The Pittsburgh Pirates went college heavy on day two of the draft, one day after taking prep players with three of their four picks. They stuck to familiar categories, taking outfielders and right-handed pitchers with the majority of their picks. There were two catchers and a shortstop taken on day two. The surprising thing was that with so many college guys, the Pirates don’t project to need additional slot money to sign their day two picks. In fact, they might even gain additional slot money, setting up some day three over-slot deals, much like they had last year with Billy Roth, Nick Buckner, and Erich Weiss.
Below is a breakdown of all of the players who were drafted by the Pirates on day two, separated into position player and hitter groups.
The Position Players
The Pirates drafted five position players today, including two more right fielders and two catchers. Yesterday, they took Connor Joe in the second round, and announced that he will be playing right field. Today they added Jordan Luplow in the third round, and Michael Suchy in the fifth round. Both were announced as right fielders, although obviously the Pirates won’t be able to play all three at the same position, as all three are college guys, and would be pushing for the same level.
“We’ve got some flexibility and some versatility there,” Huntington said on the positions. “Some have played some left, some have played some center, Connor obviously has played some first. We’re still working through exactly how the rosters will shake out…There will be plenty of opportunities for these guys to get a ton of at-bats this summer.”
Luplow has had some health problems, with labrum surgery in his senior year of high school, then a left shoulder injury and a knee injury in college. He overcame that to hit for a .377/.475/.609 line in 215 at-bats in his junior year at Fresno State. He’s got the potential to hit for solid contact and add some power in the pros if he doesn’t come with any health concerns. Pittsburgh Pirates Director of Scouting Joe DelliCarri said that the team was comfortable with where Luplow is with his medical history.
Suchy has a unique build, being listed anywhere from 6′ 3″ – 6′ 4″ and 220-230 pounds. He is built more like a football player, and played football in the past. His brother plays football for Tulane. He doesn’t have a quick bat speed, but has some power due to his strength. The lack of bat speed leads to an increased number of strikeouts. He’s got above average speed and a solid arm, allowing him to play in right field.
“We like the physical frame, the energy, the speed, combination of hit and power with this young man,” DelliCarri said. “Albeit with the size that he does come with, [he] is agile, has quickness, the speed of the game, fits what we’re doing. So in a larger size young man, he still has a lot of the traits that we like on a baseball field.”
Just like in right field, the Pirates will have to sort out their catching situation. They took Taylor Gushue in the fourth round, and Kevin Krause in the ninth round. It will be a little bit easier to keep both guys at the catcher position, since they won’t be expected to play every day in their first pro season.
“It’s a lot to ask a guy to come out and play five days, six days a week in his first season,” Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said.
The placement of these two could depend on where they are at from a conditioning standpoint, as well as the decisions to be made with the short season rosters, which gets a new twist with the addition of an extra short-season team in Bristol.
Gushue is the better prospect of the two players. Just like first round pick Cole Tucker, he is also younger than the average player. Gushue left high school in December 2011, and enrolled at the University of Florida the following Spring. That made him eligible as a junior at the age of 20, which is a year and a half younger than normal.
“There is some reason to believe that there is more upside here than maybe a 21 and a half year old would have, but it’s still going to be up to our development system to get the most out of him,” Huntington said.
Gushue had a big year with Florida, hitting for a .320/.389/.473 line in 222 at-bats, with six homers. He has the potential to be a solid all-around catcher. His defensive skills have improved since taking over for Mike Zunino after the 2012 season, and he’s got the potential to be a below-average hitter with average raw power. If the “draft them younger” theory holds true, there might be more potential as he continues to mature.
Krause also had a big season while he was with Stony Brook. He hit for a .354/.441/.551 line with eight homers in 198 at-bats. He is raw behind the plate, playing outfield part-time in college. He’s athletic behind the plate, with an average arm. He profiles as a below average hitter who could hit for some power.
The final position player taken was a shortstop out of the International Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico. Nelson Jorge is the second shortstop this Pirates management group has drafted out of Puerto Rico. He’s also the second seventh round shortstop to be drafted, as the Pirates took shortstop Benji Gonzalez in the seventh round out of Puerto Rico back in 2008. He’s got a great arm and above average speed, and projects to stick at the shortstop position.
“The tools are definitely in place for this young man to play shortstop,” DelliCarri said. “Quickness, speed, hands. Really enjoys playing defense. Makeup, characteristics of a young man who wants to play and loves to play defense with the tools and energy. He does have the tools to play the middle of the diamond for us, at the very least.”
Jorge was a bit of an unknown, not being ranked in Baseball America’s top 500 prospects He’s a switch hitter who hits better from the left side, with good contact skills and power to the gaps. He’s got some issues with his swing from the right side, standing more upright and having an upper cut to his swing. He was the only prep player taken on day two of the draft.
If there’s one area where the Pirates have had success in the draft, it’s pitching. Whether they’re taking first rounders like Gerrit Cole, top ranked highly projectable prep pitchers like Nick Kingham, unknown projectable prep pitchers like Tyler Glasnow, or lower ranked college pitchers like Brandon Cumpton, the Pirates have managed to have success in many ways.
When a position player comes up, and there’s not a lot of good information, or the player is ranked lower than where he is drafted, some concern over that pick is warranted. When the Pirates are taking a pitcher in that situation, it has gotten to the point where you can just sit back and let them do their thing.
The Pirates took three pitchers on day two of the draft, with all three coming out of college. The first guy, sixth rounder Tyler Eppler, was very familiar to them. He pitched in the same Sam Houston State rotation that 2013 fourth round pick Cody Dickson came from. The Pirates noticed Eppler while they were scouting Dickson.
“Last year was an identification, and this year has progressed very strongly to where he is in that group of players we selected today,” DelliCarri said.
Eppler is a highly projectable arm, at 6′ 6″, 220 pounds. His fastball has been listed at 89-93 MPH, touching 95, with some reports saying he sits closer to 89-91 MPH. A big framed pitcher with the ability to add velocity is right in line with what the Pirates go for, so Eppler can be chalked up to your usual Pirates pitching selection.
The next two guys were off the radar Eighth round pick Austin Coley and tenth round pick Alex McRae weren’t ranked on Baseball America’s top 500 list, and information was harder to find than it was with Eppler. The Pirates scouted both guys several times during the Spring, and liked what they saw each time.
Coley throws a 91-93 MPH fastball, and has a changeup that is his best offering and serves as an out pitch. He throws a curveball that needs work. He had mono before the season, but returned with a 2.72 ERA in 82.2 innings, along with an 85:42 K/BB ratio. The walks were a problem, but not an issue he had in prior seasons, so that could have been due to the mono.
McRae sits 89-93 MPH with his fastball, and with his slender 6′ 3″, 185 pound frame, he could have the chance to add some velocity going forward. He has a slider that is starting to become an out pitch, and also throws a changeup.
Both of the off-the-radar guys fit what the Pirates usually go for, which is drafting a projectable arm with a good fastball and the potential for improvement on other pitches.
“They don’t have to come from any one place for us,” DelliCarri said on Coley and McRae. “The [amateur scouting staff] does an exhaustive and fantastic job of covering ‘the map’, and these two pitchers bring a lot of the traits, characteristics, and things that we like in pitching.”