Not only did Baseball America release the Pittsburgh Pirates 2014 draft report card yesterday, they also gave a first look at the top 50 for the 2015 draft. Admittedly, that list will change 100 times before the draft starts and with compensation picks and teams losing picks for signing free agents, the draft order will change almost as much. This list is just to give you a rough outline of what could be available to the Pirates when they make their first round selection(which now stands at #23) and then again when they presumably will have 1-2 compensation picks for Russell Martin and/or Francisco Liriano.
Baseball America has Jake Lemoine rated #23 and while it’s not a mock draft, he does sound like the type of player the Pirates would take. He’s a 6’5″, 220 pound right-hander out of the University of Houston, and we know how the Pirates like big right-handed pitchers. He throws a sinker that gets up to 94 MPH and that seems to be a popular pitch in the system. Some sources say he has a plus slider and a change-up that needs work. He walked 29 batters in 106.2 innings this year, so he has strong control. That is a pretty good talent for the 23rd overall pick.
The BA list has right-handed college pitchers at #22 and #24 as well. James Kaprielian from UCLA(#22) had better stats than Lemoine this year and was recently ranked two spots ahead of him among the top prospects for Team USA this year. Kaprielian isn’t as big as Lemoine, but he’s close at 6’4″, 200 pounds and has room to grow. He throws low-90’s and has a good downhill plane on his fastball, to go along with a curve that shows plus potential. At #24, Cody Ponce from Cal Poly Pomona is huge, going 6’6″, 240 pounds. He got a lot of notice with a strong showing in the Cape Cod League this summer, hitting 96 MPH in the All-Star game and flashing a cutter at 88 MPH that works like an off-speed pitch and is his best secondary offering.
Those three will be players we follow a lot during our draft coverage, at least early on in the season. If they start doing great(or drop off), then they won’t get as much mention, but for now, you see the type of talent that ranks just outside the top twenty. If they do drop off, then they could become options for the Pirates in the compensatory round.
It seems very likely the Pirates will have at least one pick this year. I think they will give a qualifying offer to Francisco Liriano and he will sign elsewhere for a multi-year contract. Russell Martin will definitely be given a qualifying offer and there is no chance he accepts it, so if some big market team puts a huge offer on the table(which seems likely), he will go elsewhere. The compensation picks in 2014 were the #28-34 picks, which means those three pitchers are basically in the same range for those picks at this point.
The strength of this upcoming 2015 draft class is college pitchers, mostly right-handers as you would expect, but there are some interesting southpaws that rank in the second half of BA’s early list. The draft is really lacking on impact college bats and Chris Betts is the only catcher that ranks in the top 50. He is a HS catcher that is ranked well ahead of any other catchers in the class according to a couple sources. The Pirates are loaded with catchers, so that shouldn’t be a concern. If you’re looking for a college infielder, only two are ranked among the last 37 spots on the top 50, so that could be a tough spot to fill. Basically, the early draft coverage will focus heavily on pitching and high school outfielders, with ten of the latter ranked in the top 50 and three ranked in a row, #27-29 on BA’s list.
With all that being said about how it’s too early to think about the actual pick, you’ve read this far, so you must be interested in the draft. Here is the first mock draft I’ve seen, done by the people over at My MLB Draft, who update their list often during the season and put a lot of work into the draft each year. They have the Pirates taking Jahmai Jones, a toolsy high school player from Georgia that can play middle infield and outfield. Below is some video from Big League Futures.