Friday Focus – Second Guessing the Pirates’ Draft History is More Than Just Swapping Picks

Friday Focus

As I’ve written about the Pirates, I’ve learned some things. First, I’ve learned that a ton of people comment and don’t read what you write. This is one of those things you have to teach yourself to get past. Unless they’re drastically altering the content, even making up quotes you just learn to live with it.

Another that’s fairly high on the list, Pirates fans love second guessing this club. They question everything from how players are instructed, the contracts they’re given, trades that were made and even draft picks.

Recently all those things I learned were pulled together as one of the folks that legitimately do read and almost always bring something tangible to the discussion @eYARKulation brought forward a proposal that the Pirates could have won it all in the Early 90’s if they just made one choice differently.

Well, I’ll let him speak for himself “For all the tooth gnashing over Archer trades Danny Moskos draft picks and Jeremy Burnitz signings the most egregious may have been in the 1987 draft. The pick directly after Griffey Jr could have catapulted the pirates past the Braves or Reds and prevented 20 years of losing.”

My gut reaction channeled Mike Tomlin, I very much don’t like the what if game. That said, Yark has a real point there. Let’s review what happened in that draft and some options the Bucs had on the table.

First, 1987 was of course the draft year for sure fire number one overall Ken Griffey Jr., I remember Upper Deck baseball cards came to prominence some time around there and his was the most coveted card for just about anyone my age. The Pirates were not beneficiaries of a ping pong ball delivering another generational talent like the Penguins with Sidney Crosby, instead they sat in that draft room holding the number 2 pick overall.

The Buccos chose Mark Merchant, a Florida High School outfielder who hit over .400 in his senior season and was a consensus number two behind Griffey. The Pirates were thrilled with the selection, so much so that he signed his contract the day before the draft and a month later would be playing in the Gulf League for the Bucs.

The rest of his story is another column altogether but suffice to say, 12 years later he was out of professional baseball having never set foot on an MLB field. Injury played a huge role as it robbed him of the speed that made him so attractive. Not many players can survive losing one of the tools that they were drafted to use.

Now, back to my man Yark. Here was his proposal, “McDowell filling in behind Drabeck or Deshields anchoring 2B for a decade creates a cascade of positivity that would still be felt today.

Now, I could argue the positivity thing, you need look no further than the Steelers or Penguins to see that every year without a Lombardi or Stanley Cup lead to a barrage of trade proposals or shouts that the stars have underachieved.

He has a point with the difference that could have been made. Deshields over Chico Lind, yeah, not a contest. Jack McDowell could certainly have helped out in a Rotation that rarely had a sure fire top two.
There are quite a few on the list that could have been chosen, it wouldn’t be hard to find a better pick than a man who never made it to the show after all. Craig Biggio was number 22, Cris Carpenter went number 14, Kevin Apier was picked number 9 and Yark’s Jack McDowell went number 5.

When you miss on a number 2 overall selection, its impossible not to have a laundry list of how you could have gone with the choice. This happens even when your pick does pan out.

He got me thinking, take your pick there, and remember this is 1987. The team had just traded Rick Rhoden to the Yankees for Doug Drabek. It was a crap shoot; it was betting that Drabek would help the club in the future with limited evidence he was an “ace”. Of course, we all know it worked and he became a Cy Young winner and the anchor of the early 1990s Pirates playoff squads.

Not just thinking about the prospect of having one of those other guys added to the mix, had me thinking about other moves that potentially don’t get made. There would be no need to acquire Zane Smith, so the Pirates could have potentially retained Moises Alou. Moises played until 1996 before his arbitration years were over so its likely he would have filled the void admirably when Bonds departed.

Does this then lead to asking why in 1988 the Pirates selected Austin Manahan with the 13th overall pick and passed on Tino Martinez who went next? Where do you stop?

At the end of the day I suppose I side with Mariano Rivera “You can’t second-guess baseball. You can’t second-guess yourself.”

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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