Pittsburgh Pirates: Revisiting Their 2009 Draft Class


The 2009 draft class was one of the worst in Pittsburgh Pirates history… so let’s reopen that wound and look at what went wrong!

The 2020 MLB Draft is just a week away. In a world that is dearly missing and lacking live sporting events, it will be a fun night to kick back and watch some live baseball news come across the ticker. While next Wednesday could be a great night for the Pittsburgh Pirates, not all draft nights have been successful.

New Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Ben Cherington is known for his ability to identify, draft, acquire, and develop minor league talent. Due to this, fans should be confident that next Wednesday’s draft night will be a successful one for the Pirates. One draft night, however, that was not successful was the 2009 draft.

With the 4th overall pick in the 2009 MLB Draft the Pittsburgh Pirates selected catcher Tony Sanchez out of Boston College. Sanchez was viewed as being a reach at that point in the draft, but the reason the Pirates selected him was to save money to be spent later in the draft.

When he was drafted, Sanchez was viewed as a plus defender with an improving bat. After a strong start to his professional career, injuries started to derail Sanchez. Despite this, he still made his MLB debut with the Pirates in 2013.

Sanchez would play a combined 51 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013, 2014 and 2015. However, his defense would become a major liability and his power never developed as a hitter. As a result, he posted just a 0.2 fWAR in those three seasons and never stuck in Pittsburgh.

But, once again, Sanchez was not supposed to be the star of that draft. The stars of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2009 draft class were supposed to be the pitchers they took later on in the draft and signed with the money they saved by drafting Sanchez. Unfortunately, and astoundingly, none of the ‘bonus babies’ as they were dubbed would pan out for the Bucs.

By saving money with the Sanchez pick, the Pittsburgh Pirates would go on to spend $3.93 million on high school pitchers to keep them from going to college and to join the Pirate organization instead. These five pitchers were Vic Black, Brooks Pounders, Zack Dodson, Zach Von Rosenberg, and Colton Cain.

Of these five, only Black reached the MLB level with the Pirates. Pounders has pitched for the Royals, Angels, Rockies, and Mets the past four seasons. The other three would fail to reach the MLB level.

Of these five, the one that made the biggest impact for the Pittsburgh Pirates was likely Black. In August 2013, he was traded to the Mets in exchange for outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck. Byrd would go on to play a major role in he Pirates’ postseason run that season.

Cain would also be traded by the Pirates. In July 2012, he was part of a package of players that went to the Astros in exchange for pitcher Wandy Rodriguez. Pounders was traded to the Royals in a lesser trade for utility man Yamaico Navarro prior to the start of the 2012 season.

Of these five pitchers, Von Rosenberg has gone on to be the most successful. His success, however, has come on the football field. After his baseball career ended he went to college at LSU. Last season, ZVR was the starting punter for LSU’s College Football Playoff National Championship team. He is now preparing for a senior season that will see him look to make his case for owning a NFL roster spot in 2021.

The failures of the 2009 draft class was not just the bonus babies all busting. Although, that played a major role as they were supposed to be the stars of the draft. Only two other players drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009 ever played in a MLB game for the Pirates. Outfielder Matt den Dekker has also made it to the MLB level, as has third baseman Jake Lamb. Both of these players, however, did not sign with the Pirates and would re-enter the draft in later years.

Honestly, it is almost unbelievable that none of the bonus babies panned out for the Pirates. Basic math alone would tell you that the odds of at least one of five players to pan out are high. Unfortunately, that was not the case with the Pittsburgh Pirates 2009 draft class.

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Other than Sanchez and Black, the only other members of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2009 draft class to reach the MLB level with the Pirates were utility man Brock Holt and pitcher Phil Irwin. These four players would combine to appear in just 78 games with the Pirates, while combing to be worth a fWAR of 0.2.

There is no doubt about, the 2009 draft was one of the worst in Pirate history.