You may know this by now, but I don’t really like numbered rankings. I feel they’re misleading, as they give the impression that there can be a huge gap between someone ranked 9th overall and someone ranked 20th overall. They can also give the impression that a small gap exists between someone ranked 7th and 8th, when in reality, that could be the start of a drop off in talent.
When it comes to the MLB Draft, and following draft prospects, I’m not exactly an expert. I know a lot about the players in the draft, but mostly from knowledge I get reading sources like Baseball America, Keith Law, and Jonathan Mayo. When it comes to the top guys in the draft, I’ll go the extra mile by watching available video, going to see the players live, and in some cases, getting in touch with outside sources to get opinions on players.
I wanted to do a rankings list this year, but where the Pirates pick presents a problem. I don’t think it would be interesting to have a “top eight draft prospects” ranking. I could give a pretty good ranking of the top 30 guys, but that would be useless from the Pirates’ perspective, as they only pick once in that span. So I took a shortcut, getting the average rankings from BA, Law, and Mayo, and used that to form my own rankings.
I didn’t just take the average and go from there. I considered outliers, and considered my own personal preferences in some cases. At the top tiers, I feel pretty strong about the rankings. The bottom tiers I’m pretty much going off the rankings, while pointing out a few of the guys who I’ve followed.
And yes, I went with tiered rankings, for reasons outlined above. I think that the top seven guys in this draft are clearly above the next group. I also think that prospects 8-19 are relatively close in terms of value. Everyone will have their own preference, and I pointed out mine with a special tier. All of these tiers are formulated for the Pirates. You could probably break up some of the tiers in to smaller tiers. That’s mostly the tiers where the Pirates don’t have a pick (Tier 1, Tier 4). In those cases, the tiers are viewed in the sense that the Pirates would be lucky to see someone from those groups drop to them.
One final thing about rankings: whether it’s myself, Baseball America, Keith Law, or the Pirates’ draft board, it’s all about personal preference. I think that will be highlighted in tier 2. If the top seven go in order, tier 2 will be very different for a lot of people. I used that tier to highlight the guys I would personally take with the eighth pick. In reality, tier 2 and tier 3 are the same, but I added the extra group due to the eighth overall pick. I can’t imagine that any two rankings would have the same players in that tier, so only view this as my opinion on the rankings.
Otherwise known as the “It Would Be Great if One of These Guys Fell to the Pirates” Tier
Albert Almora, Mark Appel, Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa, Kevin Gausman, Kyle Zimmer, Mike Zunino
There’s a pretty good chance that one of these guys will fall to the Pirates. All it takes is one of the teams in the top seven picking Max Fried, or going with a healthy Lucas Giolito. There are some guys who have zero chance of falling. I’d say that Appel, Buxton, Correa, and Gausman fit in that category. I’d also put Zunino in there, but there’s been some talk that he could fall. I still think there’s a small chance of that happening.
If it does happen, he’d be the best player the Pirates could get in this draft. He’s the perfect mixture of “best available player” and “system need”. I feel he’s talented enough to go first overall in this draft class, and he also fills a few system needs. He’s a strong hitter, which is something the system isn’t deep on, and he’s a strong two-way catching prospect. The Pirates only have Tony Sanchez in that role, and he’s struggling at the plate this year in his second year in Double-A. Adding Zunino would be a big boost to the system, and would make it more likely for the Pirates to find their catcher of the future.
The most likely to fall seems to be Almora. I’d definitely take him if he was there for the Pirates. He’s got great defense in center field, with a great arm and great range. He’s an above average hitter who hits to all fields, and has the potential to add power in the future. A strong defensive center fielder who can potentially hit for power isn’t the biggest need for the Pirates. They’ve got a lot of depth at the position. But it never hurts to add one more option, as that kind of player is rare to have.
Otherwise known as the “I’d Take One of These Guys if Everyone in the First Tier Was Gone” Tier
Max Fried, Lucas Giolito, Deven Marrero
I’m going with a smaller tier 2, just to highlight the guys I like from the group of prospects who would be deserving of the eighth overall pick.
I’ll start by saying that my ranking of Giolito depends on health. If reports come out that he’s healthy, or somewhat healthy, I’d have him in the first tier. He hasn’t been ranked in a lot of mock drafts because of the questions that surround him. I’m just moving him down a tier until those questions are answered. I like his upside more than Fried or Marrero.
Pirates fans aren’t really high on Deven Marrero. That’s probably because his offense was down this year, and people don’t value plus defense from the shortstop position. As I pointed out earlier this week, Marrero started off slow this year, hitting for a .268/.324/.381 line in 97 at-bats through March. He improved in April and May, combining for a .298/.356/.479 line in 121 at-bats. He finished strong in the final two weeks, with a .500/.536/.731 line in 26 at-bats.
A lot of attention gets paid to a prospect’s ceiling, but not a lot of attention gets paid to the floor. Someone like Max Fried might have a higher ceiling than Marrero, but Marrero’s floor is much higher. It’s really a matter of preference. Marrero seems like a strong bet to make the majors as a starter on his defense alone. Fans don’t value defense that high, and there seems to be the idea that it’s easy to find a starting major league shortstop. All you have to do to kill that theory is look around the league and see that Yuniesky Betancourt is still getting starting shortstop roles.
On the flip side, Fried has the chance to be a top of the rotation starter, or more likely a number two, which is also rare. But he’s a high risk guy, as there’s about a 50% chance for top prep pitchers even making the majors at all. If the only focus is on upside, then it would be absurd to take Marrero over Fried. But I think you have to consider the floor of these players, which is why Marrero wouldn’t be a horrible pick.
I’d take one of the players from Tier 1 if they fell. If all of those guys were off the board, my preference would be a healthy Lucas Giolito. If Giolito wasn’t healthy, then either Fried or Marrero would be a worthy pick at eighth overall.
Otherwise known as the “Players Who Are Good Enough to Draw Top Ten Consideration” Tier
Gavin Cecchini, David Dahl, Courtney Hawkins, Andrew Heaney, Lance McCullers Jr., Stephen Piscotty, Richie Shaffer, Marcus Stroman, Michael Wacha
There really is no consensus pick after the top seven guys are off the board. The talent levels between player number eight and player number 19 are similar. It comes down to a matter of preference.
Michael Wacha and Marcus Stroman are two college pitchers putting up good numbers this year and getting a lot of attention. I’m not high on either player. Wacha has a good changeup and a decent fastball, but lacks a strong breaking pitch. He just seems like that safe college pitcher who doesn’t have a huge upside, but stands a good chance of reaching the majors. I don’t think that’s the type of player the Pirates need to be focused on. Stroman profiles more as a reliever.
Richie Shaffer gets a lot of attention from Pirates fans because of his bat. I find that ironic, because Shaffer is consistently rated lower than Deven Marrero, who would be considered a “reach” if the Pirates took him. I’m not high on Shaffer because he profiles as a first baseman long term, meaning all of his value will have to come from the bat.
There are some other upside guys here, such as Gavin Cecchini, David Dahl, and Courtney Hawkins. Dahl isn’t too much different than Albert Almora. Hawkins is a high upside guy with a plus arm, solid speed, and a lot of power. He’s also a University of Texas commit, which would fulfill the Pirates’ quota of stealing a top recruit from Texas (Robbie Grossman, Colton Cain, Josh Bell). Cecchini is kind of the prep version of Deven Marrero. He’s got the skills to stick at shortstop, but doesn’t profile well with the bat. I’d say Marrero is higher in both areas, with better defensive skills, and a better upside with the bat.
Otherwise known as the “These Players Would Be a Reach in the First, and a Steal in the Comp Round” Tier
Ty Buttery, Zach Eflin, Joey Gallo, Ty Hensley, Brian Johnson, Tyler Naquin, Tanner Rahier, Victor Roache, Addison Russell, Corey Seager, Lucas Sims, Matt Smoral, Chris Stratton, Stryker Trahan, Nick Travieso
Moving back to bigger tiers here, as there’s a lot of picks between when the Pirates pick at spot number eight, and when they pick at spot number 45.
The Pirates have been linked to Chris Stratton. He throws 91-93, touching 95, and has a slider which can be a plus pitch, and an above-average curve. I don’t think he’s good enough to be taken 8th overall, but he’s too good to still be on the board at pick number 45.
That’s pretty much the same thing that could be said out of most of these guys. If they fall to the Pirates with the 45th overall pick, it would be a steal. One guy who stands out is Victor Roache. We were talking about him as a potential first round pick for the Pirates at the start of the year. Then he fell off the radar after a wrist injury. He’s all bat, with no defensive value. I’d take him if he’s there in the compensation round, but like everyone else in this group, I think that’s unlikely.
Otherwise known as the “Here’s Some Guys Who Would Be Worthy of the Comp Pick” Tier
Anthony Alford, Barrett Barnes, Lewis Brinson, Mitch Brown, Clint Coulter, D.J. Davis, Nolan Fontana, Mitch Haniger, Travis Jankowski, Pierce Johnson, Carson Kelly, Pat Light, Wyatt Mathisen, James Ramsey, Daniel Robertson, Nolan Sanburn, Duane Underwood, Hunter Virant, Adam Brett Walker, Shane Watson
There’s some players in this group who are talented, but who I wouldn’t take due to signability issues. For example, prep outfielder Anthony Alford has said he intends to go to Southern Miss, and will be playing football. In previous years a team could take him and throw a ton of money at him. That’s not the case with the new draft rules.
Nolan Fontana is a guy who stands out. He’s got good defensive skills at shortstop, and is the second best college middle infielder after Marrero. Marrero is a bigger lock of sticking at shortstop, and has better defensive skills. Fontana has the risk of moving to second, but could stick at short. He doesn’t stand out in any area, but he’s viewed as a safe bet across the board.
This is really where the new draft rules will be interesting. There are a lot of prep players in this group, as well as the previous tier. The Pirates only have a little over $1.1 M to spend on their comp pick. They might have to move some money around, and that would be nearly impossible if they had to do the same in the first round for someone like Lucas Giolito. If they don’t need to move money around, they’d have enough to take a prep guy. The amount they have to spend is similar to the high end of what they’ve paid middle round prep guys in the past. The only difference would be that they’d be taking those guys with the 45th pick, rather than watching them fall to the 6th round or later and spending the same money.
Otherwise known as the “Options For the Pirates in the Second Round” Tier
R.J. Alvarez, Freddy Avis, Jake Barrett, Chris Beck, J.O. Berrios, Paul Blackburn, Kenny Diekroeger, Jeff Gelalich, Tyler Gonzalez, Stephen Johnson, Brandon Kline, Matt Koch, Tom Murphy, Peter O’Brien, Alec Rash, Rio Ruiz, Trey Williams, Jameis Winston, Alex Wood
If the Pirates went “signability” in the comp round to move some money around, I’d take someone from this group at pick 45. There’s a lot of college players here who probably wouldn’t command the full $1.1 M at pick number 45, and probably wouldn’t command the full $746 K for pick number 69 in the second round.
Two guys who stand out in this group are Chris Beck and Trey Williams. Both drew top ten consideration at the start of the year. Beck was hit hard this year at Georgia Southern, showing some decline with his pitches. In the past he’s thrown 95-96 MPH with a great cutter, and a good slider and changeup. All of his pitches have declined this year. He’d be more of a project, with the hope that it’s just a one year fluke.
Williams is a prep shortstop who will have to move to third base. He’s got a good enough arm to stick on that side of the infield, and has some power potential. His father, Eddie Williams, spent parts of ten years in the majors, including playing for the 1997 Pirates.
Otherwise known as the “I Just Rounded off the Rest of the List to 100 Prospects” Tier
Martin Agosta, Dylan Baker, Luke Bard, Steve Bean, Walker Buehler, Eddie Butler, Kolby Copeland, Chase DeJong, Mitchell Gueller, Kyle Hansen, C.J. Hinojosa, James Kaprielian, Dan Langfield, D’Vone McClure, Mason Melotakis, Brett Mooneyham, Mitch Nay, Fernando Perez, Kevin Plawecki, Tony Renda, Brady Rodgers, Brandon Thomas, Kye Twomey, Jesmuel Valentin, Derick Velazquez, Jesse Winker
I think that there will be players from the top six tiers still available when the Pirates pick in the third round (pick number 103). That might even be true for the next few rounds after that. And I think some of these guys will be available in the later rounds, while some could go earlier. Kevin Plawecki, for example, is a catcher who draws comparisons to A.J. Pierzynski, and could go earlier if teams think he has a good shot at that upside.