Today was a big day for draft news on the site.
No, not the NFL draft. The Pittsburgh Steelers took linebacker Ryan Shazier in the first round. If you want to read about that, you should check out the writeup by my friend, Dave Bryan, at Steelers Depot.
No, I’m talking about the MLB draft. It’s now a month away, and that’s probably why there was so much news on the subject today. Baseball America released their first mock draft. Keith Law released his top 100 prospects. John Dreker continued our weekly preview, profiling four potential first round picks each Thursday leading up to the draft.
The MLB draft has always been a big focus on this site. When I first created the site, it was limited to a payroll tracker, a future payroll chart, and a few draft prospect trackers for the top 2009 draft prospects. Back then, the Pirates were always picking high in the draft, so it was easy to get a feel for who could be in their range. Obviously, that wasn’t accurate in 2009, as they surprised everyone and took Tony Sanchez in the first round. However, leading up to the draft, it was easy to focus on about 8-10 players who could be candidates for that number four pick.
As the years went on, it was always a two-to-three man race. Jameson Taillon or Manny Machado? Gerrit Cole, Dylan Bundy, or Trevor Bauer? Even in the last two years, there was a shot that someone big could drop to them. That happened in 2012 with Mark Appel, and in 2013 with Austin Meadows.
During that time, I always wondered what it was going to be like when the Pirates were contenders, picking lower in the draft. Of course, that was back during the time where you could spend whatever you wanted, and for teams that did spend freely, that meant you could still get an impact prospect in the 20-30 range. That’s not the case anymore.
The Pirates were fortunate in the last two drafts. They had top talent fall to them each time, and while Appel didn’t sign, his compensation pick led to the drafting of Austin Meadows. This is the first year that the new draft system could really limit them. Fortunately, the draft class looks stronger than usual, which means the pick at number 24 could very well be just as good as ten picks earlier in previous years. They won’t get an Alvarez or a Cole, but they could get a nice prospect.
The process of following and planning for the draft has also changed. In the NFL draft, teams have specific needs and draft for those needs. That makes it easy to project what direction a team could go in during mock drafts, even at the end of the first round. In baseball, teams don’t draft for need, since most draft picks are at least 2-3 years away from the majors, if not much more. That makes it difficult to project who exactly could go to the Pirates with the 24th pick. It also means that mock drafts are just throwing names against the wall, since it’s pretty much impossible to know where the Pirates are leaning at this point.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have a wish list. One of my favorites is left-hander Sean Newcomb, who we profiled last week. Casey Gillaspie (profiled in that same article) wouldn’t be bad if you want a good hitting first base prospect. Then there’s guys who have a very small chance of falling, who would be great at number 24, such as prep shortstop Jacob Gatewood.
The difference between this year and previous years is that the gap between these players isn’t that great. There are a lot of really talented pitchers in the Pirates’ range, which means that a Sean Newcomb-or-bust approach wouldn’t be appropriate. It’s not like last year, where passing on Austin Meadows at number nine would have been a big mistake.
We’re preparing for the draft this year by casting a wide net, profiling a lot of different players in the Pirates’ range, and then seeing what happens on draft night. I’d be surprised if we hear much about who the Pirates are focusing on, as they probably won’t have a clue who they could take until it gets close to their pick. Until that time, we’ll have any available news on the draft, along with our profiles of the guys who are in the Pirates’ range, giving reports on about 20 possible draft picks prior to the draft.
To follow our draft coverage, check out our 2014 draft page. Got any favorite players in this year’s draft? Leave your early pick in the comments.
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