The 2015 amateur draft begins one week from today and the Pittsburgh Pirates have the 19th and 32nd overall picks on day one. They will also make their second round pick(62nd) on that first day. Not too many sources go through to the second round and honestly, it’s too far from the top to make any guesses. The draft starts to get tough to call even late in the first round. So we concentrate on the first two picks from next Monday and here are the players that have been mentioned, either in mock drafts or prospect rankings, the most often for the Pirates’ top two picks.

No one lately has been mentioned more often than Mike Nikorak, a prep pitcher from Pennsylvania. He is 6’5″ and can hit 97 MPH, but he had some control issues this year. He saw limited action due to living in a cold weather state and a couple starts that were affected by Mother Nature. That actually isn’t a bad thing, since it means he has a fresh arm and probably more upside than normal left in that arm. Nikorak fits the Pirates’ mold of pitchers, a highly projectable, tall righty, so this pick makes sense. Some people think he won’t get past the Giants with the #18 pick.

Next up would be prep shortstop Cornelius Randolph, who will likely move to third base in the pros, where his arm will be plenty strong enough. He has one of the best bats in this high school class. He should hit for average and power. He doesn’t have much range or speed, so shortstop is highly unlikely in his future, but the bat plays well at a corner spot. He has been liked to the Pirates more often than any other position player.

Cody Ponce is a very interesting name to watch for because he has been mentioned for both the 19th pick and the 32nd pick, plus there is word that the Pirates really like him. The big righty from Cal Poly Pomona hits mid-90’s, but he’s a little raw, especially for a college pitcher. He has the workhorse frame to put in a lot of innings, but some believe he will end up as a reliever due to his secondary stuff. If the Pirates draft him this high, they would leave him at starter as long as they can.

Prep outfielder Nick Plummer has been mentioned often recently for the first pick of the Pirates. He’s a lefty bat with a solid approach at the plate, that should allow him to put up decent power and average numbers. Plummer is probably a corner outfielder and he has good speed, but probably won’t steal a lot of bases in the big leagues. He’s not the best prep outfielder that has been associated with the Pirates, but he’s a solid 19th overall pick.

UCLA starter James Kaprielian has been in this range almost all season. He’s gone to the Pirates in mock drafts and been rated #19 a couple times. He’s an interesting pitcher, because he’s a solid built righty, who has four pitches and his fastball is rated the worst, yet it’s still at least average. Kaprielian has good control, so he should move quickly through the system, as he doesn’t have much to work on. He’s probably a #2 starter at best, but #3-4 at worst, meaning he has a higher floor than most pitchers.

Phil Bickford didn’t sign after being selected tenth overall in the 2013 draft by the Blue Jays. He went to Cal St Fullerton and looked average, then played summer ball and looked much better, so he transferred to Southern Nevada, where he would be eligible for this year’s draft. Bickford looked great against the lesser competition and his coach never abused him in any game, keeping his pitch counts very low for a starter. He’s gone to the Pirates in a few mock drafts, but none recently. He’s been rated as low as #33 recently, but I can’t see him dropping that far. That means that he could be a possibility for either of the first two picks. Bickford has a plus fastball, an above-average slider and strong control.

Cincinnati outfielder Ian Happ has been mentioned for the Pirates recently, but it was as a second baseman. He played the position as a freshman and some say he could return there and at least be average defensively. His bat is what teams will draft him for though. He’s a Pittsburgh native, which would make it a good story, but the Pirates have said that won’t factor into any decisions. Happ should hit for average and get on base, plus add some homers(10-15 per year, maybe more at his peak). I’ve heard good reports about his speed, but didn’t see it the couple times I saw him play.

Injured pitchers Brady Aiken and Mike Matuella could be possibilities because no one knows just how far they will drop. Neither will be back until early/midseason next year due to Tommy John surgery and both have some question marks about future health that goes beyond the normal recovery time from TJS. They both have huge upside, so some team will gamble and it could be one with two early picks.

Prep outfielder Daz Cameron has gone to the Pirates in a recent mock draft, but that seems to be against popular opinion. He will likely go before the Pirates pick and possibly in the top ten. Cameron should be a 20/20 HR/SB center fielder, who gets on base at a good clip. I don’t see a player like that lasting long in this draft class, but he’s been mentioned for the Pirates in the last week, so I’m not totally ruling it out.

Other names to watch for one or either of the top two picks include: Virginia LHP Nate Kirby, Vanderbilt RHP Walker Buehler, prep RHP Donnie Everett, RHP Ashe Russell, RHP Beau Burrows, LHP Justin Hooper, LHP Kolby Allard, RHP Dakota Chalmers, OF Garrett Whitley and Virginia outfielder Joe McCarthy, who the Pirates are supposedly high on. He could be a possibility for their second pick.

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22 COMMENTS

  1. I think the best philosophy as far as drafting is obviously to draft the best available player, regardless of position, need of that position and price tag. But I also think the smart teams draft for up the middle of the field, which includes CF, SS, 2B, SP and C. If a guy can’t cut it as a CF, you always have the option to move to one of the corner outfield spots. Likewise, if a guy can’t make it as a SS or 2B, you can shift to one of the corner infield spots or a corner outfield spot. As for SP, if a guy can’t make it as a SP, you always have the option of moving him to the bullpen to be a middle reliever, LHP specialist, set-up man or closer. As for C, if a guy doesn’t make it there, you can always try to shift him to any of the infield or outfield positions. I also think, as far as position players are concerned, you should always draft as far as how their bat will project at the MLB level with a lesser concern on what position they can play at the MLB level. Guys who can hit at the MLB level will always find a way to get their name in the lineup, whereas guys who can’t will either fizzle out or struggle mightily at the MLB level, regardless of their defensive prowess.

    • Yeah, because Vanderbilt has produced some really terrible pitchers: Sonny Gray and David Price. What a terrible track-record they have!

  2. I would be somewhat disappointed if they draft Buehler. Not so much that they took him, because that would be great. But more because the new draft rules kept the Bucs from signing him the first time he was drafted. It would have been really nice to have him sign right out of college and develop in Pittsburghs MiL system instead of 3 years at Vandy. He could be in Altoona right now getting reps instead of heading to Low A.

    • They may have never had a chance to take him under the old rules. Probably would have went much earlier. Teams were scared off by the price tag, but if they thought he was worth it, they could have taken him in the 3-4 round and paid him. The rules prevented the Pirates from even coming close to his supposed $1M price tag.

  3. Just watched a video of Joe McCarthy at mlb com … Looks like he doesn’t really use his legs in his swing, and his stats at UVA this year are pretty rough. But what the heck do I know!

    • He missed more than half the season recovering from back surgery, so any love they have for him is probably based more on what they saw last year. He has not been good since returning, but there is word that they like him

  4. UCLA is often mentioned, the land of Cole. Jack Ralston RHP 6-5 205 is headed to the Bruins. Ralston is from Glasnow’s Hart High School. Ralston beat the No.1 team in the nation JSerra in the state CIF Southern Semifinals Friday. Ralston is a sleeper…as was Tyler Glasnow. Also from Hart are pitchers James Shields (SD) and Trevor Bauer (Clev) Size and good coaching begets,,,,,,

  5. (Repost) John, three questions I would like to get your opinion on. (1) if funkhouser is there, and you expect that he needs TJ and that’s why he’s lost velocity, do you take him? (2) I would really like to see us get some high-end college talent, as typically they advance through the system faster and we have a lot of young depth already, with that in mind who would you take at 19 and 32? (3) the pirates (Greg Smith) have previously said this is a “big man’s” game…does this hurt them in their evaluations (specifically they overlooked JayHay for years and I wonder how they would evaluate Sonny Gray)?

    • I really liked Funkhouser and thought he was going to be a top ten pick, so if I can get that an #19, then I would. The problem is that Scott Boras is his agent and last I heard, he wasn’t letting teams look at Funkhouser’s medicals, so that would scare me off.

      I think Kaprielian would be a player that could be there and get to Pittsburgh quick, Nathan Kirby is another. The “problem” with those type of players is the lack of upside, you pretty much know that if they are healthy and have no setbacks in the minors, you are getting #3-4 starters. For hitters, Happ would likely move quick, one of the double play combo at Arizona would hit their way to the big leagues quick, Scott Kingery or Kevin Newman. They are more likely 32nd overall picks. Both advanced hitters that make a lot of contact, very low BB and K rates.

      I guess if the Pirates pass on specific players just due to size, then eventually it will come back to bite them. They do like their pitchers to be between 6’3″ and 6’5″ and prefer RHP. You can almost guarantee they will draft about 15 pitchers that fit that mold next week. They have taken some players that are 6’0″ and below pretty high recently, McGuire and Joe are two, but they do prefer tall pitchers so they get a better downward angle on their pitches

      • Thank you for the response, John. It is greatly appreciated. If I may follow-up, I wonder how relevant Funkhouser’s medicals are, honestly. Certainly you would rather know what you’re getting than not knowing, but at worst it is a Tommy John surgery and you live with it because they seem almost inevitable at this point anyways. But, I guess not seeing the medicals means you do not know if it is “something more” akin to Aikin’s injury. And speaking of Aikin, I still would love to have his talent in the system but am scared about the injury and whether he would even sign for a reasonable price ($3.5M as an example). What are your thoughts on Matuella and whether he could be there all the way down at 32?

        As for the “fast movers” I actually really like Kaprielian, more so than Kirby. It is interesting the “problem” that you note with Kaprielian because I would think that at the point that you are a contender you would take “less upside” for a “higher floor” and a fast-riser. Kaprielian, honestly, reminds me a little of Mike Leake (a bigger version). Leake was a very fast riser who was/is, essentially, a #3 starter. With a rotation of Cole and Liriano in the near future, if you can get a guy who can blow through the minors because of his control and advanced development you get a guy you can immediately slot into the back end of your rotation and get solid production out of (back-end of the rotation considering the potential of Glasnow and Jameson being available as well around the same time). I understand that getting the most upside is normally the preferred method, but for a contender isn’t it just as important to get someone like Kaprielian who has a low floor and is almost guaranteed to provide assistance to the major league club sooner than later?

        Lastly, I understand how a bigger pitcher gets better downward plane toward the plate with their pitches, but it is hard to deny, I think, that by focusing so much on size you miss out on some players: Sonny Gray, Nick Martinez, Hector Santiago, Scott Kazmir, Trevor Bauer are all 6’/6’1 pitchers who have sub-3.00 ERA. That’s only 5 of the top 25, so obviously there are more “big” starters than not, but Sonny Gray is the one that stands out to me as someone who the Pirates would completely miss on due to his size and what a terrible miss that would be.

        • I don’t think the Pirates draft with intentions to get someone to the Majors quick. The Tigers have done that, White Sox, some other teams have had patterns of doing that, but not the Pirates. They are going to go for the best upside, and their new philosophy is looking for athletes with good bats. They say it’s easier to find the right positions and teach a kid to become a good fielder rather than have a good glove become a good hitter.

          The worries with Funkhouser would be it is shoulder related, which isn’t nearly as certain for recovery compared to TJS. He is going to pitch again before the draft, so we will see how he does. Could just be tired/dead arm, many pitchers will lose something for 1-2 starts as the season goes along. Definitely a big start for his draft status.

          Matuella really scares me, but I would take him with the 32nd pick if available, just not the #19. He’s had back issues and forearm issues in the past, now the elbow. His floor and ceiling are as far apart as a raw HS kid

  6. If Aiken falls to #19 or even #32 I’m assuming he wouldn’t sign for even close to that slot. So unless you want to plan your whole draft around him is it even worth drafting him? I’m sure this was covered some time last week but I forget.

    • You would definitely have to make some room elsewhere. He turned down $5M, so you would assume he would want somewhere closer to that than the $2,273,800 the 19th pick is worth. Just how close is up in the air, but that’s up to the scouts to find out and report back to the team. He could always just come back next year and if he’s healthy and throwing, then he likely won’t drop at all, he hasn’t even turned 19 yet. If I was forced to guess, I say he doesn’t sign for less than $3.5M

      • $3.5 is crazy. You’d have to almost know he’d sign for that ahead of time and then plan your whole draft around him to free up the money wouldn’t you if your slot is $2.273,800? How far can they go over slot in the draft without losing a future draft pick? It would seem to me unless he goes top 5 or top 10 he’s going back in the draft next year.

        • 5% over, which gives them an extra $369.610 that they have shown they are willing to spend the last two years, even though it means paying a tax on it. I’m sure they have already asked what it will take to sign him, just in case

          • Thanks. Based on your numbers I really don’t see any way he’s a Pirate come draft night unless they feel he’s fine and are comfortable with the gamble and pick #20 next year as the worst thing that could happen.

    • I don’t know. Aiken’s in kind of a tough spot – if he doesn’t sign this year, he’ll essentially be two years removed from his last competitive pitch. If he fails to sign again, he’ll have the stink of passing on 2 successive 1st round offers and a whole lot of uncertainty about the health of his elbow (after all, he doesn’t fall to 19 or 32 unless a bunch of teams are uncomfortable with what he might deliver on their slot investment).

      Otherwise, he might be best served by enrolling at UCLA and putting up back to back solid seasons to restore his value in advance of the ’17 draft, because I wonder if one year at a JC will be enough to do the trick.

      • Well, it’s not my money and it’s not my future but if he’s close to mid first round money I’d sign, get into a system and get my clock started ASAP.

  7. Of these, Cameron is my favorite, but Nikorak is a close second. Hopefully one of them falls to the Bucs. I also like the idea of drafting Kaprielian, followed by Bickford next since they seem to have high floors, especially if one of them falls to that second pick for some reason. We have a lot of ace potential in our system, with a lot of flame out possibility, so having a quick-moving, high floor guy would be a nice compliment, I think.

    I also like both Happ, Plummer, and Randolph, though. Happ and Plummer seem like high-floor bats, and Randolph has a lot of upside. I just like the pitchers a little bit better this year, I guess, but honestly, I’d be happy with just about any combination of the guys mentioned here.

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