By Stephen Zielinski
Iíll begin with a bit of hopeful news from the Federales. Paul Meyer reported:
Littlefield indicated yesterday the Pirates have a pool of "four or five" players they're concentrating on as possible first-round picks in the amateur draft June 7. "And we have a couple [others] on the wish list," he said.
One of the players in the "four or five" group is believed to be left-handed pitcher Ricky Romero from top-ranked California-Fullerton.
Romero, a junior, is 11-4 with a 2.57 earned run average this year and has 120 strikeouts in 112 innings.
This particular draft choice, if Creech and Littlefield actually go through with it, might elicit the kind of derisive snickering the 2003 Rule 5 Draft provoked.
I say this because Romero, although the top rated college lefthander in the 2005 draft according to Baseball America and a top ten first round pick according to John Sickles, merely duplicates the potential of a Paul Maholm, Zack Duke, Sean Burnett, Cory Stewart, Dave Williams and Tom Gorzelanny. That is, Romero promises to provide the Pirates with a middle of the rotation starter, a number two starter if the team is lucky (itís not, most of the time). Consequently, Romero not only duplicates the kind of player the Pirates now have in abundance, his selection would preclude choosing a position prospect who might eventually become an impact hitter, the kind of player the Pirates now lack. Romeroís opportunity cost would be whatever hitters the Pirates passed over when they selected him with their first round pick. Thus, the many fan complaints about the loss of Upton and Aubrey. Thus, the annoyed voices of those who were shocked to read that the Pirates wanted to draft yet another pitcher this year.
And we fans must consider the likelihood of this kind of grossly incompetent move from an organization which now has one or two legitimate position prospects playing below AAA: Neil Walker and Javier Guzman. Walker was a justifiable top of the draft pick in 2004. He might become an impact hitter as he matures. He also might fail. But his selection was a defensible one. Guzmanís ceiling remains a bit sketchy. Whatís clear, though, is the history heís generated since he became a member of the organization. This history is instructive. For instance, despite his relatively young age, Guzmanís entry into the Piratesí minor league system actually predates Littlefieldís tenure as Pirate General Manager. Consequently, Littlefield, his scouting department and his talent acquisition strategy cannot at all lay claim to having initially recognized Guzmanís talents and the value he could add to the organization. The Federales canít even take much credit for Guzmanís presence in the organization for the current season since Littlefield did expose the young shortstop in the 2004 Rule 5 Draft. Fortunately, he wasnít selected. It is also fortunate that Littlefield didnít trade Guzman for a washed up vet ó ĎWe want to win more gamesí ó just like he threw away Leo Nunez for ex-Pirate Benito Santiago. We Pirate fans can only grit our teeth knowing that Benito is now at home relaxing and drawing a salary from the Pirates while the young Leo Nunez has already made it to the major leagues as a member of the Kansas City Royals! Heís performed well so far!
What does all of the above mean? It means:
A) The Pirate Dominican and Venezuelan programs have failed to produce a single prospect since Littlefield assumed the shipís helm.
B) The Littlefield Pirates have had nothing but failed drafts. We know them to be failures since the organization has not at all stocked its minor league teams with viable prospects, especially position prospects, since Littlefield came aboard. Good intentions and near misses do not count. Itís results which count, and the results so far have been telling. What they tell us is that Littlefield and Creech wonít often draft hitters and mostly draft hitters who canít hit. Even Littlefieldís pitching prospects do not promise to become impact starters at the major league level.
C) Littlefield and his people have learned nothing from their past mistakes. We can adduce this conclusion from the fact that, in order that he might address the wasteland he and his people have made of the minor league system, the Pirates will look to draft a soft-tossing, middle-of-the-rotation lefthander in a draft chock full of quality position prospects. A shortage of crafty lefthanders and loogys is not what ails this organization.
D) Itís just not obvious that Littlefield, Creech and Graham have identified the bare cupboard which is the Piratesí lower minor league teams as a problem they must address. Had they done so, they wouldnít consider taking a mid-rotation pitching prospect with their first pick in this yearís draft. Worse yet, itís also not at all obvious that the Federales have come to realize that major league teams wonít contend for and win championships if they field a squad full of crappy hitters. Knowing that the major league team flounders because it lacks decent hitters would motivate a rational organization to seek out and acquire those necessary things ó hitters, in this case ó it lacks. But, it appears the Pirates are, well, less than rational when it comes to putting a competitive team on the field.
Dense, just dense.