2/17/12

Q&A With Michael Rodgers of Buried Treasure: A Pirates Blog (Part 2)

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Stephen Guilbert: In the continuation of an interview with Pirates blogger Michael Rodgers (You can read the first part here), we cover Pittsburgh’s drafting strategy from the past couple of years and Michael gives us his insight into a rumored trade between the Pirates and Mets from this past off-season.
SG: Josh Bell was one of my favorites from last year's draft. I feel the Pirates got a steal there. Is that the consensus among Pirates fans as well? He was supposed to be a truly tough sign, but the Pirates got the deal done.

MR: I’m actually not as high on Bell as the average Pirates fan. Stepping away from context for a second, I love the selection and being able to add that type of impact talent in the second round. In fact, according to an on-air interview with GM Neal Huntington, the Pirates had Bell as #6 on their big board, so they were ecstatic to have him. Still, a few things about him concern me. Bell is old for his age. I’m not sure if you’ve seen the fairly new research about positional players and their age, but I buy into it as an overlooked and under-utilized factor. (Ed. Note: You can read more about this work here and here.)

To understand just how old he is, he’s actually 14 months older than fellow 2011 draftee Francisco Lindor. Due to that, I’m wary of Bell and have some belief that he dominated high school and showed a high level of talent due to being more physically developed.

At the time of the draft, without the benefit of hindsight, I would have preferred to see the Pirates select Daniel Norris. Daniel Norris is an excellent prospect in his own right and at the time seemed much more likely to sign. Even if he was a notch below Bell in talent, he seemed like the better choice because of the increased probability of him being in a Pirates (well West Virginia Power) uniform this coming spring. That was at least my thinking. There was a theory that was able to gain some traction which suggested the Pirates front office had more knowledge on the subject of Bell's signability and drafted him with more confidence than the average fan or even industry expert did. In the end, I was just thrilled to have both Bell and Cole in the system.

Even though I mentioned that I saw Norris as having a greater probability of signing than Bell, I was fairly convinced that Bell would sign. I hesitate to say Bell was using a ploy, but when it was clear Boras was advising him, I began to wonder. That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Gerrit Cole, the Pirates other big name draft pick, was also advised by Boras when the Yankees drafted him and Gerrit ended up at UCLA. I guess in the end, 5 million dollars does a lot of talking and convince almost anyone.

SG: Speaking of Cole, the Pirates #1 pick last year and the first taken overall, did you have your heart set on Cole or was it someone else? It is not that often you get to draft #1 overall—was there any consensus or desire among Pirates fans on who they wanted most last year?

MR: I’m ecstatic he’s a Pirate, but he was never really my first choice. That said, I never really questioned the pick. When a college pitcher with his stuff and upside is available, it’s never a bad choice with the #1 overall pick. However, even as far back as 2010, many Pirates fans, including myself, had our hearts set on Anthony Rendon. The Pirates' system had plenty of pitching talent but was lacking in the positional player department. Rendon fit that ‘hole’ perfectly. Plus, Rendon has significant and warranted hype, with some experts preferring Rendon to Bryce Harper. I say warranted because Rendon’s complete game was stunning. The Rice product had no real hole in his game, with the ability to hit for elite contact, plus power and play superb defense. Rendon also possessed nearly unparalleled plate discipline to round out his skill set. Those factors caused me to jump on that boat that liked Rendon ahead of Harper.

Then the injury happened. One unverified, but generally trustworthy source I read passed on information that described Rendon’s injured shoulder as ‘hamburger’ and that a team would be foolish to draft him in the first round. Obviously that didn’t happen, but Rendon’s fall to the Nationals at #6 more than eased my fears that the Pirates had foolishly passed on a healthy Rendon for a college pitcher with less than impressive stats. Past Rendon, the guy #1 on my big board prior to the draft was Dylan Bundy. Other than being two inches too short, there’s really nothing concerning about Bundy. He’s the perfect right-handed prep pitcher. Still, it was close enough that I’m not all disappointed with Cole, especially with his impressive AFL performance. Speaking of the AFL, I’d like to note that Rendon did not play, which adds to his injury concerns.

SG: Another top prospect I wanted to inquire about is OF Starling Marte. I am not sure if you heard these rumors but Bobby Parnell and Jon Niese's names have been thrown around this winter as possible trade chips and the Pirates were rumored to be most interested in Ike Davis. Marte was the guy the Mets targeted, or so it was rumored. Did these rumors reach Pittsburgh? Or was that more of the Mets dreaming about Marte roaming Citi’s outfield? What can you share with us about Marte as a prospect?

MR: Ya, the Pirates community heard the rumor. I believe the source of the rumor, which was Brad Lincoln and Starling Marte for Ike Davis, was actually a tweet by a Pirates writer. Regardless, I was uneasy about the trade. On paper, trying to be objective, the trade seemed like a solid one for the Pirates. However, I’m really really high on Marte, so I wasn’t in favor of the trade, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Davis’s knee (For the record, I do like Ike Davis and think he's an excellent player).

For why I’m high on Marte, I can actually state that I saw him play a few times back when he played for the West Virginia Power. Seeing him in person, I saw the scouting report typical about Marte; A lean, athletic body that could add power, an elite ability to make contact, speed to burn in the field and on the basepaths, and an absolute cannon for an arm. In fact, my starkest memory of Marte was when he, while playing center field, raced out to a ball that he caught on the warning track in deep right-center field. He did not catch the ball on a dead sprint, but he was still moving towards the wall when it was caught. Marte then planted his foot, wheeled, and threw an absolute strike in the air to the Power third baseman who tagged out a player tagging from second base to end the ending. As he trotted off the field, Marte got a standing ovation. I’ll note that the baserunner wasn't a burner, but he wasn’t a clunker on the basepaths either.

Marte was an intriguing prospect coming into this year, but his stock took off with another big season, this time at AA. His biggest progressive development was his power. Marte his 12 HR this year and had an ISO of .168, big improvements in both categories. Marte projects as an elite defensive center fielder, so he could be incredibly valuable if he can get 15 or 20 HRs a year, which seems more than possible. Earlier, I talked about Marte’s elite contact ability. Looking at the stats, it’s pretty clear the scouting report is correct. Marte has been stateside for three years now, and his lowest average in a year is .312. Last year he won the Eastern League batting title by hitting .332.

The big knock on Marte has been his plate discipline. Until last year, Marte barely walked and struck out a ton, well over 20% of the time. Last year, he still only walked at a 3.8% clip, but did lower his strikeout rate to 17.5%, a solid number. Still, that low walk rate is concerning, and plate discipline can be a red flag for players that progress up the baseball ladder as they seemingly are more susceptible to better pitching. I would consider that a generalization, one that is often true, but one that has exceptions. I believe Marte is an exception. To argue my point, I compare Marte’s plate discipline to Robinson Cano’s plate discipline. I use this quote, from an ESPN Insider article:

"When Cano was young, he swung at almost everything," Newman said. "That was because he could hit everything. But over time, he's really improved in that area. He'll never be a player with an even average walk rate, but he definitely swings at better pitches."

I personally believe that describes Marte to a T. If Marte can come close to being the offensive player Cano is, Marte’s ability with the glove to be a plus-plus defender in CF will mean he’s a superstar. That wouldn't surprise me in the least.

Lastly, a cool story about Marte: He was actually scouted as a pitcher (he does have a cannon) but no one was too interested. The Pirates signed him for a mere 85K as an outfielder. It's paid off so far.

SG: I made a mistake in the editing/fact checking portion of the last interview post. Nick Kingham was drafted in 2010 instead of the stated 2011. We thank Michael again for joining us. Part 3 will feature some 2012 draft talk so be on the lookout for that.

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