The college baseball season starts this upcoming weekend for many teams and the Pittsburgh Pirates are in a strange position this draft. They aren’t picking near the middle or top like usual, they don’t have a selection until 25th overall. Last year and most years, we are able to focus in on a small group of players and get a general idea of who they might pick. This season, we will have a large group of players to cover, from guys who might fall back in the pack to ones that burst upon the scene out of nowhere to guys who were in this range all season.
We are splitting the preview into four parts, college hitters and pitchers and prep hitters and pitchers. This is just an idea of what the Pirates could get in this range based on early season rankings and extremely early mock drafts. For the college hitters, the are some interesting corner infielders that should pique the interest of Pirates fans, who see a deep class of outfielders and catchers already in the system, but not many options at either corner infield spot. The Pirates will likely take the best player available so all positions will be covered throughout the year.
You could almost eliminate any chance of the Pirates getting Trea Turner, a shortstop from North Carolina State and a former Pirates draft pick(20th round, 2011). Most rankings have him going top five due to his overall package, which includes strong on base skills and speed from a premium position.
After Turner, you get into a couple options that seem like long-shots for now. Michael Conforto is a left-handed hitter outfielder from Oregon State. He has good size, hits for power and takes his share of walks and hit-by-pitches. Baseball America has him as the second best college hitter and seventh best college player overall.
Derek Fisher, an outfielder from Virginia, will also likely go before the Pirates pick. He’s a lefty hitter outfielder with good size and some power. He is limited defensively, though the bat should play well in the majors.
Then we have Brad Zimmer from San Francisco. In one early mock draft, he went 22nd overall, so some people see him in the Pirates range, though Baseball America has him higher and others had him much lower. The Pirates likely saw a lot of Zimmer, who played alongside Justin Maffei, a 2013 draft pick of the Pirates. Zimmer hit .320, showed some power and ran well for a big man, stealing 19 bases. He is 6’5″, 205 pounds, so there could be more power potential there.
Kyle Schwarber from Indiana is one that fans might want to watch. He is mentioned numerous times in the Pirates range. Schwarber catches now and plays some first base, but most think that his future will be at first base. He has a big bat from the left side, offering both power and high average potential.
Going with more corner infielders with late first round potential, you have four West Coast players, two from the same team. Matt Chapman and J.D. Davis from Cal State Fullerton, Alex Blandino from Stanford and Taylor Sparks from UC Irvine. Chapman and Davis both play third base, but Chapman is the starter with defensive upside at the position, while Davis also sees time on the mound and at first base. Both players have excellent raw power and Chapman takes his share of walks.
Blandino is a solid all-around player that can play multiple positions, but might not hit enough to be able to stick at third base in the pros. He could be a future second baseman with a good glove and solid bat. He didn’t put up a strong average in 2013 and had the lowest OBP of any Stanford regular, but he hit for some power and didn’t strike out much.
Sparks can play first base and third base. He had a rough Freshman year, hitting just .202 with a high strikeout rate. He still strikes out more than you want and he drew just six walks all seasons, so there are questions about his plate patience and contact. The good news is that he batted .360 in 2013 and hit ten homers. He has good size (6’4″, 215) and if he continues to improve at the plate, he will be an interesting option at the end of the first round
The top rated shortstop not named Trea Turner, is Joey Pankake from South Carolina. Not everyone is convinced he can remain at shortstop. He has a good arm, makes strong contact and showed some power last year. According to Kiley McDaniel, he was raw at the plate, but quickly developed into a polished hitter. There is a split among scouts in his potential, as some see him as a third baseman due to his strong arm, which knocks him down as far as the boost a strong shortstop would get in the draft
Finally, the Pirates are loaded with catchers in the low minors, but Max Pentecost from Kennesaw State has been mentioned multiple times in their range. He was called by Baseball America “A gifted hitter with athleticism behind the plate”. His power numbers look low with 14 doubles and three homers in 212 at-bats, but he was the team leader in each category. In 2013, Pentecost threw out 32% of would-be base stealers.
There will be more players added to this list as the season goes on and we get a sense of who is establishing themselves as a late first round option. For now, you have some names to key in on among college hitters. Tomorrow, we will cover the college pitchers that stand out.