One of the big fears with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was that it would rob teams of the chance to land talent in the middle rounds. In previous years, day two was the biggest day for the Pittsburgh Pirates. We saw them taking over-slot picks like Josh Bell, Stetson Allie, and the 2009 prep pitchers. The new CBA and the harsh penalties killed most over-slot opportunities, which gave a feeling that solid talent couldn’t be had on day two. But that wasn’t the case for the Pirates.
“Each guy to a varying level, we felt very good about taking them,” Pirates’ General Manger Neal Huntington said. “Again, whether it’s pick 69, or our 15th round pick. Each of those guys, we felt good.”
They started off the day by taking catcher Wyatt Mathisen with their second round pick. I talked about Mathisen in my day two preview as one of the top guys on the board for that pick. He was ranked as the second best catcher in the draft, and the best prep catcher, by Baseball America. He’s a potential two-way player, yet somehow he fell to the Pirates in the second round. And considering they have a little over $746 K to sign him, my guess is a deal gets done.
Then there was the big surprise, Walker Buehler, who fell to the Pirates with the 14th pick. Buehler was a candidate to go in the top two rounds, and was considered a top 50 prospect. Instead he fell, presumably due to signability issues. It will be tough to get him signed under the new system, but if the Pirates could make it happen, it would be a big boost.
For those looking for offense, the Pirates added a few interesting bats in the middle rounds. Fourth round pick Brandon Thomas is a speedy center fielder who has some power potential and is a switch hitter. Thomas was drafted out of Georgia Tech, and could be a guy who signs quickly. Seventh round pick Kevin Ross is a prep shortstop who will eventually have to move to third base, but has the potential for plus power due to his bat speed, and has the arm strength to stick at third.
The Pirates also took their usual projectable starters, with Jon Sandfort in the third round and Adrian Sampson in the fifth round.
Overall we didn’t see a Josh Bell, and they didn’t go crazy with high upside guys who expect to be difficult to sign. But we did see some talented guys go to the Pirates in the middle rounds of the 2012 draft.
“Each guy has their strengths. Each guy is a guy that we were pleased that they were available for us when we came to select,” Huntington said.
Boosting the Catching Depth With Wyatt Mathisen
Heading in to the draft, the Pirates only had one catching prospect in their system who had a good shot at being a two-way starter. That was 2009 4th overall pick Tony Sanchez. You could argue that Ramon Cabrera is also on the list, although he profiles more as a backup than a strong two-way starter. In either case, the catching depth in the system is thin.
For some reason, Mathisen fell to the Pirates in the second round, despite being the best prep catcher on the board, and a guy who was projected to stay behind the plate. Part of the reason Mathisen fell could have been because teams didn’t get much of a chance to see him play behind the plate. He was used as a shortstop and a right-handed pitcher in high school, although the consensus on him is that the best case scenario for his future is behind the plate.
“Wyatt didn’t catch a ton for his high school team because his high school coach though it was more important for the success of that team to have him play shortstop and pitch,” Huntington said. “But as we look forward, and I think as Wyatt looks forward, in fact I know as Wyatt looks forward, he’s looking forward to going behind home plate full-time. He knows that that’s his quickest and best way to the major leagues. He’s an intelligent player with the physical tools, and he’s gritty. He’s going to grind it out, which is an important part of the catching position, because it is by far the most demanding and the most grinding position of all on a baseball field.”
The Pirates did manage to see Wyatt behind the plate this year, even though he barely played the position.
“I think we caught either all of the games that he caught, or three of the four,” Huntington said. “We felt like we’ve seen more than enough to feel comfortable that he’ll be able to develop and move forward as a catching prospect in our system.”
Mathisen has a strong arm, is very athletic, and has the potential to stay behind the plate for the long haul, which is rare for prep catchers. The Pirates saw enough to think of him as a potential two-way option.
“We liked what he could do offensively,” Huntington said. “We like the swing, we like the strength, we like the bat speed. And then we liked the physical tools to be able to go behind home plate. Now, how far he can carry it, how much better he can get, tough to project. We took him in the second round, so we think highly of him, but there’s going to be a lot of work to be done to get him to reach his full potential. But there’s a good amount in there.”
Mathisen has indicated that he wants to sign and play baseball. He expected to go in the second or third round, and it would be reasonable to expect him to sign considering he was a second round pick.
“We believe we’ve got a legitimate chance to get him and everyone else that we drafted in to a Pirates uniform,” Huntington said.
“We’ve got a pretty good feel for most of these guys, they may surprise us and something may change during the draft, but we’ve got a pretty good feel that we can get a lot of these guys out playing quickly.”
Walker Buehler Will Be a Challenging Sign
In previous drafts, Walker Buehler would have been an absolute steal for the Pirates in the 14th round. In this draft, the Pirates have to create room in their budget to even try and sign him.
“He was a guy that we’ve tracked for a while now,” Huntington said. “We know there’s interest. But we also know that there’s a dollar figure that he had set before the draft and stayed with. And we’ll have to see if that changes, or we’re able to meet.”
Buehler was the 50th best prospect on Baseball America’s board, but fell presumably due to signability concerns. He has a commitment to Vanderbilt, and was viewed as signable if he went in the first few rounds of the draft. His fastball has been inconsistent, but at its best is 90-94 MPH. He also has a low-80s curve and a sinking changeup. All three of his pitches have the potential to be plus pitches. He’s got a small frame at 6′ 2″, 160 pounds, but has an easy arm action, which could lead to a velocity increase if he adds some weight.
“A high school player with as much pedigree as he has. He’s going to be a very, very challenging sign,” Huntington said. “There’s a lot of things to like now, but as he fills out and matures we do think that the stuff is just going to continue to get better and better. We took him, and that’s where you take some of the challenging signs in the 14th round. We hope to get him under contract, we hope to get something done with him, but we know that he’s going to be a very challenging sign.”
The Pirates did set themselves up well to make an over-slot offer to Buehler. They drafted college seniors with their seventh, ninth, and tenth overall picks. The selection of Eric Wood in the sixth round probably won’t cost anywhere near slot. With the savings from those four picks, the Pirates could have an extra $500,000 to give to Buehler. Add that to the $100,000 maximum for each pick after the tenth round, and Buehler gets his second round money.
The only downside with this comes with the Mark Appel negotiations. The Pirates may have to use that extra money on Appel, depending on how the negotiations with Scott Boras go. It definitely helps that the first overall pick, Carlos Correa, received $5 M. It would be hard for Appel, the eighth overall pick, to ask for that amount, and depending on how the other picks fall, it would be hard for him to ask for more than slot. If the Pirates can get Appel for close to slot, they might have a chance at signing Buehler, which would be a big bonus from this draft.
Adding Some Bats
The Pirates added two more interesting hitting prospects on day two, joining Mathisen and compensation pick Barrett Barnes in what has been shaping up to be an offense-heavy middle of the draft for the Pirates. Brandon Thomas and Kevin Ross are both interesting hitters, with both having some power potential.
Thomas has plus speed and can play center field. He’s a switch hitter who has average power at best, with a good chance for value if he can stick in center or fulfill that average power in the pros. In 2012, Thomas hit for a .360/.481/.550 line in 211 at-bats, with five homers. He led Georgia Tech in batting average and on-base percentage, thanks to a team high 37 walks. He also tied for the best slugging percentage on the team. He showed good plate patience, with a 20.4% strikeout rate and a 14.2% walk rate.
“We like Thomas, a big physical switch hitter that’s only been switch hitting for three-plus years,” Huntington said. “A natural right-handed hitter and he’s really coming in to his own.”
“We actually like the left-handed swing a lot, and think that there’s going to be continued growth and development as he continues to just gain experience and gain familiarity with the swing. Again, another big, strong physical athlete that can run, that’s got some raw power, that can do some things on a baseball field offensively and defensively.”
Kevin Ross was drafted as a shortstop, but like most prep shortstops, he will probably eventually move away from the position. He’s got a strong arm, so he could eventually move to third. The big appeal is his raw power.
“We like the bat speed, and because of the bat speed the ball jumps off his bat,” Huntington said on Ross’ power. “It’s an aggressive swing with quality bat speed, and there’s some attributes there that, he can swing the bat now, and as he continues to mature there’s some things we can help him with. But there’s a very interesting bat there.”
Ross was surrounded by selections of college seniors, and his slot price is only $138,200. He was viewed as an easy sign coming in to the draft, although he does have a commitment to Michigan, and might need a bit more than his slot price.
“We think he’s going to be a challenge, yes,” Huntington said. “Maybe not quite as challenging as Buehler, but really any of these guys that have a commitment to college, they’re not going to be easy signs. But we are optimistic, and we hope to get him out and get him going this summer.”
Day Two Notes
**Fifth round pick Adrian Sampson had Tommy John surgery while he was in high school. The injury caused the right-hander to go undrafted out of high-school, and he’s spent the last two years in the JuCo ranks because of that. As for his long-term health, Neal Huntington spoke about the team’s approach with these types of situations, specifically with Sampson.
“We’re very well aware of minor issues, or major issues that are disclosed by these guys,” Huntington said. “We’re a little bit at their willingness to disclose stuff. In Sampson’s case, he’s had a Tommy John in the past. Tommy John’s come from bad deliveries, they come from abuse, or they come from bad genetics. And in our minds this is one of those that there’s risk, but we felt like a fifth round selection with the stuff that he shows was worth the risk. And we believe that we’re going to be able to keep him healthy and get him on the path to the big leagues.”
Huntington noted that Sampson has good quality stuff, and that the Pirates’ scouts believe he can develop an above avg fastball and an above average breaking ball.
**The Pirates drafted UC Irvine shortstop D.J. Crumlich in the 9th round, a year after taking him in the 38th round last year. Crumlich is a college senior, so he won’t have any leverage.
**If Wyatt Mathisen signs, he will be the fourth major recruit the Pirates have stolen from the University of Texas in the last five years. Previous picks were Josh Bell, Colton Cain, and Robbie Grossman.
**The Pirates also have a tendency to take Fresno State pitchers. They took Josh Poytress in the 18th round last year. In 2008 they took Justin Wilson and his teammate Tanner Scheppers, who eventually didn’t sign. This year they took left-hander Thomas Harlan in the 13th round.
“Harlan is a big, strong left hander with a good changeup, a good fastball,” Huntington said. “Take him in the 13th round, we thought that was a good get.”
Day Two Links