First Pitch: What Can the Pirates Expect In the Draft This Year?

The 2014 draft is obviously different for the Pittsburgh Pirates than the draft has been over the last couple decades. They have the 24th overall pick in the first round, which is much lower than they are used to getting. Even in a year like 2013, when they picked ninth and 14th, we had a good idea all season of who they might take. Last year it seemed like the same 16 players were getting mentions in the top 16 spots, with only the order changing and occasionally some other names would pop in there after a hot streak.

With seven weeks until the first day of the draft on June 5th, the amount of names that have been in the 24th spot is already more than we saw last year with either Pirates pick. Those names cover all four categories too, college hitters and pitchers, and prep hitters and pitchers. There has actually been multiples of each group ranked 24th. So while that doesn’t give you a good guess at who you will get, you get a good sense of what you will get.

Breaking Down the Groups

Luke Weaver has dropped in the rankings, but is still a solid choice - Image Credit: Florida State University

Luke Weaver has dropped in the rankings, but is still a solid choice – Image Credit: Florida State University

Recent rankings have put more college pitchers at the top of the class and spread out the top high school arms to the entire first round, but the strength of this draft at the top is clear, it’s filled with pitching. What that means is by the 24th pick, there will still be some strong pitchers left. Not every team is going to take a pitcher and there are a handful of hitters that are locks right now to go before the Pirates pick.

The college pitchers that the Pirates might have a shot at provide some polished pitchers with mid-rotation upside, who should move through the system fast. Luke Weaver from Florida State is a pitcher that has dropped from mid first round to a possible first round sandwich pick. Baseball America recently had him ranked 37th overall. I think that says more about the strength of the draft, rather than Weaver really falling off because he hasn’t been really bad. He still has a low BAA, isn’t walking many hitters and his strikeout rate is respectable. The problem is the he is a righty that hasn’t dominated and he isn’t exactly the biggest pitcher out there, so there may be concerns about long-term durability.

Staying with college pitchers, but on the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Hartford’s Sean Newcomb, who has consistently been in the 15-20 range. He is a big workhorse type lefty that can hit mid-90’s and he was dominating early. Despite that early success, he wasn’t moving up the charts and the reason could be his schedule at a smaller baseball school. Well, recently he has struggled in his last couple starts and that could benefit the Pirates if he drops just a little.

When you look at the prep pitchers, that group becomes a crapshoot. So much can happen with them in just a couple starts, that it is hard to pin certain ones down this soon. If a player all of a sudden adds velocity, he can jump quickly in the rankings.

One prep pitcher that has been mentioned in the Pirates range often is Scott Blewett, a highly projectable 6’6″ right-hander from upstate New York. His season is just getting started, so his draft range has remained steady. His first two games have been good, but his velocity hasn’t impressed. Most blame that on the cold weather and the fact he is just starting, so for now, he won’t be moving up the charts, but there is potential for him to get out of the Pirates range.

Other than Blewett, you have a bunch of names that could drop or move up depending on their performances as the season winds down. It’s a deep group of hard-throwers from both sides of the rubber, so there will likely be a handful of high ceiling pitchers to choose from in the 24th spot.

The Hitters

This group isn’t that deep right now for college hitters, because a few have dropped off and others like Bradley Zimmer from San Francisco and Michael Conforto from Oregon State, have seemed to cement their spot in the top half of the first round. On the other side, Virginia’s Derek Fisher broke his hamate bone and questions that kept him in the 20-25 range early, haven’t been answered without him playing. There were other players in the 30-40 range pre-season, that had a chance to move up, but they really haven’t, leaving the Pirates with very few legitimate choices in the first round.

They could choose from a group that includes solid bats like Matt Chapman at third base, Kyle Schwarber and Max Pentecost at catcher and newcomer to the first round, first baseman Connor Gillaspie from Wichita State. The Pirates have a nice group of catchers in the lower levels, but Schwarber likely won’t catch in the pros, so he could be a first base option. If they think Pentecost is the best player when their turn comes up, then the Pirates will take him regardless of the position. Most fans wouldn’t mind them going for a strong corner bat though, so Chapman and Gillaspie would be well received picks and by no means a stretch at that spot.

The prep hitters are an interesting group. You have four infielders that all look like decent picks with high upside and it’s likely that 2-3 of them could fall to the Pirates range. Jacob Gatewood and Braxton Davidson provide possible power bats at opposite corners of the infield. Gatewood plays shortstop now, but few believe he can stick there and most see him as a future third baseman. Michael Chavis and Forrest Wall are athletic middle infielders with strong bats. Just like Gatewood, they play some shortstop, but neither projects to stay there. While the Pirates likely won’t get to pick between all four, they are all solid choices in the late first round.

There are also two outfielders of note, though neither might be a popular choice due to depth at that spot in the Pirates farm system. If you rate one of these players much higher than the next best player on your list, then you have to go with best player available and let the depth work itself out over the years. If you’re following the minors this year, you’ll know that the highly talented West Virginia outfield group of Barrett Barnes, Austin Meadows and Harold Ramirez, hasn’t played one game together this year. They are all out with hamstring injuries, so nothing is guaranteed with prospects and that’s why most teams go with the best player available when they pick.

That being said, the Pirates might consider toolsy Monte Harrison, who is a very athletic player that has moved up the charts. They could also go for Michael Gettys, who has been ranked high all season and provides a more polished player than Harrison. Both outfielders would be strong choices and provide high upside.

Where Does That Leave the Pirates?

While the Pirates won’t get a top end talent like they are used to recently with that first pick, they will have some interesting choices when their first pick comes up. Do they take a polished college pitcher with mid-rotation upside that could move fast? How about gambling on a prep arm becoming a top of the rotation starter down the line? They can go with a bat too, but one thing I’ve noticed is that there are a lot of corner infielders being mentioned in the second round range this year. In that same area, the pitching upside also thins out considerably.

The Pirates pick 65th and 74th overall, so the best thing for them to do might be going for a solid pitcher in the first round, then double up on college bats with the next two picks. At least that’s how the draft class looks with seven weeks left to the draft. Things can change quickly though, so we may not have a real good idea of who the Pirates will take until we see what is left when their turn comes up.

Links and Notes

You can find links to all four of our draft previews here and read up more on most of the players mentioned above. Also, 4-5 times a week, we post a draft article with news, notes, stats and links. Counting the previews, there are already 42 articles up from this year in our draft section.

**Links To Prospect Sites For Other Major League Teams

**Prospect Watch: Casey Sadler Goes Seven Strong After Rough Start

**Minor League Schedule: Brandon Cumpton Goes For Indianapolis Tonight

Author: John Dreker

John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.

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  • emjayinTN

    This draft is so deep that with the 24th pick, getting a top pitching prospect will be the equal of falling out of a boat and hitting water. The Pirates challenge will be finding solid pitching with picks 64, 73, and 100. I wrote down 2 names a few months ago – LHSP’s Kyle Freeland and David Peterson. Freeland will not be available at No. 24, but Peterson is missing his HS Senior year with a leg injury, and understandably is not even mentioned anymore. I wonder if we can pick him up with #64 or #73? Another kid who may fall to #24 is Braxton Davidson, HS LH hitting 1B/OF; the loss of velocity of Rodon has him in a free fall down the draft list.

    • https://profiles.google.com/100212786463678215436 Nathan Swartz

      He mentioned Davidson already.
      I’d be happy with redraft of our old picks: Aaron Brown, Connor Goedert, Erik Skoglund and Walker B.
      We can pick Rodon and get him TJ ASAP!
      Want a 3B and SS somewhere in there.

  • Lee Young

    I have developed faith in our development system, so whichever player we get to develop, I will develop faith in him.

  • https://www.facebook.com/clementewall21 N_Cap

    Hope there is a Sean manea of last year. High upside falls due to certain reason then we snag him

  • skliesen

    Off topic, and certainly a bit premature, but after last night’s game, I have to ask anyway. Is Edinson Volquez this year’s Burnett/Liriano? Or this year’s McDonald/Locke?

    Success of Pirates season very well may hinge on how he answers it.

    • stickyweb

      SK, He’s the worst pitcher in baseball, regardless of the fact that he’s the best pitcher in the Bucs’ rotation. A few starts certainly can’t change the minds of those that thought they were flushing $5 million down the toilet and were debating if Cumpton or Locke would be the choice to come up (right about now) when Volquez proved to be Jonathan Sanchez 2.0.
      Eventually everyone will jump on board and say they loved this signing from day 1 and the only thing they ever complained about was that it wasn’t a 3 year deal or have an option or 2 in it.
      So to answer your question, nobody knows at this point if he can sustain the start. His BBs are way down (yeah!) but so are his Ks (boo!) and his BABIP is ridiculously low .234 (ought oh!). If he can get the Ks up while not incresing the BBs, we probably don’t have to worry about BABIP. If the BBs and BABIP take off, it won’t matter how many Ks he gets, the season’s over. But at least he’s proven he can and will contribute to the team, at this point it’s just a matter of how much.

      • skliesen

        The BABIP number scares me as a Pirates fan. No way that is sustainable. Very similar to Locke number pre- All-Star break last year.

        With that being said, he has demonstrated he can be successful in the past, thus there’s hope he has rediscovered what it was that made him an All-Star in Cincy.

        More concerning to me right now is the mediocre start for Liriano and Cole to the season. If Pirates are to contend they must be viable #1 & #2.

      • emjayinTN

        Our #5 has pitched like he is our #1, and I thought when he walked off with another tie game that we would again squander another of his solid pitching performances. I think at age 31 he is well aware that this could be his last chance, and he seems to have a lot of presence within the Pirate dugout. He looks happy – something I did not see much of while he was in Cincy or SD.

      • Tom

        Worst pitcher in baseball? Disagree. Yea, his era and walks were terrible last year but his advance metrics showed that he could be at least a league average pitcher this year. Yea, he won’t sustain this success but he also won’t have an era above 4.35.

        I would have to name drop joe Blanton and Vance Worley has starters from last season who were worse than Volquez. Yes, hey didn’t pitch as many innings but both are big league starters who have had success at points in their careers. I wasn’t thrilled about Volquez but I liked it as a depth signing and potential 5 guy. Anything more he brings to the table is icing on the cake.

  • Kozy21

    “While the Pirates won’t get a top end talent like they are used to recently with that first pick…”
    The best player in baseball was drafted 25th overall.

    • smurph

      Nyjer Morgan was drafted 25th?

    • John Dreker

      It’s possible to find the next Mike Trout, but when some people refer to him as the next Mickey Mantle, you sort of get the idea that doesn’t happen too often. Guys have fell in the past due to bonus demands, but with the new slotting system, that isn’t going to happen too often. There won’t be another Josh Bell type signing in the second round