The Early Look at the 2015 Draft Class Has Plenty of Pitching Near the Top

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.

Walker Buehler was drafted by the Pirates in 2012 and now ranks #5 overall for the 2015 draft- Photo Credit: Vanderbilt University
Walker Buehler was drafted by the Pirates in 2012 and now ranks #5 overall for the 2015 draft- Photo Credit: Vanderbilt University

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.

  • I would be interested in college pitchers…another high school player not so much this year. If we get one comp pick…I could fall in love with two big college arms. With that said, I really think Ponce will explode up the rankings by the end of the year. The work in the Cape Cod league is what really sort of sets the stage for these top prospects before their draft season…and Ponce had as good of a result as possible there. Right now, all things considered with it being extremely early, I would be ecstatic if the Pirates could walk away with Riley Ferrell from TCU (a relief pitcher who I think will end up being a mid-20s draftee) or Dillon Tate from UC Santa Barbara…and then one of the projectable starters (maybe someone like Marcus Brakeman who had a breakout Cape Cod summer).

    • Thanks a lot Jared, now I can’t honestly say I’ve never heard anyone say they would be ecstatic with drafting a relief pitcher in the first round. If he’s that good, I predict the Tigers take him.

      • Haha. Thanks, John. I obviously wouldn’t be happy with taking a relief pitcher in the 1st round if that was our only first round pick or if it was a high first round pick. However, Brandon Finnegan is working out pretty well for the Royals right about now (different case, though, as he was a starting pitcher turn reliever to fast-track in majors)…It looks pretty good so far for Nick Burdi as well, striking out 38 batters in 20.1 innings while only walking 10. He was taken 46th overall, however. Tate has actually has some scouts saying he could start if he can control his delivery a little better…he’s got an explosive fastball, hitting 99, and a 70-grade slider. And there is plenty to love about Ferrell, the closer for TCU and for Team USA, who sits comfortably in the 95-97 range and has touched 100 previously with a plus hard slider. These two also have a lot less innings on their arms than traditional college pitchers. There is a ton to like about both of them, especially as a comp pick.

        • I think a smart team will draft a guy like that if they think he has potential to start, but when you draft a guy that has reliever upside, then you’re really stretching with a first round pick. I’d rather go big and settle for the pick turning out to be a reliever if he fails as a starter. Those guys that are strictly relievers usually go to bigger market teams in the first round, or in the case of Burdi, they drop to the 2nd round and the Twins just happened to be the same team that picked him out of HS. The Reds took UVA closer Nick Howard in the 1st round and now he is being stretched out as a starter.

          • That’s why I think Tate would be the most appealing out of the two, although, I must say when you look at Ferrell it is hard not to walk away impressed by not only the scouting report and his fastball-slider combo (plus-plus combo), but also the results…a 1.38 ERA at TCU with 18 saves, and 109 k’s (only 25 BBs) in 78 IP. I think this year you’ll see Ferrell pass Burdi in saves, K’s, and he already has a lower ERA…I would guess he’ll go between the 25th pick and the Comp A round. And, yes, I would be ecstatic to have that arm in our system.