This is the third year where the draft spending has been restricted under the new CBA. We’ve seen the Pirates take two different approaches so far on day two.
In 2012, they drafted Mark Appel with their first pick, then spent day two trying to create bonus pool money to sign him. That resulted in drafting players for signability purposes in rounds 6-10, and when Appel didn’t sign, it created a much weaker draft class.
Last year the Pirates got Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire, which meant they didn’t need to create draft pool space on day two. They ended up taking an approach where they went high on upside, and even went over-slot on a few players. They didn’t boot any picks, and so far that has led to at least one very interesting round 6-10 pick in Buddy Borden, who is tearing up the South Atlantic League with a 2.63 ERA in 51.1 innings, along with a 45:21 K/BB ratio.
This year, the Pirates look to be setting up for their third different approach in as many years. Their first two picks look like candidates to sign below slot, creating some money for over-slot guys later in the draft. The speculation is already that Mitch Keller will require some of that bonus pool money. Last year the Pirates went over-slot on 5th round pick Trae Arbet, 8th round pick Neil Kozikowski, 11th round pick Erich Weiss, 14th round pick Nick Buckner, and 16th round pick Billy Roth. They could have even more opportunities to take this approach in 2014.
There are two ways the Pirates could do this. The first way is to spread the money around, much like they did in 2013, but with more players. The second way would be putting all of their eggs in one basket and going for one big talent.
The prime candidate for the latter approach would be Jacob Bukauskas. The prep right-hander was sitting 94-97 MPH, touching 98 this year, and should have been a first round pick. However, Bukauskas took the Josh Bell approach, sending a “Don’t Draft Me” letter to every team, with the intention of attending UNC.
When Bell took this approach, there were no restrictions on the draft spending. The Pirates took Bell in the second round, gave him $5 M, and that’s a big reason why we’re in the current situation where teams are so restricted on how much they can spend in the draft. It’s much harder to take this approach now, which is why I don’t see the Pirates, or any team, going for Bukauskas. If they did, they would probably have to take him in the third round, and clear about $2 M in bonus pool money for him. That would pay him like a top 20 pick, which is higher than where he was ranked coming into the draft.
The risk with such an approach is that you not only miss out on a third round pick, but you’d miss out on the bonus pool money as well. You’d get a compensation pick the following year, and the bonus pool money in that draft. But in this year, when the Pirates already seem to have slot money available, you’d miss out on signing a guy with a starting point of $524,300. If there was another Mitch Keller who wanted seven figures, it would be easier to do with the third round pick.
I don’t see any team taking Bukauskas, which really shows a big impact in the new draft process. He would have probably been off the board by this point under the old system. As for the approach the Pirates will probably take, I think it will be a more extreme version of their 2013 approach, with several over-slot guys.
The following players are the best guys remaining from our top 100 rankings. As we saw last year, the Pirates might not exclusively pick from this list. Guys like Kozikowski and Weiss weren’t top 100, or even top 200 guys who fell in the draft. But guys like Buckner and Roth were top prospects who fell.
Tier 4 – Mac Marshall
Tier 5 – Brian Anderson, Bobby Bradley, Dylan Cease, Michael Cederoth, Dylan Davis, J.D. Davis, Austin DeCarr, Christopher Ellis, Austin Gomber, Brett Graves, Grayson Greiner, Cobi Johnson, Jeren Kendall, Zech Lemond, Trace Loehr, Jordan Luplow, Keaton McKinney, Bryce Montes de Oca, Josh Morgan, James Norwood, Chris Oliver, David Peterson, Matthew Railey, Milton Ramos, Jakson Reetz, Carson Sands, J.J. Schwarz, Eric Skoglund, Evan Skoug, Chad Sobotka, Keith Weisenberg
Kiley McDaniel had an article, looking at some of the tougher to sign players. Marshall was on the list, and represents the best player on our board not named Bukauskas.
From the tier 5 guys, Bobby Bradley, Keaton McKinney, Michael Cederoth, Dylan Cease, Keith Weisenberg, and Cobi Johnson. A quick breakdown on each player:
Mac Marshall – He has shown inconsistent velocity, mostly sitting 87-90, and touching 92, but sometimes sitting low 90s and touching 94. He’s got a plus changeup, and could have an above average curve. He throws on a downhill plane. He’s got a commitment to LSU, and has said he will only sign if taken in the first round.
Bobby Bradley – No, it’s not that Bobby Bradley. This one is a first baseman, and like Marshall, he has a commitment to LSU. He could be easier to sign if he’s taken in the third or fourth rounds. He’s got plus raw power, and could be an interesting project, especially with first base so thin in the system.
Keaton McKinney – McDaniel says he wants seven figures, and will probably go to Arkansas if he doesn’t get it. He’s a two-way player who sounds better as a pitcher. He sits 89-92 MPH and touches 94 with a lot of movement on the fastball. He learned a changeup from Jeremy Hellickson, and Baseball America calls it one of the best in the high school ranks. He’s got a chance to remain a starter over the long run.
Michael Cederoth – BA had him ranked 45th, and said he sits 94-97, touching 98-100. Unlike others on this list, he’s a college pitcher, but wants seven figures. He sounds like he has closer upside, which isn’t what you normally want to draft. However, that kind of pick in the third round led to Craig Kimbrel for the Atlanta Braves. That’s not saying that Cederoth is the next Kimbrel, but if you can get a hard throwing closer in the third round or later, it’s not bad value. It’s also not unfamiliar territory, since the Pirates took Vic Black with the 49th pick in 2009.
Dylan Cease – He has worked in the 92-95 MPH range, touching 98-100, depending on the reports. He has also dealt with elbow problems, and should have Tommy John surgery.He’s got a commitment to Vanderbilt, and McDaniel says he could sign if he gets seven figures. Teams might not want to pay that for an injured prep pitcher, but Tommy John isn’t a career killer, and his stuff before the injury was extremely impressive for a guy his age.
Keith Weisenberg – He’s another seven-figure guy, and has a commitment to Stanford. He sits 90-92, touching 95, and has a lot of movement. He’s got the potential for a plus slider and average changeup, but it sounds like he’s going to need development with both offerings.
Cobi Johnson – One more seven-figure guy. He has a commitment to Florida State. Johnson also doesn’t have an advisor, so it’s hard to tell whether he’s signable. He sits 87-90, touching 92, and has room to add velocity. He has the potential for a plus curveball, an average changeup, and plus control. He gets a lot of groundballs with a downward plane on his fastball.
I don’t know if the Pirates will take any of the above guys specifically. I do expect them to go over slot a lot with their day two guys, as it seems they’re set up well for that after their first two picks.