Hackers can use Astros as a model to build the winner, not to write the overall first choice


If the Pittsburgh Pirates are looking to move from last place to World Series victory in a short period of time, they don’t need to look any further than the Houston Astros to find a plan on how to put together a. team from worst to first.

But not necessarily how to write one.

After losing more than 100 games from 2011 to 2013, Houston drafted outfielder George Springer, shortstop Carlos Correa and third baseman Alex Bregman. They have become All-Stars and cornerstone of the franchise for three consecutive teams that have achieved 100 wins, including the 2017 World Series champions.

While Pirates general manager Ben Cherington may want to follow this pattern, one part of the Astros’ orbit that he would rather not repeat is how they hit two of their No.1 picks during consecutive years.

“I think that’s a good point,” Cherington said. “The Astros have had a ton of success without a 100% success rate at the top of the draft. ”

The Astros picked Mark Appel with the first pick in 2013, a year after the Pirates selected the Stanford right-hander at No.8 only to turn down their offer of a $ 3.8 million signing bonus. . Appel never broke triple A with Houston and was included in their December 2015 trade package with Philadelphia for reliever Ken Giles.

The following year, the Astros took on high school southpaw Brady Aiken with the No.1 pick, but failed to sign him after discovering elbow issues and haggling for the signing bonus. They used their pay pick to take Bregman second overall in 2015, while Aiken was picked No.17 by Cleveland.

“To me that doesn’t mean 1-1 is less important,” Cherington said. “It means you have to do a lot of things right. The draft is our focus right now, but we have to do a lot well, and the Astros have done a lot well. ”

Cherington certainly needs to do better at the top of the draft than his predecessors, who had a few monumental hiccups despite a Top-11 pick in the MLB Draft for a dozen consecutive years.

David Littlefield picked Ball State right-hander Bryan Bullington with the first overall pick in 2002, only for Bullington to be a bust that was 0-3 with a 5.89 ERA in six appearances over two seasons.

Littlefield fared better in his next three drafts, taking southpaw Paul Maholm at No.8 in 2003 and future second baseman Neil Walker and outfielder Andrew McCutchen at No.11 each of the next two years before sniffing pitchers Brad Lincoln and Daniel Moskos at No. 4 in 2006 and ’07. McCutchen has become the NL’s MVP and Walker a key contributor to their three back-to-back wildcard teams.

Neal Huntington has been among the top four picks in four consecutive seasons, selecting third baseman Pedro Alvarez No.2 in 2008, wide receiver Tony Sanchez No.4 in 2009 and right-hangers Jameson Taillon No.2 in 2010 and Gerrit Cole with the first overall choice in ’11. Alvarez and Cole each made an All-Star appearance with the Pirates.

Cherington has not indicated who the Pirates will choose, although project analysts consider high school shortstops Jordan Lawlar and Marcelo Mayer, Vanderbilt right-hander Jack Leiter and Louisville wide receiver Henry Davis all five of the top prospects who are. candidates for the No. 1 choice.

MLB Network analyst Dan O’Dowd, who will appear on the Network’s coverage of the Sunday draft, believes Cherington made a solid selection last year by taking on the New Mexico state midfielder. Nick Gonzales but can’t afford to make a mistake with the overall top pick this year or in future releases.

“When you’re on the length of the rebuild that Ben is in, it’s not your first attempt to pick at the top or near the top of the project,” O’Dowd said. “Ben needs to have three monster drafts back to back to put the Pirates in the position to be an eternal contender.

“You can’t have a good draft this year and a bad draft next year. It’s boom, boom, boom, so you’ve got to be creative with your waiver requests, your trades, your free agent signatures under the radar. Your internal development process must be exceptional. All of these things must come together to make the Pirates a winning organization. ”

Kevin Gorman is an editor for Tribune-Review. You can contact Kevin by email at kgorman@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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