The Pittsburgh Pirates wrapped up the 2015 MLB draft today, continuing a trend of the first two days by taking a lot of college players. This draft was much different than the last seven under Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington, and was a bit different than the last three under the new draft system.
“We like this draft,” Huntington said. “We feel like we’ve added a nice blend of pitchers and position players. Guys we can help grow, we can help get better. Very college oriented draft, as obviously it looks like. Not by intent. Just how the board falls in the system under which we work.”
As I wrote last night, the Pirates didn’t intentionally set out to draft a lot of college guys. They didn’t suddenly start to shy away from prep pitchers. Their 2015 draft was just a result of the new draft system, which doesn’t make it as easy for teams to go over-slot on prep pitchers.
“Under the new system, if you don’t get them early, you’ve either got to sacrifice signability picks elsewhere to harvest dollars to give to the high school player,” Huntington said. “In this year’s draft, the players that we selected early are the players that we liked the most. It is a fact of life now. The system is working, but it is making it challenging to be able to grab high school players unless you grab them early in the draft, and we’re never going to force that.”
This draft wasn’t that different from previous drafts. The main difference was that the Pirates took prep players early in previous years under the new system. That included Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire in the first round in 2013, Cole Tucker in the first round last year, along with Mitch Keller and Trey Supak in the second round, and Wyatt Mathisen in the second round in 2012. The key difference this year is that they took college shortstop Kevin Newman in the first round, and another college shortstop, Kevin Kramer, in the second.
“The challenge of the system, and I hope it doesn’t come across as a negative toward the system. The system is what the system is,” Huntington said. “In the early years, when we were able to take high school guys and pay them…it’s not impossible to do that. It’s impossible to do that multiple times now if you draft at the back-end of the first round, which is where we hope to be for years to come.”
The Pirates did go over-slot in the past on day three, landing a few prep guys. They went big last year, signing 11th round prep pitcher Gage Hinsz for $580,000. In 2013 they signed 14th round outfielder Nick Buckner for $135,000 and 16th round pitcher Billy Roth for $190,000. After the tenth round, only the dollars over the first $100,000 count toward the bonus pool.
Don’t rule that out this year. Huntington noted that the Pirates were trying to create extra dollars in the top ten rounds, allowing them to spend on some day three picks, although he cautioned that this isn’t always guaranteed with college guys.
“[Pirates’ Scouting Director] Joe [DelliCarri] and his group will do a tremendous job of negotiating aggressively, to allow us to hopefully free up some money to add some guys as we’ve done in the past after the 11th round,” Huntington said. “It may be $50,000 over here or $25,000 over there, versus a larger bonus. We got guys where they thought they were going, if not a little bit behind, and that makes it harder to squeeze a dollar out of them.”
The “here and there” approach is exactly what they did last year. They saved the following on their top ten picks:
1. Cole Tucker – $125,500
1. Connor Joe – $207,600
3. Jordan Luplow – $24,300
5. Michael Suchy – $16,000
6. Tyler Eppler – $17,900
7. Nelson Jorge – $39,700
8. Austin Coley – $28,900
10. Alex McRae – $12,600
The money from Tucker and Joe went to second round picks Mitch Keller and Trey Supak, who both signed over-slot deals. The rest of the money was enough to get Gage Hinsz signed. The same approach could let the Pirates sign one or more guys this year, depending on whether they want to go with one big signing like Hinsz, or a few small ones like Roth and Buckner.
“We’ll see how it plays out,” Huntington said. “We’ve got some guys that may need $25,000-50,000 over. We’ve got some guys that are asking for $25,000-50,000 over that we’re not going to give it to them. And then we’ve got a couple of bigger dollar potential guys, depending on how the whole thing shakes out.”
One interesting note was that Huntington said they had over 100 undrafted players asking for $500,000 or more at the start of day three, with 50-60 asking for $1 M or more.
There are a few potential over-slot guys with the late picks. They took prep guys like left-handed pitcher Ike Schlabach at 19, right-hander Nathan Trevillian at 22, and outfielder Jake McCarthy at 23. The latter was one of the youngest high school position players in the draft. The over-slot picks might not even be limited to high school guys, as we saw when they went over-slot on second baseman Erich Weiss in 2013, and right-handed pitcher John Kuchno in 2012. Their 32nd round pick this year, Cole Irvin, is coming off a down year, and looks like a guy who could be a value signing, but might need some additional dollars.
Day Three Picks
Most of the day three guys are typically going to be fillers for the lower levels, with an extremely low chance of making it to the majors. Aside from the potential over-slot guys, the Pirates did have some interesting picks. They added three of Baseball America’s highest ranked college seniors in 13th round shortstop Logan Ratledge, 24th round catcher John Bormann, and 35th round first baseman Zach George. Those guys saw an increase in their game this year, jumping up in the draft ranks. The Pirates had a few other guys who saw a big increase in their game this year, such as 11th round catcher Christian Kelley, 12th round outfielder Ty Moore, and 15th round pitcher Scooter Hightower.
“Our evaluation is athletic frame, tools based,” Huntington said. “We’re going to work hard to put our guys in position to apply those tools, to apply that athleticism that they have. Some guys took a step forward this year as a natural progression.”
“[We were] very pleased overall to get a little bit of everything today,” Joe DelliCarri said. “A little bit behind the plate, nice collection of hitters, and nice collection of hitters even later in the draft.”
DelliCarri highlighted that they were able to get some catching, getting good receivers and guys who do things that they believe in at an organizational level. Kelley had a breakout at the plate this year, but is also regarded well for his defense. And Bormann was rated in Baseball America’s top 500 solely for his defense, with the chance to reach the majors as a backup catcher.
Despite not adding a ton of prep players on day three, the Pirates added a few interesting college guys who might have a slightly better shot of reaching the majors. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pirates go over-slot on a few of the day three picks after finding some money from the picks on days one and two.
For information on every pick, check out our Draft Pick Signing Tracker, which includes links to every player’s page.
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.