Pittsburgh Pirates Plan of Drafting Ace Starters Is No Guarantee for Success

Paul Francis Sullivan@@sullybaseballChief Writer IJune 6, 2012

In my previous Bleacher Report article, I praised the Pirates for picking Mark Appel to go along with Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole to form a potentially lethal pitching staff of the future.

But before any parade routes are planned, remember that even the best plans can go wrong.

Remember how the Dodgers had four first-round picks between 1988 and 1989? They selected Bill Bene, Kiki Jones and Jamie McAndrew to give themselves great pitching beyond their 1988 World Series title. Only McAndrew made it to the majors, pitching 15 games over two injury-plagued seasons in Milwaukee.

Around that same time, the Athletics had the top pitching prospect fall into their laps much in the same way as the Pirates drafted Appel.

Todd Van Poppel was going to be the next great Texas pitching star, and the defending world champion A's decided to use one of their four first-round picks to convince him to go pro and skip college. It took millions of dollars and an ill-conceived contract, but he went to Oakland.

The A's used the other picks on college pitchers and Baseball America dubbed Van Poppel, Don Peters, Dave Zancanaro and Kirk Dressendorfer "The Four Aces." No doubt they would skyrocket through the system and have the likes of Dave Stewart, Bob Welch and Dennis Eckersley take them under their collective wings. The A's had their plan to be dominant for the next decade.

Only it did not work. Van Poppel was rushed to the majors, and his contract forbade him from being sent back to the minors. He never became an effective starter. Of the other aces, only Dressendorfer made it to a big league roster, pitching seven games for the 1991 Athletics.

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In 1996, the Mets famously billed No. 1 overall pick Paul Wilson along with lefty Bill Pulsipher and righty Jason Isringhausen "Generation K." They were billed to be New York's answer to Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz on the Braves. Rockies top prospect Juan Acevedo was also acquired to be a big arm on the squad.

Generation K was a bust. The big three members of Generation K were never all healthy at the same time and all three were never active teammates for even one day.

Most recently, Brian Cashman tried to build the post Joe Torre rotation around Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy in 2008.

Hughes had a solid 2010 season but has been agonizingly inconsistent for the past two years and might be better suited for the bullpen. Chamberlain, who was a dynamic reliever, had the most insane pitch count rules in history imposed on him. He was not consistent as a starter, was returned to the bullpen where he was no longer effective and had career-threatening surgery before he ruined his 2012 season jumping on a trampoline.

Kennedy did indeed become a 20-game-winning ace, but he did so for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

So for every Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz or Tim Linecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Brian Wilson or Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito, there are plenty of pitching combos that just don't work.

For the Pirates' sake, I hope they are more 1990s Braves than 1990s Mets.

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