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
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.
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.