Today we take a look at an early mock draft that just came out. On Saturday and Sunday, we covered the weekend starts from some of the best draft-eligible pitchers, plus gave updates on numerous prep stars near the top of the class. The draft begins on June 8th and the Pittsburgh Pirates have the 19th and 32nd overall picks. The Pirates will have the 11th highest draft bonus pool.
While acknowledging that the draft is still nine weeks away and a lot can change in that time, we are going to take a look at the first mock draft that has popped up in awhile. We will start seeing more mock drafts soon, but this one by Jeff Ellis from Scout.com is well-researched and he too notes that it is just a big guessing game at this point. He also mentions what I have heard often recently, that this isn’t a strong draft class at the top, but it does have some depth. This mock draft will give you a sense of what type of talent the Pirates could be looking at with their first two picks.
Ellis has right-handed pitcher Mike Nikorak going to the Pirates with their first pick. This is definitely a pick that seems like it fits the team’s mold. Nikorak is 6’5″ and throws hard, sitting 92-95 MPH in his first start(see Sunday’s link at top). He is from Pennsylvania, so his season just began and he was limited to 35 pitches in his first outing. Nikorak had five hits, including two homers, so he is an athletic player as well. Despite those hitting numbers, he is strictly being looked at as a pitcher. The Pirates like tall, projectable right-handed pitchers and Nikorak should be a player they give a long look to over these next two months.
For the 32nd overall pick, Ellis has the Pirates taking prep outfielder Kyle Tucker. We have talked about him a few times here, including our prep hitters draft preview and a more detailed look at him early on, when he was one of the few high school players seeing game action back in February. There was also a video of Tucker hitting a homer in the Saturday link posted above. There you can see the easy power he has and a frame that could still fill out a lot. The Pirates obviously have plenty of outfield prospects, but Tucker is a high school player with a lot of upside, so he would be hard to pass up in this spot. By the time he is ready for the Majors, the Pirates outfield situation could look very different. Other recent reports have said that Tucker could go in the top 20, so I’m not sure he will be a legit option 12 picks later.
The other part to look at with this mock draft is, checking out the players he has listed right after the Pirates make their selections. Those would be the top players he thinks will be available in that area. For the 19th overall pick, Ellis has Arizona shortstop Kevin Newman and Southern Nevada pitcher Phil Bickford going with the next two picks.
Bickford should be a familiar name to most, and not just because we have posted about all of his starts this year. He was taken 10th overall by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013 and didn’t sign out of high school. He went to Cal State Fullerton, then showed some improvements over the summer, so he decided to transfer to a Community College(albeit one with a strong baseball program), so he will be draft-eligible this year. Bickford has dominated this season, holding batters to a .159 average, while striking out 96 in 52 innings. The coach has also been very kind to his arm, keeping his pitch count down throughout the season.
Bickford is 6’4″ and still projectable, since he won’t turn 20 until after the draft. Throw in that he has hit 98 MPH in the past and he might be hard to pass on with that #19 pick.
Kevin Newman was recently covered here after Keith Law mentioned that he was moving up draft charts. Newman can flat-out hit, plus he projects to stick at shortstop and he has the ability to steal some bases. He’s not going to hit for power and doesn’t walk much, although he offsets that with terrific contact skills, which has led to low strikeout totals throughout his career. He isn’t flashy, but you’re talking about a solid defensive shortstop that will hit .300 and steal 25-30 bases a year. He would be a much safer pick than Nikorak, but lacks the high upside.
For the 32nd pick, the next two off the board for Ellis are pitchers Cody Ponce and Luken Baker. I particularly like Ponce, who is a hard-thrower with a huge frame and this is the likely range where he will end up in the draft. Ponce missed some time with shoulder fatigue early this year, but he has pitched well since his return and looked good too, as you can see in the video in this link. The 6’5″, 235 frame is hard to pass up, especially with a mid-90’s fastball, but Ponce is still fairly raw for a college pitcher, so there is some risk he ends up as a reliever.
Baker will remind a lot of people of Stetson Allie. He is a big kid that has tremendous power at the plate and can throw mid-90’s on the mound, leaving some to question where he will play in the pros. This ranking is a little higher than we heard prior to the season. Baker was mentioned in our prep hitters draft preview, but only as an “other to watch” because he didn’t make every top 50 list we used for the preview. I could see him going this high to a team that sees a player with a strong fallback option. If he can’t make it as a power-hitting first baseman, you put him on the mound, or vice versa. As either a pitcher or hitter, he offers a plus option that might be hard to pass up this late.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.
Appreciate you keeping these going, John.
May not be sexy, but a solid defensive SS that can hit .300 and steal 30 bags is an easy 3-win player in today’s game. Would be awfully tough to pass that up, especially in the form of a college bat, just to gamble on the upside of a HS arm.
John: Thank you for the update. Do you think Bickford would sign for #19 slot dollars after walking away from a #10 pick in 2013? Why, if he is having an excellent year in JUCO, is he not rising up into the Top 10 or do you expect that will happen as we get closer to the draft?
Well JUCO ball is obviously a step down from Division I ball, so it’s hard to base a lot off the numbers. It’s possible he doesn’t drop to #19 and does go much higher, especially since this draft class is being called weak at the top.
The questions with him coming into the year were about his stamina and change-up. I don’t think the stamina question has been answered because his coach is really being careful with his pitch counts. I haven’t seen him reach 100 yet, not sure if he has, but I’ve seen 70-85 numerous times. If teams don’t see a future starter, then he will drop, but it only takes one team in the top 18 to take a chance on him.