The MLB draft starts in 29 days and soon the Pittsburgh Pirates will have at least two new top prospects added to their system when they make their selections with the 19th and 32nd overall pick. We rank prospects here once they are in the system, preferring to use a tiered method, rather than numbers. The reason is that two players could have the same talent and similar upside, but they might be ranked ten places apart. That makes one look like a much better prospect, when in reality there is very little difference between them.

Most people like the numbered rankings though, so that is what we and everyone else provides. In recent years in the prospect guide, we added ratings for each player based on the 20-80 scout scale and gave risks for each player. Anyone in the low minors is going to have some risk, while a player with AAA or even Major League experience, will be a low risk.

Figuring out who you think the Pirates should draft is a lot like ranking prospects. An example we can use from our book is Jaff Decker rated at #41. He got there because he has Major League experience already and the Pirates have shown some faith in him by keeping him on the 40-man roster. He looked good this Spring Training until he got injured, then got injured again after playing some games at Indianapolis. Assuming he returns soon and looks like he did earlier, we could see him in Pittsburgh, but it will be as a bench player and he doesn’t have huge upside.

That low upside has Decker ranked #41, but there is a very good chance that he has already had a better Major League career than half the players ahead of him on our prospect list that have higher upside(much higher in some cases), but less of a chance to reach that upside. Based on that fact, they are huge risks with high reward.

That brings me to the two draft stories I was following on Saturday. I’ll start by recapping the action, then get back into the comparison between the rankings and preferences in the draft.

There isn’t much high school action left before the draft, but Saturday provided a key match-up between two of the top prep pitchers in the country. Lefty Justin Hooper took on right-hander Joe Demers in California. Hooper was rated high coming into the season(top ten for some), but some control issues saw him drop about 20-30 spots. He pitched terrific on Saturday in front of a lot of scouts, hitting 97 MPH and showing strong secondary stuff. He threw seven shutout innings, with no walks and ten strikeouts.

Demers has been rated as a late second round pick most of the year and he pitched well, but was not as impressive as the 6’7″ Hooper. Demers took the loss in the 3-0 game. He showed low 90’s velocity and it comes from a delivery with effort. He’s still a top pitcher, but it sounds like he will be drafted about a round later than Hooper.

The other game of note from Saturday was in college, where lefty Tyler Jay from Illinois threw two scoreless innings to pick up his tenth save. He is going to be an interesting player to watch on draft day, as his placement could depend on whether teams think he is a starter or reliever, and if they think the latter, then he could be someone that is in the Majors by a September playoff run.

I personally can’t see the Pirates drafting him at #19 if he is available, unless they think he can start in the pros. Jay has dominated in his 51.1 innings this year, which is more than a reliever normally throws in college, but he has made just one start, plus had one relief outing in an extra inning game in which he pitched six innings and threw 99 pitches. He has a nice four-pitch mix that includes a fastball that tops out at 98 MPH, so he isn’t your typical reliever, but he is also 6’1″,175 pounds, so you could see stamina and durability being an issue.

If you had a choice between Justin Hooper and Tyler Jay, you are going to get a good lefty regardless, but they are currently very different pitchers and there is a chance that the current lesser talent, ends up being much better. Would you want your team to take an 18-year-old 6’7″ projectable lefty, who many think could become a top of the rotation starter? Or would you rather have the 21-year-old dominating college reliever, who has a slight chance to start in the pros, otherwise he is a reliever that could move quick through the system?

You’re basically doing the same thinking that goes into ranking prospects. A pitcher like Adrian Sampson is probably going to make the Pirates this year and he could be a #3 starter if all goes well, but he’s likely a solid back of the rotation pitcher. He’s ranked a couple spots behind Mitch Keller(pictured above), who is 4 1/2 years younger, has only played rookie ball, but has the upsides of a #2 starter. Some people would prefer having Sampson, knowing they will get something out of him, while others will dream on Keller despite the risk.

The Pirates will obviously have more players to choose from besides Tyler Jay and Justin Hooper. Before his performance in front of a ton of scouts in a big game on Saturday, I would have said it is possible that Hooper is available when the Pirates make their second pick. Games like this tend to give players late helium, so if the Pirates really wanted him, they might not want to take a chance that he falls to their second pick. As a fan, you would love the potential upside of a player like Hooper, which might make you forget the risk they are actually taking by passing up the more polished players to select him.

Pirates Game Graph

Source: FanGraphs

Today’s Schedule

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates defeated the Cardinals by a 7-5 score on Saturday. They wrap up the series today with Jeff Locke on the mound. He will make his sixth start and fourth at home. He did not face the Cardinals when these two teams met in St Louis. In his last start, Locke allowed four earned runs on seven hits and two walks in seven innings.

In the minors, Zack Dodson comes into his start with the best ERA(1.08) and the best WHIP(0.76) in the Eastern League. Dovydas Neverauskas was scheduled to start for West Virginia, but Colten Brewer will now take his place. Neverauskas could still pitch in relief. For Brewer, it will be his first game since June 2013. Bradenton has off today. You can view last night’s prospect watch here.

MLB: Pittsburgh (14-16) vs Cardinals (22-8) 1:05 PM
Probable starter: Jeff Locke (4.85 ERA, 9:25 BB/SO, 29.2 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (17-13) @ Scranton/WB (15-15) 1:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Wilfredo Boscan (3.70 ERA, 10:16 BB/SO, 24.1 IP)

AA: Altoona (16-11) @ Harrisburg (11-17) 1:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Zack Dodson (1.08 ERA, 3:6 BB/SO, 25.0 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (15-15) @ Brevard County (14-15) 6:35 PM 5/11(season preview)
Probable starter: Cody Dickson (2.97 ERA, 10:19 BB/SO, 30.1 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (16-12) vs Charleston (18-11) 2:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Colten Brewer (NR)


From Friday, Deibinson Romero hits his fifth homer of the season, tops in the Pirates’ system. Ryan Palencer recently had an article about his strong start this year.

Recent Transactions

5/10: Pirates acquire Jayson Aquino from Toronto Blue Jays for cash.

5/9: Pirates released Justin Howard.

5/8: Charlie Morton assigned to Altoona on rehab.

5/8: Nick Kingham placed on disabled list. Adam Miller added to Indianapolis roster.

5/7: Clayton Richard assigned to Bradenton. Felipe Gonzalez assigned to Extended Spring Training.

5/7: Colten Brewer added to WV Power roster. Eric Dorsch assigned to WV Black Bears

5/7: Jeff Inman added to Altoona roster. Tyler Sample sent to WV Black Bears.

5/6: Andrew Lambo placed on 15-day disabled list. Steve Lombardozzi selected from Indianapolis.

5/6: Adam Frazier activated from Altoona disabled list. Andy Vasquez assigned to Indianapolis.

5/6: Brad Lincoln added to Indianapolis roster. Charlie Leesman assigned to WV Black Bears.

5/5: Josh Wall added to Indianapolis. Brad Lincoln assigned to WV Black Bears.

5/4: Barrett Barnes assigned to Bradenton. Junior Sosa assigned to Extended Spring Training.

5/1: Jerrick Suiter placed on disabled list. Austin Coley added to WV Power roster.

5/1: Pirates sign pitcher Robert Stock.

4/29: Jaff Decker placed on disabled list. Wilkin Castillo added to Indianapolis roster.

4/27: Jeremy Bleich promoted to Altoona

4/26: John Sever added to WV Power roster. Austin Coley transferred to WV Black Bears roster.

4/25: Jonathan Schwind placed on disabled list.

4/25: Justin Sellers transferred from Bradenton to Indianapolis on rehab.

4/25: Jeremy Bleich added to Bradenton roster.


This Date in Pirates History

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, and one trade of note, plus a little baseball history about the cities where the Pirates’ top two minor league teams play. Three of the players had brief careers with the team, including outfielder Tony Alvarez(2002,04), pitcher Pete Schourek(1999) and infielder Al Rubeling(1943-44). The other was pitcher Russ Bauers, who played for the Pirates from 1936 until 1941. His career was derailed by multiple arm injuries, so after winning 13 games in both 1937 and 1938, Bauers seemed like he would win more than 31 games in his career, but that’s where he ended. In his six seasons with the Pirates, he had a 3.53 ERA over 553.2 innings.

On this date in 1989, the Pirates traded infielder Ken Oberkfell to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for pitcher Roger Samuels. This ended up being a one-sided trade, as Oberkfell hit .319 the rest of the way, while Samuels pitched 3.2 unsuccessful innings with the Pirates, which marked the end of his big league career.

Not many people know that Altoona was once a Major League city back in 1884. For that one season, there was a league called the Union Association, which competed with the National League and the American Association to try to win over fans. The Union Association folded after one season and Altoona has only hosted minor league teams since then, including the Pirates AA squad since 1999.

Indianapolis has had multiple Major League teams in their history, but none since 1914 when the Federal League shutdown. Their first NL club played in 1878 and the first win in franchise history was on May 10th. Altoona’s first win was on May 10th as well,exactly six years later, and both teams won their first game while they were home. Indianapolis was called the Blues, while Altoona was known as the Mountain Citys.

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  1. Can’t speak for where John is getting his information on Jay, but Keith Law, Kiley McDaniel, Baseball Prospectus, and Baseball America all think Jay is a starter in the Major Leagues and at the very least, whichever team drafts him will try him in that role.

    This is the perfect risk/reward profile for me. The realistic chances of a HS arm like Hooper reaching a hypothetically higher upside than Jay can only be maybe what, 1%? Has to be lower than the risk of said HS arm never developing to the point of where Jay is at right this moment.

    Just thinking about a single start against terribly inferior HS kids catapulting a player 10+ spot up the boards in the first round is all you need to know about why the draft is such a crap shoot.

    • That has been the talk with Jay this entire time, his MLB Pipeline is one source that thinks he could be tried as a starter, though his lack of size makes him a better possibility of being a reliever. If you read Law’s player page for Jay, it says he would try him as a starter, but the bullpen is a nice fallback. Even Jay says he would take any role. It’s basically all anyone has talked about with him

      • Then maybe we’re arguing semantics, but I wouldn’t classify what those other outlets have reported as a “small chance” of starting.

        • Agree. Law is all up in arms about the misuse of Jay. The current poster child as why you should not go to college (current poster child until UNC has a guy through 150 pitches in 3 days)

          • Yep.

            Kiley McDaniel, who seems to be as tied into what clubs are thinking as much as anyone, has Jay going 8th, and possibly a bit higher. If that does happen, then Jay probably maximizes his earning in spite of his idiot coach.

  2. Oberkfell hit .222 for the Bucs in the last half of ’88, and was hitting .125 when they traded him. After hitting .319 for the Giants in the second half of ’89, he hit .207 and .229 for Houston the next two seasons. Whatcha gonna do, y’know?

    • Samuels at the time was probably as good of a return as you could expect and the Pirates weren’t kept from three straight pennants the next three years. That being said, it would have been nice if he was hitting like that for the Pirates, because his return value at the trade deadline would have been a lot higher. The Giants easily won that deal, as it helped them to a WS(they only won the pennant by three games) and they got rid of him before he went downhill.

  3. John: If Hooper is available at #19, that would be my pick – did he not start out pre-season as #7 and was around the Top 10 as late as April? An 18 year old with a 97 mph fastball is GOLD! And, if he is not available, but either Aiken or Bickford are, then either would be my choice. Pitching is always interchangeable for position players in a trade.

    • He did start out that high, but control issues really knocked him down. Before Saturday, people had him in the 30-50 range, but I’m sure this will help

    • I’d probably not take any of those three with 19. Hooper has had some ridiculous control issues and his mechanics are all out of whack. Aiken, with his health concerns make me leery. Bickford, though putting up great numbers, is a former Top 10 pick pitching on a strict pitch limit in JUCO ball where his competition is average at best.

      If you’re looking at pitching, take a look at Jon Harris (Missouri State), James Kaprielian (UCLA), and Dakota Chalmers (Prep GA).

    • A lot of times those tall lanky guys lose velocity as they get older and their mechanics get worked out. Think Tim Alderson. Or they never solve the control issues. Think Stetson Allie, or hundreds of other guys whose names we never knew.

      That’s not saying I have a crystal ball! My thoughts would be, how is the system set for guys who do what Hooper and Jay do? And I see a lot of guys who do what Jay does. Aside from ther guys in MLB, there are any number of pitchers who will develop into strong relievers. Conversely, while there are a lot of low level guys who have the same risk/reward as Hooper, I see two at the upper level who do what Hooper does (Glasnow and Taillon). You have to churn a lot of pitchers to get those sorts of players to MLB. So I agree with you, I’d take Hooper or someone like him.

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