the AA level, and lasted eight years as a professional baseball player.  Johnson actually pitched at times during his tenure in the minor leagues. 

In 1995 the New York Mets selected Johnson in the 50th round, but the two sides could not reach an agreement.  Johnson was in the Pirates organization until 2001 when he was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the Rule 5 minor league draft.  To correct this mistake, the Pirates select SP C.C. Sabathia.

In 1999, the Pirates had the eighth overall selection and selected P Bobby Bradley from Wellington Community High School in FloridaNotable players selected within 10 picks of Bradley include Barry Zito, Ben Sheets, and Brett Myers.

Bobby Bradley, at the time, was not a BAD draft choice.  Bradley had a sensational rookie season in which he had a 12-1 record with a 0.38 ERA along with 156 K's in 92 innings pitched. 

The knock on Bradley was that he was a high school pitcher that relied on a breaking ball and given an incredible $2,250,000 bonus.

In Bradley's first 2 summers with the GCL Pirates and Hickory Crawdads he went 9-3 with an ERA around 2.50, and in 2000 he was among the league leaders in virtually every category. 

He was even selected to participate in the Futures Game during the All-Star Break.  However, and elbow injury derailed that dream.  After the season, Baseball America selected him as the best Low-A prospect.

In 2001, Bradley's career was beginning to circle the drain.  He was very productive during his time at Lynchburg going 1-2 with a 3.12 ERA in nine games.  His season was cut short due to elbow surgery, and in October he had to undergo Tommy John Surgery and was out the entire 2002 season. 

In 2003 and 2004, he spent time with Lynchburg and Altoona pitching well, but not spectacular. 

His career ended after the 2005 season when the Pirates cut Bradley from the 40-man roster to call-up Zach Duke, due to Bradley having a compressed nerve that would require surgery.

What would Bradley's career have looked like without the injuries?  No one knows, but he was surely on the right path. To correct the biting of the injury bug, the Pirates will select SP Ben Sheets.

The year is 2000 and the Pirates have just selected Sean Burnett a high school teammate of Bobby Bradley.  Pitchers Boof Bonser, and Adam Wainwright were the only notable names selected around Sean Burnett.

Sean Burnett was in no way a bad choice, but he was also not a great choice.  Burnett advanced through the Pirates organization at a good rate until he made the Major League squad in 2004. 

He was forced to miss the entire 2005 season after requiring Tommy John Surgery late in 2004.  Sean spent 2006 and 2007 in AAA, and returned to the Pirates in 2008.  Burnett had a solid return to the majors in 2008 posting a 4.76 ERA out of the bullpen. 

The 2009 campaign has been a good one for the former No. 1 overall pick, however the Pirates traded him to the Washington Nationals at the beginning of July.  To correct this mistake the Pirates will select SP Adam Wainwright.

2001 saw the Pirates select John Van Benschoten with the eighth overall selection.  Outside of the top picks the 2001 first round was kind of a snoozer.  The only worthwhile selection in the 10 picks after Van Benschoten was 2B Mike Fontenot.

John Van Benschoten was a college star for Kent State University.  JVB was an offensive power batting .440 with a .982 slugging percentage during his final season.  He was seventh in Division 1 baseball in batting average and FIRST with 31 homers (six more than anyone else). 

He was named the Conference Player of the Year in 2001.  He also went 2-2 off the mound with a 2.77 ERA, 8 saves (conference leader) and 63K's in 49 innings.  The Pirates didn't make the mistake in drafting JVB, the mistake came when they announced they would use him as a pitcher.

You would think the Pirates would learn from the Clint Johnson experience that this type of move doesn't pay off, ESPECIALLY when JVB was considered the "Country's Top Power Hitter."

In 2001, JVB debuted with the Williamsport Crosscutters and did exactly what his college pitching numbers projected: 0-2 with a 3.51 ERA.  In other words, JVB was only league average.

During games he wasn't pitching, JVB would occasionally DH and he hit only .227 which allowed the Pirates organization to "claim" they made the right decision in using him as a pitcher.  He was named Baseball America's best pitcher in the New York-Penn League that year.

In 2002 JVB was part of a Hickory Crawdads rotation consisting of Ian Snell, and current San Diego Padres pitcher Chris Young.  JVB went 11-4 with a 2.80 ERA and had 145K's in 148 innings pitched. 

Again, allowing the Pirates to claim they made the right decision.  Baseball America named him the best pitcher in the South Atlantic League that year. 

In 2003, JVB went 6-0 with a 2.22 ERA with the Lynchburg Hillcats, and 7-6 with a 3.69 ERA with AA Altoona.  JVB also pitched in the 2003 Future's Game.

2004 was a year of struggles for JVB in stints at Nashville and in Pittsburgh.  He went 4-11 with a 4.72 ERA and 1-3 with a 6.19 ERA in Nashville and Pittsburgh respectively. The 2005 and 2006 seasons were full of injuries including extensive right shoulder surgery, and an additional surgery on his left shoulder. 

The comeback began to start the 2007 season in AAA Indianapolis.  In 2007, he appeared in both Indianapolis and Pittsburgh going 10-7 with a 2.56 ERA and 0-7 with a 10.15 ERA respectively.

2008 was a last chance opportunity with JVB in the Pirates organization and he started the year 4-0 with a 1.88 ERA at AAA Indianapolis and after the Matt Morris release found himself in Pittsburgh.

He went 0-2 with a 9.39 ERA for the Pirates and was sent back down to Indianapolis.  His major league record was 2-13 with an 8.96 career ERA.  He currently is in the Chicago White Sox organization trying to make an impression.

Given the draft classes weakness I will have the Pirates re-drafting JVB but leaving him as a 1B.

With their first No. 1 overall pick since they selected Kris Benson in 1996, the 2002 draft saw the Pittsburgh Pirates select Ball State's Bryan Bullington.  With this selection I will retract my statement earlier about Clint Johnson being the biggest bust during this 10 year period. 

Bryan Bullington was selected before B.J. Upton, Prince Fielder, Zach Grienke, Jeff Francis, and Jeremy Hermida.  Coming later in the first round were stars such as Cole Hamels, Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher, James Loney, and Matt Cain.

Bryan Bullington was drafted mainly due to his "sign-ability".  Bullington was never a good pitcher in the minor leagues, and due to the success of players listed above was a turning point for Pirates fans.  At that point they've "had enough."

The yearly trade this star and that star for the future has begun, and the Pirates were losing the likes of Jason Schmidt, Brian Giles, Aramis Ramirez among others for next to nothing. 

Even with these "money saving moves," the Pirates went cheap in the draft.  For a team building towards the future that is a TERRIBLE idea, and the Pirates lost their fans over this time frame.

With the mistake that is known as Bryan Bullington, I will correct it and have the Pirates select SS/CF B.J. Upton.

2003 saw the Pirates make a draft decision that paid off for once when the Pirates selected Paul Maholm eighth overall.  He wasn't however the best player in the 8th to 18th slots either.  John Danks, Ian Stewart, and current Pirate Lastings Milledge take that distinction.

I won't go into detail about Paul Maholm due to most Pirate fans knowing of him, and what he brings to the table and what he's done throughout his career.  To make this easy, I will re-draft Paul Maholm for the Pirates in this case.

In 2004, the Pirates selected a Catcher from Pine Richland High School (PA) named Neil Walker.  Neil Walker is still currently in the Pirates organization, however, he is now playing 3B in Indianapolis.  Players selected around Neil include SS Stephen Drew, 1B/3B/OF Billy Butler, 3B/LF Josh Fields, and SP Phil Hughes.

I won't go into great detail about Walker due to him still being in the Pirates organization and a future "player profile" on him as well. 

He's made a very successful conversion from catcher to third, but is struggling at the plate with AAA Indianapolis this season.  He seems to be positioned, however, for a September call-up.  Neil Walker could be in the everyday lineup as early as 2010.

With no major impact players selected near him, and having B.J. Upton roaming Jack Wilson's territory, the Pirates will re-select Neil Walker.

Current Pirate CF Andrew McCutchen was drafted 11th overall in the 2005 draft.  Players selected around him include Jay Bruce, Chris Volstad, and Jacoby Ellsbury.

We all know why the Pirates selected Andrew McCutchen 11th overall in 2005, and it's paying dividends right now in Pittsburgh. 

The Pirates 1st round drafting in 2003-2005 was actually quite productive, but that only sets us up for failure in 2006 and 2007.  McCutchen rapidly climbed through the Pirates minor leagues. 

After being drafted in 2005 McCutchen was at AA Altoona already in 2006, and that made him the youngest player EVER in Curve history.  2007 started with the Curve, but ended in a promotion with 2004 first round pick Neil Walker late in the season.

Andrew spent the entire 2008 season in AAA and the first 2 months of the 2009 season before the Pirates traded Nate McLouth and brought Andrew McCutchen to the bigs.  The Pirates will re-select Andrew McCutchen in 2005.

In 2006 the Pirates, with the fourth overall pick, selected SP Brad Lincoln.  Lincoln is by no means a bust, as he is currently pitching for AAA Indianapolis.

That's a testament to his talent considering he missed a full season due to Tommy John Surgery, which prompted then General Manager Dave Littlefield to say the team would reconsider drafting pitchers in the first round.

It took him six of seven first round pitchers to realize that?  That also included two hitters turned pitchers.

Drafted around Lincoln were Pitchers Max Scherzer, Kasey Kiker, Brandon Morrow, Andrew Miller, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, and OF Travis Snider.

Lincoln drew attention from his 2005 season in the Cape Cod League.  There he posted a 1.32 ERA.  During Lincoln's 2006 junior season at the University of Houston he went 12-2 with a 1.69 ERA with 152 K's in 127 innings, and walked only 32.  He also played 1B and was a designated hitter in which he hit .295 with 14 homers.

Following Tommy John Surgery Lincoln was placed in Hickory and later called up to Lynchburg.  He started 2009 in AA Altoona and was recently promoted to AAA Indianapolis.

This is no disrespect to Brad Lincoln who still has a ton of potential, but in my draft blunders fix, the Pirates will select SP Tim Lincecum.

Finally, we have arrived to 2007 where the Pirates selected SP Daniel Moskos 4th overall.  Moskos was selected ahead of C Matt Weiters, 1B/OF Matt LaPorta, among other prospects.  This was the last straw of the Littlefield era of mistakes.

The Bullington trade may have started the uproar of fans in Pittsburgh, but this selection caused the town, with a championship contending team in it's other 2 sports, to go into an uproar. 

Over his college career Moskos had a sub-.500 record, and keep in mind that in 2007 Littlefield said the team may reconsider on drafting a pitcher due to the Tommy John issues.  Fans had hoped for a hitter, either Matt Weiters, or Matt LaPorta, but again got another college pitcher with a limited resume. 

The Pirates then said they'd use Moskos as a closer, making him the highest selected reliever (along with Gregg Olsen).

In 2008 the Pirates moved him back to a starting pitcher with the new management team in place.  He went 7-7 with a 6.30 ERA with Lynchburg that season. 

It's unfair at this time to proclaim Moskos a bust or even a terrible pick, but the Pirates had bigger needs and failed to address them.  Moskos throws a nasty slider and his fastball can reach 95, which are reasons for optimism.

To correct this Littlefield blunder, the Pirates select C Matt Weiters.

From 1997 through 2007, in my opinion, the Pirates made the correct choice 4 times, and the wrong choice 7 times.  However in 2008 and 2009 I feel the Pirates made good choices with Pedro Alvarez and Tony Sanchez. 

I will now list the players they drafted as well as the players selected instead, as well as the 2009 Pirates Opening Day Roster.

1997: J.J. Davis/Lance Berkman

1998: Clint Johnson/C.C. Sabathia

1999: Bobby Bradley/Ben Sheets

2000: Sean Burnett/Adam Wainwright

2001: John Van Benschoten

2002: Bryan Bullington/B.J. Upton

2003: Paul Maholm

2004: Neil Walker

2005: Andrew McCutchen

2006: Brad Lincoln/Tim Lincecum

2007: Daniel Moskos/Matt Weiters

C: Matt Weiters

1B: John Van Benschoten

2B: Freddy Sanchez

3B: Andy LaRoche

SS: B.J. Upton

LF: Lance Berkman

CF: Andrew McCutchen

RF: Ryan Doumit

Bench: Nate McLouth, Adam LaRoche, Jack Wilson

SP: C.C. Sabathia, Tim Lincecum, Ben Sheets, Paul Maholm, Adam Wainwright

Bullpen: Matt Capps, John Grabow, Zach Duke

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