Amateur Signing Bonuses: Pirates

Let's move our amateur signing bonus to the Steel City…

  1. Jameson Taillon, $6.5MM (2010)
  2. Pedro Alvarez, $6MM (2008)
  3. Bryan Bullington, $4MM (2002)
  4. Brad Lincoln, $2.75MM (2006)
  5. Luis Heredia, $2.6MM (2010)

If there's any good that can come out of finishing with a below-.500 record for 18 straight years, it's that you'll have a ton of high draft picks. Unfortunately for the Pirates, they really didn't take advantage of those high picks until the last few years, as too many first rounders to count have flamed out since the team's last winning season. Neal Huntington has been dedicated to building the next great Pirates team through the farm system, so he's spent a ton of money on amateurs since taking over in late 2007. In fact, Pittsburgh has doled out close to $30.6MM on draft picks in the three years that Huntington's run the team, the most in baseball by more than $2MM.

Taillon was the best pitcher available in this year's draft class, high school or otherwise, so the Pirates gobbled him up with the second overall pick and gave him the second largest signing bonus in draft history, trailing only Stephen Strasburg's $7.5MM bonus. It's also the largest bonus ever given as part of a minor league contract. Taillon did not pitch after signing and will start his career next spring.

There was a bit of drama with the Alvarez signing after he was chosen second overall in 2008. Alvarez and agent Scott Boras agreed to a minor league contract worth $6MM, but the deal was struck two minutes after the August 15th signing deadline passed. The union filed a grievance on the player's behalf, and the issue was resolved a month later. Alvarez ultimately received the same $6MM bonus, though the second time around it came as part of four-year, $6.335MM major league contract. He reached the big leagues this summer and hit .256/.326/.461 with 16 homers in 386 plate appearances. Alvarez is expected to be a force in the middle of the Pirates' lineup for the next half-decade, at least.

Bullington was one of those dud draft picks we talked about earlier, taken with the first overall pick in 2002. The Pirates' brain trust famously referred to him as a solid mid-rotation starter not long after the draft (an opinion other teams agreed with), not exactly what you expect with the top pick. Even worse, Bullington failed to deliver on even those modest expectations. He pitched to a 3.32 ERA with 6.7 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in 288 innings in his first two pro seasons, then made his big league debut in September 2005 (two runs in 1.1 innings). Bullington missed the entire 2006 season due to shoulder surgery, and he was eventually lost to the Indians on waivers after being designated for assignment in July 2008. All told, he threw just 18.1 innings for Pittsburgh, posting a 5.89 ERA.

Lincoln was the fourth overall pick in 2006, but he ended up missing the entire 2007 season due to Tommy John surgery. He came back in 2008 and pitched well enough in the minors to earn his first taste of the big leagues this June. In 52.2 innings with the Pirates (nine starts, two relief appearances), Lincoln pitched to a Halloween appropriate 6.66 ERA. He figures to get a long look in Spring Training.

The draft isn't the only place where Huntington has spent big, he's also given out some huge bonuses on the international market. They heavily pursued Miguel Sano before he signed with the Twins, though they did sign the 16-year-old Heredia this past August. Since his rights were owned by the Mexican team Veracruz, Heredia received just 25% of that bonus ($650K). The other 75% went to Veracruz ($1.95MM). He'll start his pro career next season.

It's worth noting that Tony Sanchez (fourth overall in 2009) and Danny Moskos (fourth overall in 2007) are right behind Heredia at $2.5MM and $2.475MM, respectively.


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19 Comments on "Amateur Signing Bonuses: Pirates"


TheLastPirateFan
4 years 9 months ago

This post pretty much sums up what I have been arguing for the past couple of years. The Pirates have done a great job on this front and the results should show on the Major League level in the coming years. Go Bucs!

4 years 9 months ago

The Pirates have had terrible luck over the years with amateur pitching. They either get injured or just under perform (or perhaps weren’t that good in the first place). Glad to see they are spending more money in the draft and in the international market. Hopefully in the future the Pirates organization will be on the same level as the Royals and even the Rays. Teams like the Royals and Rays have laid a blueprint of how to win with limited financial resources and it seems like the Pirates are trying to follow that same path.

Tko11
4 years 9 months ago

They rays have laid a blueprint of how to win with limited financial resources, not the royals…The last time they won over 80 games was 2003. After that they have been around the 65 win mark which is not exactly considered a winning team.

moonraker45
4 years 9 months ago

rays also finished dead last for a decade just to accumulate those players. and still haven’t won anything

myname_989
4 years 9 months ago

That doesn’t discredit his point. The Pirates have been pretty god awful for a decade as well, and they haven’t done nearly as well as the Rays in the draft. The Rays built themselves to be competitors, and most of the Pirates’ picks have flopped. His point was pretty simple – If you aren’t able to sign big name free agents, draft well. The Pirates haven’t done either.

moonraker45
4 years 9 months ago

no that wasn’t his point, that was brandons point which i agree with . My rebuttal is in regards to tko11’s comment about how the royals shouldn’t be used as a small market comparison because they haven’t won since 2003…well before 2008 the rays didn’t win at all so his point is invalid. small market teams in general go through rough times before breaking through.

Tko11
4 years 9 months ago

But then you are assuming a break through that may or may not happen. Just like it hasn’t happened for the Pirates for so long. The Rays broke through and are competing in one of the hardest divisions in baseball therefore they make for a good “blueprint.” You can’t really use a team who hasn’t been good for a long time as a “blueprint.”

start_wearing_purple
4 years 9 months ago

The fact that Bullington and Lincoln are on this list should make Pirates fans (if there are any left) cry. But the fact that they’re spending on good potential now must give them a little hope for the future.

derekbellstutu
4 years 9 months ago

The Pirates have missed more than hit in the first round of the draft due to bad luck and bad choices (Clint Johnston, anyone?). I agree with the previous posts in that the Pirates appear to be making better selections in the draft and can’t wait to see Tony Sanchez, Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie, and others at the big league level.

4 years 9 months ago

Pretty strange that the gave Bullington as much as they did considering the fairly universal opinion that he was an overdraft and a mid-rotation starter. Doesn’t seem like he should have had much leverage.

derekbellstutu
4 years 9 months ago

The old regime of Kevin McClatchy & Dave Littlefield made a lot of mistakes overall, including the draft. Littlefield even admitted that Bullington was a mid-rotation starter when he selected him first overall. But selecting Danny Moskos over Matt Wieters and trading for Matt Morris was the nail in the coffin for Littlefield. The Coonelly-Huntington administration seems to be doing a better job acquiring talent than their predecessors. Now it’s a matter of being patient and allowing that talent to develop, although I wouldn’t be opposed to dealing some of the talent in the minors for upgrades to the rotation, SS, and RF.

myname_989
4 years 9 months ago

I wonder if a move to the bullpen would help Brad Lincoln out. He’s got a good fastball that can reach the mid – 90’s, and a good sharp hook. With a little work on his changeup and keeping his fastball continually in the lower to mid – 90’s, he may be a decent guy to come out of the bullpen.

Vote_For_Pedro
4 years 9 months ago

Bucs do not need bullpen guys, they have 2 preety good ones in Meek and Hanrahann. They need starters because if you have not noticed that is a big reason why they have been losing for almost 2 decades. Teams like the yanks and sox alot of the times trade and sign bullpen guys because they are the least wanted drafted players.

myname_989
4 years 9 months ago

Obviously, Lincoln was drafted as a starter, but I think it’s safe to say that he isn’t going to pan out there. Not moving him to the bullpen because he was drafted by the team putting him there, or because the Pirates “need starters” is ridiculous. They need quality starting pitching, something they aren’t going to get out of Brad Lincoln. Assuming he’d work out well there, adding him to a bullpen of guys like Meek and Hanrahan takes some of the stress off of a weak starting rotation.

bucs_lose_again
4 years 9 months ago

It’s safe to say he won’t pan out as a starter predicated on 53 innings of work?

myname_989
4 years 9 months ago

At what level in his professional career has Brad Lincoln shown that he could be a serviceable starter? Nine starts with the big league club may not prove that, but he’s never thrown up any impressive numbers as a starter at any level. Aside from a good season at AA in ’09, (13 starts) he’s been unimpressive.

impliedi
4 years 9 months ago

But, I wouldn’t get too excited about the lack of domination on the part of Brad Lincoln just yet. Just remember, 2006 he only pitched 6 games. TJ surgery in ’07. Rebounding after a full year off and recovering, building back arm strength in 2008 (so I wouldn’t really pay any attention to his ’08 numbers). So really, you have to look at only the 2 years, 2009 & 2010, to judge Lincoln, so far. 2009 he dominated in AA & struggled a bit in AAA. In 2010, he pitched decent in AAA and struggled in the majors. I’d say it’s a little early to throw him into the bullpen, just yet (he’s still only 25 years old). Another year (or maybe 2) in the rotation, and if he’s still struggling, then I say give the bullpen a shot.

Ian_Smell
4 years 9 months ago

Dave Littlefield predicted that Bullington would make a good third starter, which he didn’t end up being, but at least he ended up third on this list.

no1hedberg
4 years 9 months ago

I’m hoping for a complete revamp of the major league coaching staff. I think they have pretty good instruction at the lower levels, but the major league staff is bad. I lost all respect for Russell (the players probably did too) when he sat there like a lump while teams deliberately threw at his best players. Don Long isn’t getting the best from the meager bats we have either, and Kerrigan was too busy fighting with Russell, and watching his pitching staff drown. Searage seems to be a better mentor for his staff, and I like him, but I’d say the jury is still out on him. We are finally starting to get some real talent near the major league level from the draft, as well as payoffs from some of the trades the yinzers hated. It would be a shame to waste that talent on inadequate coaching. Charlie Morton was always a gamble, but the chances of that gamble paying off could have increased if he had been handled, and coached better. I happen to think Lincoln has a chance to be a starter too. What I mean is, it doesn’t make sense to spend the most in the draft and international signing, if your not going to put the absolute best developmental coaching attainable in place to leverage their talent.