My initial reaction when the Pittsburgh Pirates made their first two picks in today’s draft was that the Pirates reached on both picks, and didn’t get the best value at their positions. The Pirates will say that they stuck to their draft board, and they will say that they trust their board over national pundits like Baseball America, MLB.com, and Keith Law.
My reaction is still that they reached and didn’t get good value. That reaction is also based on the rankings of these outlets, combined with the information I’ve read on each player, and the videos I’ve seen from afar. So while I’m informed on the players, I’m going to admit that my knowledge of these guys right now is not as in-depth as the view the Pirates have. When they sign and get in the system, I’ll get a better idea of the upsides.
That being said, let’s make this simple and just go with the notion that these guys were at the top of the Pirates draft boards at the time, meaning that the Pirates had a much different board than a lot of the public rankings.
If that’s the case, then this draft is going to really put the Pirates’ scouting abilities to the test. That could be a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it.
The way the Pirates “reached” for their first two picks, based on the national rankings, made me think back to 2009 when they reached for Tony Sanchez, then loaded up on prep pitchers on day two. So far, that draft has been a disaster, and not one that instills confidence in scouting abilities. However, it is worth noting that the players who have made that draft a disappointment were considered great picks at the time. Zack Von Rosenberg was seen as a steal in the sixth round. The same was true for Colton Cain in the eighth round. The 2009 draft doesn’t look good from a scouting standpoint, but that’s not because they went against the national rankings, at least outside of the first round.
The other side of the coin is to look at some of the success stories the Pirates have had. The biggest success story was Tyler Glasnow. No one knew who Glasnow was when he was taken in 2011. Now he’s a top 50 prospect in the game, and has the potential to be a top of the rotation starter one day. Nick Kingham wasn’t a huge reach, but was taken 117th overall, and was ranked 186th by Baseball America. One of their best picks so far from last year’s draft, Buddy Borden, wasn’t highly ranked at all.
There are some good examples of success, but there are also some bad ones. The Pirates’ system is in good enough position that they can afford to take some risks and stray from the consensus if they believe in a player. You’d hope it turns out more like Glasnow or Kingham, and less like the 2009 draft. But this is also something that could seriously backfire on them.
They drafted Connor Joe for the bat, and two picks later the Milwaukee Brewers selected the much higher rated Jacob Gatewood. If Gatewood lives up to expectations, and becomes a power hitting third baseman, then that’s going to look really bad for the Pirates if their guys don’t pan out.
“If you compare their rankings, there are significant differences all throughout their rankings,” Neal Huntington said of the national rankings. “One guy may have somebody higher. One guy may have a bunch of guys lower. And if you had the opportunity to see all 30 [MLB team] boards, the names will be relatively similar, but the rankings of them could be significantly different.”
It wasn’t the most inspiring day, and not just because the Pirates were picking lower in the draft. There were guys with more upside who would have made you feel much better about today’s draft. The Pirates didn’t go that route, and stuck to their own board. This will be a big test for their scouts. They definitely haven’t been one of the best teams in terms of draft scouting, but they also haven’t been one of the worst. To get an idea of how they might fare, let’s break down who they picked.
The Lack of Middle Infield Depth
The Pirates have a weakness in their system up the middle. They do have top shortstop prospect Alen Hanson, who is rated by many as a top 50 prospect. They’ve got JaCoby Jones playing well in West Virginia, and Erich Weiss also doing well at the same level. Both players are middle infielders, but both are learning their positions this year. But if you want to project a middle infield of the future, it goes along the lines of “Hope Alen Hanson sticks at shortstop, and hope someone else emerges for the second spot”.
Neal Huntington said that first round pick Cole Tucker was the best player available for them, as expected. But Tucker also helps to fill that system need in the middle infield.
“It wasn’t position-specific,” Huntington said of the pick. “It was a nice benefit that he was a shortstop, but we certainly drafted the guy that we wanted at this pick.”
Tucker was ranked in the 60-80+ range by most rankings, which is much lower than the 24th overall pick. Huntington said they picked Tucker where they did because they didn’t think he’d be there at pick number 39.
The defense and the ability to stick at shortstop are regarded well for Tucker. It seems that the Pirates love his offense a little more than most, which might explain the higher valuation.
“We like the way the swing works,” Huntington said. “We think the young man’s got a frame to add strength to it. His bat has really come on over the past 12 months…Cole is a guy who, age-wise, is really a year behind most in the draft class. We really like the advancement in the strength. We like the advancement in the bat in the last year. And again, we think he’s just scratching the surface of what he can be offensively, as well as athletically and defensively.”
Tucker talked about his improved hitting this year, where he hit for a .404 average with five home runs in 84 at-bats.
“I feel like repetition is key for anything in life, especially baseball, because it’s a competitive sport,” Tucker said. “With me getting reps in the cage, really maximizing what I need to do in the box. A lot of scouts were like ‘this kid can play short, he’s a great athlete, great kid, can he hit?’ And I feel like I really showed people I could do that this year.”
Based on the conference call, Tucker seems very mature for a kid who is only 17, and seems like a hard worker who studies the game and practices hard. His approach on defense sounds advanced, and sounds like he has the pedigree to stick at shortstop.
“I watch tendencies. I see what guys do. I feel like I read hitters and pitches,” Tucker said on his approach on defense. “I kind of know what’s coming. I feel like I have good baseball instincts that helps me with that.”
He said that he wasn’t surprised that the Pirates drafted him, since they had a lot of interest coming into the season.
“I knew I was in the running to be a Pirate, and I was excited because it’s such an awesome organization,” Tucker said. “I think it’s a great place to play. I hear nothing but great things about the Pirates’ organization. I’m stoked to be a part of it.”
He’s not going to have much competition in the system at shortstop, and it’s not saying much to say that he’ll become one of the top middle infield prospects. If the Pirates are correct on his hitting, then this could end up a very nice pick.
Familiar Territory With the Prep Pitchers
My first thought when the Pirates took Tucker, and then took Joe, was that the Pirates might be able to sign them for under slot. Kiley McDaniel says that this could be the case, at least for Tucker, in order to help pay for Mitch Keller.
Heard the Pirates 1st rder Cole Tucker may be a money-saver designed to help pay for 2nd rder Mitch Keller, who wants well into 7 figures.
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) June 6, 2014
Would be interesting strategy. Keller's demands kept him avail in 2nd rd while multiple teams may have taken Tucker before PIT's next pick.
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) June 6, 2014
That would back up the Pirates’ claim that they didn’t think Tucker would be around at pick 39. Keller looks like a very intriguing pitcher with a lot of upside. In my earlier report, I wrote that he was 90-94 MPH, touching 95. I was told after the pick that Keller has been as high as 97 MPH. This doesn’t have a big impact on Mitch, but his brother Jon has been hitting 95-97 MPH this year.
“We liked the frame, we like the quality of pitches,” Neal Huntington said. “It’s a good fastball. Makings of a breaking ball and a changeup. He fits the mold that we’ve picked in the past, of a guy who does it well, has upside, and has a quality frame to build on.”
Then there’s the Competitive Balance B pick, Trey Supak, who is another big upside guy. How identical?
“You might as well regurgitate my prior quote on Keller, because it’s very similar,” Huntington said. “It’s a large frame guy that does it well, that has an interesting mix of pitches.”
I don’t know if Supak will also require a big bonus, but I could see it happening. Slot for Keller is $886,800. Supak is $772,000. Both are highly projectable guys with commitments to good schools. That’s especially true for Keller, who has a commitment to UNC, which is known to develop first round pitchers. Both of these guys have a lot of upside, and could provide big value as second round picks. They’ve got great fastballs, and could develop into middle or top of the rotation guys with improvements to their secondary stuff.
“They both come with size, athleticism, and the operation that they do things clearly adds the capability for them to develop their secondary,” Pirates Director of Amateur Scouting Joe DelliCarri said. “That is not to say that they don’t come with some now secondary, because we believe they do.”
As I mentioned before, the Pirates are really leaning on their scouting here. If there’s one place I’m comfortable with the scouting department, it’s pitching. If you notice the trend above, the Pirates have had success largely with prep pitchers like these two. They haven’t had the same success drafting and developing hitters, not counting the first round guys like Pedro Alvarez. So while the first two picks don’t make you that comfortable, and don’t scream value, it’s more likely that these two picks could be the best choices for the Pirates in the long run on day one.
Connor Joe in Right Field
The Pirates received the 39th overall pick from the Miami Marlins for Bryan Morris. They used that pick to select Connor Joe from the University of San Diego. Joe was listed as a catcher, first baseman, and outfielder, with catcher being his best position. However, the Pirates have plans to use him as a right fielder.
“We’re going to send him out as a right fielder and let his bat play,” Neal Huntington said, noting that Joe has a good swing, drives the ball gap to gap, commands the zone, and makes consistent hard contact.
The reports on Joe say that he is a doubles hitter who hits to all fields. He definitely wouldn’t have had a future behind the plate, especially with Reese McGuire in the system. That said, it’s hard to see where he fits in as an outfielder, since the Pirates have a long-term outfield of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco. They also have Austin Meadows and Josh Bell, who both rate higher than Joe.
You don’t draft for need, so the fact that the Pirates have outfielders shouldn’t prevent them from taking outfielders. He doesn’t really have the bat to provide offensive value at first base. It’s a surprise in this situation that the Pirates aren’t going for the most upside, letting Joe play behind the plate. Then again, if the Pirates are going to make a trade this summer, their biggest strength is in the outfield. If they trade from that depth, then having Joe as an outfielder would make a lot more sense. I’m not saying the Pirates drafted him because they plan on making a trade. I’m just saying that he looks low on the depth chart now, but that could change in a month or two.
Pirates vs Everyone Else
By my view, this is where the Pirates differ on these players, and what needs to happen to justify the picks for the Pirates.
Cole Tucker – The Pirates seem to like his bat much more than others, due to strides he made this year. That would need to continue.
Connor Joe – They like his bat, enough to play him in right field, rather than a more valuable position like catcher. Can he hit for enough power to justify that positioning?
Mitch Keller – Typical projectable prep pitcher story. Pirates have been successful here.
Trey Supak – The same as Keller.
As I mentioned above, I’m more confident on the Pirates being right on the pitchers than the hitters, based on their track record.
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.