Q&A with Neal Huntington

Draft Q&A with Neal Huntington

When you say there is no "premium talent" like Pedro Alvarez in this year's Draft, what do you mean by that?
-- Tim L., Pittsburgh

Each Draft class typically has some number of players that show present and future abilities to allow evaluators to project them to develop into All-Star caliber players. That type of player can be generally classified as a "premium" talent. The class this year is not nearly as strong in this area as the class last year.

That said, the baseball Draft is more an art than a science, and there will most certainly be players that exceed expectations and perhaps turn into All-Star-caliber talents despite being drafted well beyond the first round. As an organization we study the Draft's history, try to learn from the past and combine that with our organizational philosophies to maximize our probability for success.

Does taking a pitcher in the first round concern you because of the past injury history of Pirates first-round pitchers?
-- Bobby M., Erie, Pa.

While we work to learn from the history of the Draft -- the successes and failures -- our evaluation process is based upon our value system and our organizational philosophies. While we have to be aware of the organizational history, we need to ensure we select the right players for the right reasons. Starting pitching is the most difficult commodity to acquire on the trade and free-agent markets and, as a result, it is crucial we develop our own starting-pitching candidates.

Will you shy away from Scott Boras' clients because of what happened last year with Pedro Alvarez?
-- Rob S., Pittsburgh

A player's choice of representation will have no influence on our selection process.

Will you have the money available in this year's Draft to take the best players, like you did last year?
-- Stephanie B., Wheeling, West Virginia

Bob Nutting has committed similar resources to the Draft this year. We will be aggressive in the player-selection and resource-allocation process and have the ability to infuse a lot of quality talent via the Draft again this year.

Last year we committed over $6 million dollars to one player because we ultimately felt he was worth that type of investment. There are very few players in the Draft this season that we feel are worth anywhere near that type of investment. If the exception is available at our selection, we will select that player in the Draft and work diligently to find a common financial ground. If the exception is not available then we will likely remain near our value on the player and work diligently to get that player signed. If the exception is not available and we select a player of more conventional value, we will have the ability to re-allocate the difference between the money we spent in the first round last year and the money we spend in the first round this year on other players elsewhere in the Draft.

Will you draft the best player available at No. 4, or the most affordable player?
-- Stephen P., Sarasota, Fla.

We will draft the player that we feel has the best chance to have the most positive impact on the organization with each pick. A player that asks for $5 million is not necessarily worth $5 million, nor does that guarantee the player will become an elite player.

We place an internal value on each player in the Draft, and when our internal value is within a realistic range of the player's legitimate signing-bonus expectations, we will be aggressive in our selection of that player. There will be other times where the player's bonus demands are significantly higher than our internal value, and in those cases we may either wait to select the player until later in the Draft (thus reducing the opportunity cost of not signing the player) or choose to not select the player at all. We believe that, when the signing deadline passes, we will have committed dollars to the Draft that will again rank among the top-10 of all Major League clubs and added a deep and talented class to our system.

When do you and your staff start preparing for the Draft? How many total man hours do you think will go into it?
-- Carey P., Atlanta, Ga.

In actuality, the initial phases of the 2010, 2011 and 2012 Drafts have already begun. As our scouts have evaluated and observed the class for 2009, they have also been evaluating and observing future Draft classes and entering follow reports into our system.

With respect to the 2009 Draft class, the detailed work for this Draft began the day the 2008 Draft ended. Scouts watch players throughout the summer on summer league teams at the showcase events. In the offseasons, they work to get to know the player and watch workouts, practices and -- if applicable -- they watch the players that participate in other sports. Once the spring season begins, the scouts have very few off-days and log thousands of miles in cars and on planes in a tireless effort to gather the best information and make the strongest evaluations. About 10 days before the Draft, the scouting supervisors and leadership group meet and begin the review of all the information on the approximately 700 eligible players the organization has deemed worthy of Draft consideration. Over the 10 long days and nights, each player will be reviewed in exhaustive detail and comparisons to similar players will be made so as to put together the master organizational preferential list. The list will be reviewed numerous times via a variety of methods to ensure Greg Smith (our Scouting Director) is fully prepared to make the best selection each pick of the Draft.

I could not begin to estimate the number of hours spent in preparation for the Draft each year. I also cannot begin to express just how much I truly appreciate the tremendous commitment and quantity and quality of work each of our scouts logs for the benefit of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Scouting is a relentless and thankless job, and without these men (and the support of their families), we would have no chance of building the foundation upon which we will build and sustain a consistent championship-caliber organization.

Is there any thought to shifting budget away from the Draft and signing this 16-year old player, Miguel Sano, in the Dominican Republic that I keep reading about?
-- Kevin N., Pittsburgh

The domestic and international signing-bonus budgets are independent entities and we have no plans to take from one to fund the other. Bob Nutting has committed to providing us with resources that are well above the norm for our market size, and our focus is to efficiently and effective allocate those resources to return the most possible talent for the Pirates.