In Neal Huntington's first couple years with the Pirates, their drafts were defined by high spending and getting a balanced mix of quality high school and college players. That would not always be the case, though, and the change started to happen eight years ago. Not just in how much they could spend, but to whom they gave that money.
The 2012 Major League Baseball Draft was destined to be a game-changer for the Pirates and the rest of the league. Despite having one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, the Pirates had sunk an unprecedented amount of capital into the draft in the years leading up to that year. They outspent the rest of the league each year from 2008-11, including shelling out $17 million for the 2011 class alone. That was, and still is, a big-league record amount for a draft class.
A good portion of that money went to second-round pick Josh Bell and ninth-rounder Clay Holmes, who were given $5 million and $1.2 million, respectively, to forgo college. Gerrit Cole received $8 million. They also gave a sizeable bonus to Tyler Glasnow for him to sign out of high school. In total, the Pirates ended up getting three or four first-round talents because they were willing to spend.
Other teams started to follow the Pirates' model, so MLB decided to cap spending in the draft. Each pick would have an allocated dollar value, and teams will have the total value of those picks -- plus a 5 percent overage -- to spend. Any team that spent more than that would face penalties, ranging from stiff fines to the potential loss of draft picks.
The Pirates went into the 2012 draft with the eighth overall pick and a bonus pool of about $6.6 million for the first 10 rounds. After vastly outspending the rest of the league the last four years, they were now limited to the middle of the pack. That left them with a choice: Do they try to sign another big dollar draft pick like Bell, Holmes and Cole, or do they play it safe and pick players they knew they could sign?