In 2005, the baseball gods hired a new intern, Reggie. He was a nice enough kid. Dumb as an aluminum can, but nice enough. His dad knew one of the baseball gods from way back -- working at a law firm, or something.
And on a lazy Friday, Reggie had one task: to deliver a stack of dossiers from the office of one baseball god to another. He stopped along the way, ate a candy bar, and smudged chocolate on one of the dossiers. As he was frantically trying to clean it off, he inadvertently swapped the profile of Andrew McCutchen with Wade Townsend's.
That's the completely true story of how the Pittsburgh Pirates ended up with Andrew McCutchen instead of Wade Townsend, who was easily the Piratesest prospect in the 2005 draft. Tons of promise, and an arm that wouldn't would cooperate. If Reggie hadn't been so incompetent, the baseball gods would have figured out a way for Townsend to slip to the 11th-overall pick. As is, McCutchen was easily the best Pirates draft choice of the last two decades.
The draft is supposed to help a team that perennially finishes under .500, but the Pirates have had a miserable time. Last year's first-overall pick, Gerrit Cole, is doing well in high-A this year, as is 2010 first-rounder Jameson Taillon. So maybe a new era is about to be ushered in, where Pirates first-round picks do what they're supposed to.
But before that gets here, of course the Pirates will have to deal with at least one more disappointment:
The Pirates are converting high-priced prospect Stetson Allie from pitcher to hitter, the Tribune-Review has learned.
Allie, 21, was the team’s second-round draft pick in 2010, signing for $2.25 million, well above Major League Baseball’s recommended slot. His value was in velocity that routinely topped 100 mph while at St. Edward High near Cleveland.
Everyone wanted Stetson Allie, including the University of North Carolina. So to get Allie, the Pirates paid him about what a sixth- or seventh-overall pick would command. Two years later, he's a hitter.
It's tempting to say, "That's SO Pirates!!!", except this isn't a part of a predictable type of abject incompetence. They got Allie because they were willing to spend money that other teams weren't. But three years before that, the Pirates passed on Matt Wieters specifically because they weren't willing to spend money, ending up with Daniel Moskos, who can't stick as a situational lefty in the majors.
Another reason the Allie conversion isn't a typical Pirates story: The quick conversion is exactly the opposite of what the organization did with John Van Benschoten, who most teams wanted in the 2001 draft as a hitter. The Pirates made him a pitcher and stuck by their decision for six years.
The only constant in the Pirates' drafting is the result, not the process. Consider the string of bad luck, too. Or maybe it's absence of good luck. When the Pirates finally had the first-overall pick in 2002, it was in a year without a consensus pick. They never had that Nationals moment, where everyone knew who the selection was going to be from the last game of the previous season. The Pirates have been one of the worst franchises of the past 20 years, but they never had a chance at a Stephen Strasburg or a Bryce Harper. Them's the breaks.
And when they finally gave in to the cries that they were too cheap with their amateur talent, the Pirates made a huge commitment to the consensus best player in the 2008 draft, shoveling all sorts of money toward him and BorasCorp. That player was Pedro Alvarez, who is back under .200, in case you haven't been paying attention. The good news is that his strikeout rate is up and his walk rate is down.
The worst piece of misfortune, though? Right when Neal Huntington convinced Pirates ownership to spend on the draft -- making substantial commitments to amateur players, even if it meant paying them to stay away from college -- Major League Baseball changed the rules to forbid that sort of strategy. Now the bonuses are strictly controlled. The Pirates got to follow the strategy for exactly two seasons. The returns are still out for 2011. Allie's conversion means the returns are disappointing so far for the 2010 draft.
Oh, there's been incompetence, too. From the top down. Your first clue was the word "Pirates" in the headline. There's a chance that Pedro Alvarez -- or Chad Hermansen, or Bobby Bradley, or ... -- would have been a different player in another organization. Amateur players don't arrived to the minor leagues fully formed. Can't blame the luck goblins for everything.
But you can't fail down the stairs like the Pirates have even if you try. It's been a cornucopia of bad, and it's been relentless. Gerrit Cole is doing well. Jameson Taillon is doing well. The Pirates have the eighth-overall pick in the 2012 draft. If you have a heart, you're rooting for all of these guys to pan out.