A year ago we were all looking forward to the 2011 draft, with the Pittsburgh Pirates looking like the favorites to land the number one pick in the draft, and the chance to select Anthony Rendon. The Pirates would clinch the number one pick on September 28th, putting nothing between them and the consensus number one prospect in the draft. All across Pirates nation, future lineups were constructed with Anthony Rendon in the middle of the order, moving Pedro Alvarez over to first base as early as June 2013.
The June draft came along, and after proving why he was the consensus number one pick in the draft during the 2011 season, Anthony Rendon became the first player taken in the draft, going to the Pittsburgh Pirates. All of those lineups we wrote about starting last September are just one step closer to being realized. A week from today, Rendon will play his first game in a Pirates’ uniform in the instructional leagues. He will most likely start off in high-A Bradenton next year, moving up to AA by mid-season.
Oh wait. None of that happened. That’s just what I would have said if I was writing this in September 2010. Last September there was no way that Anthony Rendon would have had the year he had. No one saw any other possibility than Rendon going first overall. If you would have said that the Pirates would take Gerrit Cole over Rendon, you would have probably gotten a few “Nutting is Cheap” comments, and maybe a “Bryan Bullington Part 2″ comment. We would have heard about how the Pirates were passing on a future All-Star third baseman for a guy with a good fastball, a good slider, and no changeup.
And of course, that was the view of Cole in September 2010. That was before Cole emerged in 2011 with a plus changeup, turning him in to a potential star pitcher in the majors one day. This was also when guys like Danny Hultzen, Francisco Lindor, Dylan Bundy, and Trevor Bauer were considered 11-20 picks, rather than potential contenders for the number one overall selection.
I bring all of this up because Baseball America recently released their early top 50 prospects for the 2012 draft. I mention the 2011 draft to illustrate just how unpredictable things can be nine months before the draft. The 2011 draft featured one of the best draft prospects in draft history, a guy who was a sure bet to be the number one overall pick, and yet we saw so much happen from September 2010 to June 2011 that we didn’t even know who the number one pick would be a week before the draft. The 2012 draft looks just like the 2011 draft looked in June: top prospects, but no standout talent. And since we’re only in September 2011, and not June 2012, a lot can change.
The first thing that needs to be set is the Pirates’ draft position. The Pirates are currently holding the 8th pick in the draft. They’re a game away from the 7th pick, and the same distance away from the 9th pick. They could end up anywhere between 6th and 10th, depending on how the teams do around them, as they’re a game to a game and a half from either end of that spectrum. Fortunately, this looks like a draft where picking in the 6-10 range will be a good thing. Just like the 2011 draft, the early signs for 2012 are that there will be some good talents that will fall to the 6-10 range, as long as teams are willing to spend the money, and the Pirates certainly haven’t been afraid to do that.
The next question is: who will the Pirates draft? It’s almost impossible to answer this, even if we had a draft position. Right now it might sound crazy to suggest that top prospect Mark Appel, a right hander described by Baseball America as having Justin Verlander upside, could fall from the number one prospect status to being the Pirates’ pick. Then again, it sounded crazy to suggest last year at this time that Rendon would fall to the number six pick.
Naturally we’re going to hear a lot of focus on system needs, whether that’s positional, or just a general need. Guys like 9th overall prospect Gavin Cecchini, a prep shortstop who is projected to stick at the position, are going to be tied to the Pirates, who lack a long term shortstop, and lack a top shortstop prospect in the minors. Baseball America already made the connection in their early mock draft. We’ll also hear about how the system needs hitters, and needs power hitters, which will rule out any pitchers in some projections.
Looking at the list, there’s obviously no guarantees this far out. Right now we’re focused on the top ten prospects, specifically those ranked around spot number eight. However, a few things will happen. First, we’ll see guys in the top ten fall out of the top ten. We’ll see someone in the top five fall to the bottom half of the top ten. We may even see someone ranked in the top three on draft day fall to the bottom half of the top ten. We’ll see guys in the 11-20 range make the jump to top ten or top five prospects. We’ll see guys in the 20-30 range fall to the second or third round, just like we saw when Alex Dickerson, ranked 27th by Baseball America in February 2011, fell to the Pirates in the third round last year.
The general point here is that it’s nearly impossible to predict the draft this far out. It’s even impossible to predict what individual players will do. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t follow the draft this early. It just means we shouldn’t set anything in stone. So with that disclaimer, what do we know about the 2012 draft?
Pitchers: The top of the draft looks rich with pitching prospects. Mark Appel leads the list, with a 99 MPH fastball and a plus slider, looking like another Gerrit Cole type pick. Right now it looks impossible for the Pirates to land him unless he has an injury or a bad season. However, there are other prospects in the top ten. Lucas Giolito has a big frame, a mid-90s fastball, and a hammer curveball out of the prep ranks. Chris Beck is a college pitcher with a 96 MPH fastball and a power breaking ball. Kevin Gausman is a draft eligible sophomore with the potential for three plus pitches. Lucas Sims is a prep pitcher who currently throws 92-93, touches 95, and has what Baseball America describes as one of the best curveballs in the class. And that’s not counting this year’s versions of Trevor Bauer or Dylan Bundy who could make their way in to the top 10.
Shortstops: The biggest positional need for the Pirates features a few guys in the top ten. Number two overall prospect Deven Marrero looks like a strong bet to be a top three pick. He’s a two way player out of college, with good defense at shortstop. Cecchini is a prep shortstop. Most top prospects out of high school played shortstop at one point in their careers. That’s just where the best athletes play. However, Cecchini is expected to stick at the position, which is a plus.
Power Hitters: If someone knew nothing about baseball farm systems, and only listened to Pirates fans describe the lack of power in the minor league system, they would come away thinking that every other team had at least three future 40 home run hitters in their farm systems. The Pirates have some power hitting prospects, although none in the upper levels that profile as strong bets to make the majors. The early draft rankings feature a few power prospects. Byron Buxton is a potential five tool center fielder out of high school. BA described him as having the best power/speed combo. Another prep outfielder, David Dahl, is a left hander and has five tool potential. Victor Roache, a college outfielder, is described as having huge power from the right side.
It’s hard to look past a prep shortstop who can stick at the position. Shortstops are a prime position, and one of the hardest to acquire when you’re looking for a two way player. Cecchini is a guy who can stick at the position, and profiles at the plate similar to his brother, who was described as one of the best hitters in the 2010 prep class, with pure hitting ability and solid power. With the draft so far away, and with no clear cut leader for the Pirates’ selection, it’s nearly impossible to avoid focusing on positional needs. You could hope someone drops to the Pirates, but where do you draw the line? Will the number five prospect drop? What about number four? Without knowing how people will perform in 2012, it’s impossible to know which players will drop and which will rise.
The guys who stand out to me, sticking around the five through 15 rankings, are Kevin Gausman, Gavin Cecchini, David Dahl, or Brian Johnson and Victor Roache if we’re focusing on power prospects. The big thing we can take from the early rankings is that it looks like this will be a deep draft, which is code for “no standout talent at the top, but a lot of good options to choose from in the 6-10 range”. That’s a good thing, considering that the Pirates will most likely be picking in the 6-10 range this year.