Over the past week Pittsburgh Pirates Draft Talk, especially the potential for General Manager Ben Cherington to work the system in order to sign four first round talents, has flooded social media to the point that many of the other draft picks, aside from maybe 14th Round selection Braylon Bishop, have become just an conglomeration of numbers and equations that will allow the Pirates to sign Henry Davis, Anthony Solometo, Lonnie White, Jr. and Bubba Chandler.
Now, I understand that in general this was the strategy employed by Cherington and his war room, with the overarching goal to obtain as much high level talent as possible. However, we also can’t let let ourselves fall into the trap of thinking that nearly ever one of these other picks were simply just a means to an end, and that none of these selections beyond the top four or five mean anything to the Farm System that Cherington and Company are building. This is mostly because as far as success rates are concerned the odds are that only one, or possibly two if the Pirates develop them properly, of these Top Draft Prospects will actually become contributing members on the Major League Level. So, it only make sense to have all 21 selections count to a certain degree.
Enter the Pittsburgh Pirates Scouting Department; who Cherington must ultimately trust to identify talent in places, and in players, that might have been otherwise overlooked. For the Pirates this place has been the Cape Cod Baseball League; and as far as players are concerned, the level of talent these scouts have discovered thus far speaks for itself.
The roots of the Cape Cod Baseball League are delicately interwoven throughout the rich history of professional baseball in our country, and eventually into the Major League Baseball Draft as well in recent years. Founded in 1885 as league that was more for entertainment and competition between Cape Cod towns, it slowly morphed into a semi-pro funded venture, back to a resident only association and finally the NCAA sanctioned organization that it is today; eventually becoming the only wood bat collegiate league of its time in 1985, with famous and Hall of Fame alumni that includes Pie Traynor, Carlton Fisk, Frank Thomas, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell. Also, it should be noted that the last four #1 Overall Picks in the MLB Draft have put their own stamp on the league, across towns such as Bourne, Chatham, Falmouth and Wareham; ergo, it clearly isn’t just the Pirates that have found their future top prospects in the Cape. Nevertheless I think I could put together a pretty tough argument, that no other team has really dug as deep as the Pirates.
During the shortened 2020 MLB Draft, four out of the five college players selected by Cherington and the Pirates had made their mark on the Cape Code League. Nick Gonzales (Round 1: 7th Overall) was the league MVP in 2019 with a .351 AVG and 7 homers, Carmen Mlodzinski (Round 1, Comp A: 31st Overall) produced a 2.15 ERA with 40 strikeouts in 29.1 innings of work, Nick Garcia (Round 3: 79th Overall) posted a 3.18 ERA and struck out 20 in 17 innings of relief and Logan Hofmann (Round 5: 138th Overall)-at only 19 years old-struck out 22 batters in 16 innings, while putting up a respectable 3.38 ERA and 1.125 WHIP.
Now, at this point-even though it is extremely early-it is hard to argue with any of these selections by Pittsburgh. Sure, Gonzales has been bitten but the injury bug and has a K rate north of 30%, but once again it is extremely early. On the other hand Mlodzinski, Garcia and Hofmann have impressed beyond most original expectations; although Mlodzinski has now found himself on the shelf in Greensboro as well after starting the season with a 2.63 ERA, an even 1.000 WHIP and 54 Ks in 9 starts across 41 innings. Meanwhile, Garcia (3.27 ERA, 1.318 WHIP and 48 Ks in 44 innings) and Hofmann (2.76 ERA, 1.039 WHIP and 57 Ks in 42.1 innings) have both earned their way into the starting rotation for the Marauders.
Which brings us back to the present, or more specifically a week ago when Cherington had to dip back into the college ranks; at times trying save some slot money to put towards the more high profile picks. And once again, just like the previous year, the Pirates found their way into wood bat leagues. Of the twelve college players selected in this year’s draft eight of them had participated in a wood bat league, with five coming from the Cape; highlighted by Sean Sullivan (Round 8: 223rd Overall), Justin Meis (Round 10: 283rd Overall) and Drew Irvine (Round 19: 553rd Overall).
Back in 2019, while Gonzales, Mlodzinski, Garcia, and Hofmann were tearing up the Cape, future Pirate Sean Sullivan was more than holding his own with a 1.96 ERA, 37 strikeout and only 6 walks in 8 starts for the Cotuit Kettleers. Then only a year later, and the whole way across the country in the Northwoods League, Drew Irvine posted a 1.96 and 38 strikeouts in 23 innings. And finally just this year, a local boy from Bethel Park, Justin Meis stood out due to his 2.08 ERA, .808 WHIP and 17K/3BB ratio in 17.1 innings.
So, it begs the question, why are scouts, and the Pirates Scouts in particular, drawn to players that have gotten their feet wet in the wood bat leagues? Often, I hear and read fans speak about the attraction of selecting a player that has played against higher levels of competition in the tougher conferences in college baseball, which obviously should be seen as a plus at times; especially when they perform. Well, this is no different; and in this case it includes the adjustment of holding on to something other than a piece of metal, whose only purpose is to launch a ball into outer space, as they play against some of the best players in the country.
Believe me, this means something in my humble opinion. Moreover, and more importantly, it means something to the scouts who are entrusted with building relationships with these young men, projecting their potential, advising the management team as to whether or not the should be selected and ultimately signing them to a Major League Organization.
And most importantly, it clearly means something to Ben Cherington and the Pittsburgh Pirates.