The Pittsburgh Pirates had a theme on day one of the 2013 Major League Baseball Draft: left-handed prep players. With their first pick, the Pirates took Austin Meadows, a left-handed hitting outfielder from Georgia. With their second pick in the first round, the Pirates took Reese McGuire, a left-handed hitting prep catcher from San Diego. Then in the second round the Pirates took Blake Taylor, a left-handed prep pitcher.
With the three picks the Pirates are drafting for upside, and all three picks fit well for a future in PNC Park, which may or may not be a coincidence. In Meadows the Pirates get an outfielder who could have plus power in the majors one day. In McGuire the Pirates get a catcher who could be an All-Star and has the skills to stick behind the plate. Taylor is more of a project, with control problems and the lack of a changeup. However, he’s got the upside of a mid-rotation starter, and the Pirates have a good track record of teaching fastball command and the changeup to young pitchers.
“We believe in our development system completely, and if we get an extra three years with them, that’s a very good thing,” Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said after the first two picks. “That doesn’t mean we shy away from the college player…but if there’s an 18-year-old out there and we think we can get three extra years of development in, that’s a positive.”
This year was a bit different for the Pirates. From 2008-2011 the Pirates picked no lower than 4th overall under Huntington. Last year they picked 8th overall, but also had Mark Appel surprisingly fall to them. This year there wasn’t a clear cut decision.
“It really didn’t change our process that much, other than it gave us the ability to focus more finely on a group of 15 or so players that we felt strongly about,” Huntington said of preparing for the draft. “That we hoped would be there at 9 and 14, that we believed would be there at 9 and 14, and it allowed us to spend a little bit more time and energy on those guys, while making sure we didn’t neglect the rest of the board.”
There was always a possibility that someone like Meadows could fall to ninth overall, but a lot of mock drafts had the Pirates passing on him and going with McGuire. They ended up passing on McGuire and getting him with their next pick, adding value at both spots. Meadows was ranked 6th overall by Baseball America and 5th overall by Keith Law. McGuire was ranked 10th overall by Baseball America and 19th overall by Law. The big difference there was the debate over how much McGuire can eventually hit in the majors, with BA liking his offensive upside, and Law down on him. There was also some value with Taylor, who was rated 40th by Law and 55th by BA (taken 51st).
Can the Pirates Sign Their Picks?
This isn’t going to be like Mark Appel last year. The Pirates shouldn’t have any issues signing their first two picks this year. They’ve got $3,029,600 to spend on Meadows, and $2,569,800 to spend on McGuire, and those amounts should be enough.
“They love baseball. We’ve had good dialogue with them to this point in time,” Huntington said. “Until they’re signed, they’re always challenging.”
Both players sounded open to signing. McGuire talked about being scouted by Greg Hopkins, who kept in contact with his family and offered support. He also outright said that he is leaning toward turning pro.
“I’ve talked it over with my family, and we’re going to do what’s best,” McGuire said. “And I’m ready to go physically and mentally for the professionals, and that’s what I’ve been dreaming of. That’s where my goal has been. I think in this situation, with everything that’s happened, I’m probably going to be leaning towards the professionals.”
Meadows talked about being familiar with the Pirates’ strong farm system as a positive.
“I’ve heard a lot of really good things about the Pirates organization,” Meadows said. “I’ve heard they’re really good on their developing system. I’m excited to go up there and be a part of the team.”
The outfielder has family in the Pittsburgh area — cousins and aunts — so that could also help persuade him to sign. He did note that the next few weeks would be a family decision, but also added a few words that made it sound like he’s ready to sign.
“It’s just such an honor to be their number one pick and all the interest they showed in me. Hopefully I can live up to that, and I’m looking forward to making all my family up there as well as down here proud,” Meadows said. He also added something that every Pirates fan wants to hear. “Also, I can’t wait to meet Andrew McCutchen. Honestly, I can’t wait to be up there and taking BP on the field.”
Perhaps the best sign was on Twitter after the draft was over when the two were talking to each other.
@Reese_McGuire21 lets do it man! Text me! Check your DM!
— Austin Meadows (@austin_meadows) June 7, 2013
After having Appel refuse to talk to the media last year, followed by issuing a statement that he was focused on his studies, and seeming to have zero interest in the Pirates, it’s nice to see two first round picks talking about being excited to play together, and talking like they’re both eager to turn pro and play with the Pirates.
Austin Meadows – The Rare Lefty Power Bat
The Pirates don’t have a ton of power bats in the minors. They also don’t have a lot of left-handed power bats. Meadows could add to that. Baseball America had him as the best prep athlete in the draft, the second best pure hitter, and the best strike zone judgement. He was also listed as the second closest to the majors out of the prep players, so he might not be a long ways away, especially if he signs early.
“We believe this guy is going to be a quality major league hitter with power,” Huntington said.
Meadows is a high upside outfield bat who is very athletic and has the range to stick in center. He’s got a smooth and easy swing, hits for average, and could have above-average power in the majors. He could move off center field due to his fringy arm, plus if he continues to fill out he could lose some speed and range.
“He does a lot of things on a major league baseball field very well,” Huntington said. “He does each of the five tools very well, some better than others. There’s a lot to like about this young man.”
Before the 2013 season, Meadows had the goal to add some weight, and he’s also been working with a personal trainer.
“That was my goal, to gain 10-15 pounds before the season, as well as keep my speed and stay in center field,” Meadows said. “I’m actually working with a trainer now over in G.A.T.A., Ryan Goldin. He works a lot of pro guys. He’s working with me on my footwork, flexibility, strength, upper body and all of that. It’s good to have a trainer there to get where I want to be.”
One downside to his 2013 season was that he didn’t see his power increase, which is part of the reason he fell to number nine and his fellow Georgia prep outfielder Clint Frazier went fifth overall. However, Meadows is still young, and has plenty of time to add to his power.
Reese McGuire’s Questionable Hitting
The Pirates surprisingly had McGuire fall to them with the 14th pick, after every mock draft had him going 9th overall, and seemingly having no chance of falling to their second pick. Unlike a lot of prep catchers, McGuire has the skills defensively to stick at the position. Baseball America rated him as the second best defensive prep player in the draft.
“We really like the receive, the block, the throw,” Huntington said. “He’s called his own game forever, which is unique in this industry. Even in the high school levels the coaches are calling the games more frequently than not. So the defensive package is strong.”
McGuire has been calling games since he was ten years old and playing in Little League, which is extremely rare.
“My dad and my uncle coached me in Little League, and that’s how it all began with me calling my own games,” McGuire said.
The concern with McGuire is his offense. That’s ultimately what has people split on his upside. I talked to Jim Callis of Baseball America on the podcast earlier this week, and he said that McGuire could hit enough to be an All-Star catcher in the majors. However, Keith Law is down on him, feeling his bat will be fringy. The Pirates obviously like his bat.
“We like the attributes to hit,” Huntington said. “We like the mechanics, we like the bat speed, we like the swing, we like the impact. We believe there’s the attributes for him to be a major league caliber hitter. Which, you add that to a plus defensive package at the catcher position, you’ve got a pretty good big league player.”
A lot of people will draw Tony Sanchez comparisons due to the strong defense and the questions about how much he will hit. The comparisons don’t really work for two reasons. One is that McGuire was rated a top ten prospect by pretty much everyone except Law, while Sanchez was a late first/early second round prospect. Also, it’s not totally uncommon to have a catcher who has strong defense and a questionable bat. You want the defense to ensure that the guy you pick will remain behind the plate. If the catcher had no questions about his offense, then he’s going much higher than 10th overall. Potential two-way catchers with no questions about offense and defense are rare, and usually go at the top of the draft or get passed over for Daniel Moskos. If you’re taking a catcher 14th overall, chances are he’s got the hitting skills, but his hitting isn’t a guarantee.
Does (Insert New Draft Pick) Mean the Pirates Will Now Trade/Are Down On (Insert Prospect Currently in the System)?
No. I kept seeing that, with people asking if Reese McGuire had anything to do with Tony Sanchez or Wyatt Mathisen. You don’t draft for need in baseball. It’s not football where you fill one position in the draft then focus on other positions in following years. No team has ever complained about having too many catching options.
McGuire will probably be the top catching prospect in the system, but he has no impact on the short-term future with Sanchez. Also, if Sanchez carries this hitting we’re seeing over to the majors, McGuire will have to do a lot to change the long-term future for Sanchez. Worst case, the Pirates have two really strong catchers, giving them an amazing trade chip. McGuire has played third base and outfield in the past, so if Sanchez does work out, the Pirates have options.
For now, both will stay at catcher, and the presence of one won’t impact the other. That’s like suggesting that the Pirates will trade Andrew McCutchen, or have soured on Starling Marte or Gregory Polanco because they took Meadows. MLB draft picks have zero short-term impact on players currently in the system, and say nothing about those players.
Another Projectable Prep Pitcher
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. The Pittsburgh Pirates selected a projectable prep pitcher. This time it was left-hander Blake Taylor. Taylor throws 89-92 right now, and has touched 94. He has the potential to eventually sit in the low-to-mid 90s. He also has a good curveball. This year he had a 2.57 ERA in 49 innings, with 59 strikeouts.
The downside is that Taylor lacks control, walking 35 batters in those 49 innings. He also lacks a changeup. Fortunately the Pirates have had some good results teaching young prep pitchers fastball command, and the changeup in the lower levels. If Taylor signs early, he could get started on that this year in the GCL and instructs.
The Pirates don’t have a lot of good left-handed pitching prospects, and Taylor would immediately be the fourth or fifth best left-handed pitching prospect in the system. As John Dreker pointed out to me, he’s similar to Zack Dodson when Dodson was drafted. He’s got the ability to throw his fastball with good velocity, and has a good curve, but lacks control and a changeup. Dodson made good strides on those last two things, and did see his fastball velocity increase to the 90-93 MPH range. Taylor seems to be in a good position since the Pirates have been successful developing the two big weaknesses he has. He’s got some good upside, with the ability to be a mid-rotation starter if everything comes together.