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Walker Buehler & Zach Thompson in a battle of former Pirates draftees

A Monday “what if?” at Dodger Stadium

NLCS: LA Dodgers vs. Atlanta Braves Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Monday night’s series opener at Dodger Stadium features a pair of starting pitchers both drafted by the Pirates out of high school. Neither signed with the team.

Walker Buehler’s story we know, for the most part. The Vanderbilt right-hander pitched in the College World Series and was drafted by the Dodgers in the first round in 2015, and has ascended to the club’s ace, already with a long track record as a big-game pitcher.

But before college, he was a standout at Henry Clay High School in Kentucky. The Pirates drafted the right-hander in the 14th round in 2012, but he opted for college instead. Only three of the 14 players drafted before Buehler that year by the Pirates reached the majors. Mark Appel was picked eighth overall in the first round by the Pirates but did not sign. He was drafted number one overall the next year by Houston.

Catcher Jacob Stallings was one of those early 2012 Pittsburgh draftees to make it to the majors, and won a Gold Glove Award last year for the Pirates. But he was traded in November to the Marlins for three players, including Zach Thompson.

Thompson, a 28-year-old right-hander, has a 5.50 ERA and 4.66 xERA in nine games this season, including eight starts. This is second stint in the organization, having been drafted out of Grace Prep Academy in Texas by the Pirates in the 48th round in 2011. Thompson did not sign, and instead stayed home to play college ball at UT Arlington, and was drafted again three years later, this time in the fifth round by the White Sox.

That 2011 draft for Pittsburgh was very prolific, with Gerrit Cole, Josh Bell, and Alex Dickerson the club’s first three picks. They also got Tyler Glasnow in the fifth round and Clay Holmes in the ninth round. That none of those players are still producing for the Pirates goes a long way in explaining why Pittsburgh will miss the playoffs for a seventh year in a row.

This isn’t necessarily to say the Pirates necessarily should have signed Buehler or Thompson out of high school. Those were pretty clearly Pittsburgh taking a flier with lower picks on pitchers likely headed for college. It happens.

Like the Dodgers with David Price (19th round, 2004) or Paul Goldschmidt (49th round, 2006), for instance, though they ended up eventually getting Price anyway, albeit 16 years later.

Or the Pirates in 2011, when they drafted a shortstop out of a Florida high school. But Trea Turner opted instead to go to North Carolina State. In a sliding doors scenario, maybe Turner would be at shortstop behind Buehler, but for the road team on Monday night at Dodger Stadium.

Game info

  • Teams: Dodgers (33-14) vs. Pirates (19-27)
  • Pitchers: Walker Buehler vs. Zach Thompson
  • Location: Dodger Stadium
  • Time: 7:10 p.m. PT
  • TV: SportsNet LA, MLB Network (out of market)