PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — The Pirates, to borrow a popular lyric from the rapper Drake, “started from the bottom, now [they’re] here.” But how did they get to the pinnacle of the National League, recording win No. 70 faster than any Pirate team since 1972?
The Tampa Bay Rays, once upon a time, could certainly feel Pittsburgh’s pain, and that of its fans–what was left of them prior to the arrival of manager Clint Hurdle, anyway. But the perpetual loser transformed itself into a perennial contender, winning the 2008 American League pennant, with organic talent and front-office discipline, and the Pirates have followed that model in building their 2013 club.
For both franchises, in the big picture, the road map reads: draft, sign, develop, rinse, repeat. Championship teams are typically a healthy mix of young and old, with just the right amount of external help in just the right places.
Grant Brisbee of SB Nation recently the Pirates’ performances in the MLB amateur draft, beginning with the 11th overall pick of center fielder Andrew McCutchen in 2005.
Native son Neil Walker–batting .327 with seven RBI and eight extra-base hits since returning from the DL–soon followed, as did premier power hitter Pedro Alvarez–leading the NL with 27 homers–along with reliable relievers Justin Wilson and Tony Watson, and up-and-coming starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, among others.
In what Brisbee calls “what is almost certainly going to be remembered as the best amateur draft in history,” the Pirates got in McCutchen a future All-Star, Gold Glover, Silver Slugger, MVP candidate, and, in summary, a fitting symbol for a new era in Pirates baseball. They had to, considering how the franchise had swung and missed so often on prospects.
“Cutch” currently ranks second in the entire NL with a WAR (“wins above replacement,” an advanced statistic that tries to quantify the total value of a player) of 6.2.
“The #11 pick is a historic anomaly. Every pick before it does well traditionally. Most of the picks after it do much better. But at #11, there was Greg Luzinski, Walt Weiss and not much else,” Brisbee writes. “So for the Pirates, who were a team that could have screwed up 37 consecutive first-round picks just a couple of years ago, to get value from the #11 pick is something of a coup.
“McCutchen is the franchise player. Walker is the complementary piece. Alvarez is rewarding the team’s patience. And Gerrit Cole is the first pitcher to not get weird on the Pirates since…heck, John Candelaria. The bullpen pieces are a nice touch, too. Most good teams get a couple of those with their drafts.”
Click here to read the entire piece by Brisbee, who also examines the improving track record of the franchise regarding trades and free agency, citing the “dynamic” pitching duo of A.J. Burnett and Jeff Locke as two of several examples.
The Pirates (70-44) resume play Friday night at Coors Field, as they begin a three-game rematch with the Colorado Rockies (52-64) with team wins leader Francisco Liriano (12-4) opposing Jorge De La Rosa (10-6). Liriano got the best of fellow lefty De La Rosa at PNC Park less than a week ago.
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