Why can’t the Pirates develop pitchers?

Igawa pitching o-Kei at Scranton
Rocket relaunch live-blogged

Today won’t be as much of a recap as a rail on the Pirates and their history with pitchers. The idea came up after I got a text message or two during the game asking if Gorzelanny is really that good.

The answer is yes. The kid can flat deal. The question, though, is whether the Pirates will screw him up like they have nearly every other promising pitcher that has gone through their system.

Let’s travel back to 1996, when they took Kris Benson with the No. 1 overall pick after he dominated at Clemson (204 K, 27 BB in 156 innings). He debuted in 1999, and had two solid, but not spectacular, years at ages 24 and 25. He missed all of 2001 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Since his comeback, he has reeked of mediocrity. But I suppose it’s tough to place the blame on the Bucs for this one.

From 1999 through 2003, the Pirates selected pitchers with their first round picks (none of which was lower than 19 overall). First was Bobby Bradley, who had Tommy John surgery two years after being drafted. After that, he succumbed to other injuries, including a compressed nerve (more surgery). The last account I can find of him is being release on July 1, 2005.

Then we have Sean Burnett in 2000. He was lights out in the minors, and earned a call-up in 2004, in which he was so-so. And guess what? He had TJ that season, and missed the entire 2005 campaign. He had a 5.16 ERA in AAA last season (120.1 IP), and had as many walks as strikeouts. He’s sporting a 4.37 ERA this season, with more walks than strikeouts.

John Van Benschoten was taken with the eighth overall pick in 2001. He was rolling along in the minors until 2004, and was named the club’s No. 1 prospect. After a very unimpressive run with the team in 2004, he underwent two separate shoulder surgeries the following winter, and missed the entire 2005 season and most of 2006. He’s pitching decently in Indianapolis this season, with a 2.73 ERA in 66 innings, though his K/BB is 45 to 30.

Bryan Bullington was the first overall pick in the 2002 draft. And guess what? He’s been an injury case, too. He missed the entire 2006 season, though he, like Van Benschoten, is pitching well in AAA, with a 2.75 ERA in 75/1 IP (though, once again, an unimpressive K/BB ratio of 45/28).

As if the injuries weren’t enough, the Pirates took Paul Maholm with the eighth pick in the 2003 draft. He’s pitching today, actually, though he has a 5.35 ERA in 72.1 IP this season (42/19 K/BB). He pitched very well upon being called up in 2005 (2.18 ERA in 41.3 IP), but was below average in 2006 (95 ERA+).

For the next two years, they strayed from pitchers, taking Neil Walker. He was uninspiring before this season, but has a .907 OPS in 207 at for Altoona (AA) of the Eastern League. They drafted him as a catcher, but now he has more offensive demands, as they’ve moved him to third base. He seems to be responding well. They also took Andrew McCutchen in 2005, and after two seasons of 800+ OPS numbers, there were whispers that he’d make the club out of Spring Training. But he didn’t, and he’s sitting on a .651 OPS, also in Altoona.

Brad Lincoln was the fourth overall pick in the 2006 draft, a strange one, since he hadn’t been very good before his 2006 campaign with the University of Houston. Guess what? He’s injured.

They kept the trend going this year, taking Daniel Moskos. It’s a much criticized pick, basically a waste for the fourth overall selection. Once again, the Pirates continue to forego the better (more expensive) players. I have no sympathy for them, as they refuse to spend any kind of money to field a winning team. And their developmental system of obviously flawed — we didn’t even mention Zach Duke, who has been atrocious this season. Oh, and Oliver Perez, who was awesome, then sucked, and is now awesome with the Mets again.

Anyway, the point is, we should kill them today. We should have killed them last night. The Pirates stink.

Last 7 Days
Abreu: 423/545/654
Posada: 360/414/600
Alex: 357/438/750
Melky: 333/345/556
Cairo: 333/333/389
Matsui: 286/344/429
Jeter: 276/344/448
Damon: 267/312/367
Cano: 259/333/481
Phelps: 250/250/250

Igawa pitching o-Kei at Scranton
Rocket relaunch live-blogged
  • http://riveraveblues.com Mike A.

    Van Benschoten was actually a closer in college, and in his draft year he led the nation in saves AND homeruns (he played the OF). He’s had 3 shoulder surgeries all together, though I’m pretty sure 2 were on his non-throwing arm.

    Paul Maholm went through the injury bug too, but he got drilled in the face by a line drive in the minors and needed all sorts of reconstructive surgery. That’s just bad luck.

    I’ll never forget the quote from the Pirates’ Scouting Director (whoever it was at the time) after they took Bullington first overall in 2002: “We see as being a very good number 3 starter for us.” Number 3??? Hello, first pick in the whole damn draft, maybe you wanna set your goals a little higher…

  • steve

    its amazing that they can’t have a better farm system when they have low draft picks almost every year. look at the d-rays, they are a bad team but they at least draft well. seems like the yanks have developed more pitchers in the past few years than the pirates have in the past decade. thats kinda sad.