By now many, if not all of you, should be aware of the fact that the MLB June Amateur Draft is going to look drastically different this year; to what degree has yet to be determined. As it currently stands the number of rounds could be as few as 5, but discussions are taking place to extend it to as many as 10. Even if this happens, 30 rounds of the draft will be eliminated. This will not only result in repercussions that will leave a permanent scar on the landscape of Minor League Baseball and change the approach that MLB General Managers take in choosing players, as I have discussed in previous articles, but will also affect the lives of countless high school and college baseball players as it pertains to their decisions to hold firm to their commitments to attend their preferred universities or for some, whether or not they will pursue a professional baseball career. In previous years similar decisions have been made, but for some the elimination of 30 rounds could make their choice for them.
In the history of Major League Baseball their are stories of players picked in the later rounds of the draft, many times from obscurity, that have gone on to have very successful and even Hall of Fame careers. The shining example that is often referred to first is the drafting of Mike Piazza in the 62nd Round of the 1988 MLB June Amateur Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. There are many others that could be pointed out and the fact is that there could be many more moving forward as players who would have chosen in rounds that no longer exist will be picked up as free agents after the draft has concluded.
For the purpose of having a little bit of fun surrounding decisions and developments that any one who reads my articles and hears me talk weekly on the Bucs In The Basement podcast knows I am firmly against, I wanted to take a look back at the Top 5 Late Round Draft Picks for the Pittsburgh Pirates with the 11th round being the cutoff for players to qualify. If the draft is ultimately shortened to 5 rounds I will address the Pirates in history who would not have been drafted in a future article and believe me in looking at the 10th round alone it is going to be tough to narrow it down to just five.
For the purpose of this list and impending discussion I set the criteria for the Top 5 Pirates as those who were actually drafted, not just acquired by Pittsburgh, and spent a good portion of their time in the majors with the Pirates. If I lowered the benchmark at all the pool of players would just be too large, but I don’t want to discourage you from bringing them up because believe me, they were all on my original lists. So without further ado, here are my Top 5 Pittsburgh Pirates Late Round Draft Picks of All-Time.
5) Steve Cooke
Cooke was drafted in the 35th Round of the 1989 MLB June Amateur Draft from the College of Southern Idaho and quickly moved through the Pirates Farm System, arriving in Pittsburgh in late July 1992. Cooke became a mainstay in the starting rotation in 1993 and 1994, until he was ultimately sidelined by injury for the entire 1995 season and a large portion of 1996. In 1997 Cooke once again became a staple on the mound for the Pirates before moving on to Cincinnati, where his career came to an abrupt end due to tendinitis. In 5 seasons with the Pirates Cooke accumulated 25 wins, including 5 complete games and a 4.3 career WAR.
4) Randy Tomlin
The Pirates chose Tomlin in the 18th Round of the 1988 MLB June Amateur Draft out of Liberty University in Lynchburg Virginia. For 5 seasons the fiery left hander took the mound for Pittsburgh 106 times, 94 times as a starter; compiling 30 wins, 8 complete games and 3 shutouts, all the while posting a career 3.43 ERA and earning a 6.3 WAR.
3) Zach Duke
Duke was picked by the Pirates in the 20th Round of the 2001 MLB June Amateur Draft from Midway High School in Waco, Texas. By 2005 Duke was seen by many, including myself, as the future ace of the Pirates pitching staff. In his rookie year he posted a 8-2 record (winning his first 6 decisions), with a 1.81. Over the next 5 seasons Duke had ups, such as earning a 2009 All-Star Game appearance, and downs, including an 8-15 record with a 5.72 ERA in his last season in Pittsburgh. However, I have many fond memories of his time with the Pirates and am happy that Duke has been able to play, as it stands now, 9 additional seasons in the MLB, securing a 12.2 career WAR during this time.
2) John Smiley
In the 12th Round of the 1983 MLB June Amateur Draft the tall and lanky left hander, Smiley, was selected by the Pirates out of Perkiomen School in Pennsburg, Pennsylvania and was eventually developed into a 20 game winning All-Star in his final season in Pittsburgh in 1991. In his first two seasons with the Pirates he was used exclusively as a reliever before earning a promotion to the starting rotation in 1988. In his three seasons as a starter, Smiley put up a 54-37 record with an overall 3.57 ERA. Smiley would remain in the majors for six additional seasons after leaving Pittsburgh, earning a second All-Star Game appearance as a member of the Cincinnati Reds in 1995. For his career he accumulated 126 wins and an even 20 WAR.
1) Dave Parker
“The Cobra” became a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in 1970 after being picked in the 14th Round of MLB June Amateur Draft. He would go on to spend 11 years a major part of the Pirates “We Are Family” Crew. Earning an NL MVP in 1978, as well as a World Series Championship with Pittsburgh in 1979; he was an All-Star on 4 separate occasions. In his time in a Pirates uniform Parker batted .305 with 166 home runs, leading the league in multiple categories for several seasons. Over what would be an illustrious 19 year MLB career, he would hit a total of 339 homers and earn 40.1. Many believe that Parker is more than deserving of a place in Cooperstown, but that debate can be held another day. However, “The Cobra” is without a doubt the Top Late Round Draft is pick ever selected to be a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates Organization.
I have no doubt that there are other players in the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates that could be considered for this particular list, especially if players drafted by the Pirates or acquired by them were added to the mix. I would love to hear from all of you about the changes you would make to the order my choices, the players you feel I unjustly left off the list and of course if you completely agree with my assessments. Let’s have some fun with this was and as always, Let’s Go Bucs!