There wasn’t really a consensus top pick in the 2012 draft.
Byron Buxton was a big name from the prep ranks. Mark Appel was the top arm from the college ranks, before falling. Mike Zunino provided a bat that could stick behind the plate. Kyle Zimmer and Kevin Gausman were two interesting college pitchers mixed in with Appel.
The Houston Astros didn’t take any of those players with the first overall pick that year. Instead, they drafted Carlos Correa, giving him a below-slot amount.
The savings went to their second pick, Lance McCullers, who was ranked 13th overall pre-draft by Baseball America, but taken by the Astros with the 41st overall pick.
One year earlier, and ten years ago, the Pirates had the number one overall pick.
The rules in 2011 were different. They changed because of how the Pirates spent so freely, with a whopping… *checks notes* … $17 million spent!
For that kind of money, the 2011 Pirates could have had three years of 30-year-old John Buck.
Instead, they spent their money on Gerrit Cole, Josh Bell, Tyler Glasnow, Clay Holmes, and more.
Cole went with that first overall pick, and received the top bonus in the draft. However, this was another year where there wasn’t a consensus number one pick.
The debate at the time was between Cole, UCLA teammate Trevor Bauer, prep pitcher Dylan Bundy, oft-injured college third baseman Anthony Rendon, and Danny Hultzen, for some reason.
Cole led the pack, and the Pirates took him and gave him the biggest deal.
They didn’t have to worry about bonus pools, so they went on to spend $5 million on Josh Bell in the second round, $1.2 million on Clay Holmes in the ninth round, and $600,000 on Tyler Glasnow in the fifth round.
The Pirates have the number one pick again in 2021.
If they want a similar result as last time, with a lot of over-slot players under MLB’s current bonus pool system, they’re going to need to get creative.
Much like the Astros did in 2012, in the first year under the new system.
Other teams have taken the same approach in the years since, though the Astros in 2012 are the clear “best case scenario” of this working out. Like any strategy with the first overall pick, nothing is guaranteed and you’ll see varying results.
The Pirates have a draft pool available to them that could support a creative approach.
Today’s mock draft from Baseball America featured three prep shortstops in the top three picks. Jack Leiter was picked four, and Louisville catcher Henry Davis went fifth. All five could be options for the Pirates at number one.
With so many options, and no standouts, the Pirates could try to go under-slot and get additional bonus pool money for their later picks.
If the Pirates paid their first overall pick third-overall money, it would boost the value of their other picks by $1.2 million. If they used that sum on a single pick, they could essentially get 21st overall talent at 37th overall, or 32nd overall talent with their 64th overall pick. The same amount would turn an 11th round pick into a top 55 range pick.
What approach would you take at this point, and which player would you draft first overall if the draft was held today?