The 2016 draft begins on June 9th this year and the Pirates currently hold the 24th overall pick in the first round and they also have the 41st overall pick, which they received in the Competitive Balance lottery. Those draft spots are not locked in yet because there are still three players on the market(Yovani Gallardo, Dexter Fowler and Ian Desmond), who were offered qualifying offers this off-season. That means the first pick could go as high as 21st overall depending on who signs them, but that second pick will likely go down at least one spot. The second pick won’t drop under a few circumstances. If all three remaining players either re-sign with their original teams, sign with teams who have to give up a pick before #41, or they don’t sign before the draft, then the pick won’t drop.
Gallardo has reportedly reached an agreement with the Orioles, so that would move the Pirates first pick to 23rd when official. The second pick would remain 41st overall because Gallardo’s old team(Texas Rangers) would receive a compensation pick after the first round, while Orioles will be giving up their first round pick. If the Orioles end up signing Fowler too, which has been rumored, the Pirates first and second picks will remain the same. That’s because the Orioles would be giving up their compensation pick(29th overall), while the Chicago Cubs would get a compensation pick.
Moving on from the draft pick scenarios. In the past we have broken the draft previews up into four different articles, covering college hitters/pitchers and high school hitters/pitchers. That was before the Pirates showed a strong pattern of drafting preference like they have in the last three years. So in this year’s preview, we just go with a general overview of the class, followed by some players who fit the Pirates recent drafting style.
Instead of focusing in on individual games this year, I’m going to try to look closer at the players themselves. I’ll still do a weekend wrap-up, which is good for college hitters, where it’s 3-4 games worth of info, but focusing in on one player for an article will make it easier to go back and find info for that player. We covered Kevin Newman a lot here last year, but to find specific info, you had to search a lot of articles. I think it’s better to have one article with a scouting report and possible video(s) of a player, which I can link to any time I mention that player leading up to draft.
The strength of this class at the top is clearly college pitching, especially for players ranked in the 20-30 range at this point. MLB Pipeline posted their draft top 50, and from 20-31, they have 11 pitchers. Eight of those pitchers are college pitchers. If the Pirates want to focus in on pitching this draft, they will have a lot of choices. However, it should be pointed out that they haven’t selected a college pitcher in the first three rounds since Mark Appel in 2012.
The last three drafts have focused in on athletic players, who are strong hitters. They are going for contact oriented players, who play up the middle for the most part. Kevin Newman, Kevin Kramer, Cole Tucker, Reese McGuire and Austin Meadows all fit that exact mold, while Ke’Bryan Hayes, Connor Joe and Jordan Luplow all fit the contact-oriented bat mold. None of those players have a high strikeout rate and they have all been taken in the first three rounds over the last three years. It’s an even mix of high school and college, so you can’t narrow it down further, but you can look for that particular type of player.
Nick Senzel is a player we will cover a lot this year, unless he starts to move up the charts. Right now, he is usually in the 10-20 range depending on where you look. He fits what the Pirates have been looking for the last few years. He has the hit tool, with some power and he doesn’t strikeout often. Senzel is athletic and has some speed, but he doesn’t have a good spot on defense. The Pirates believe it’s easier to find a position for a good bat, as opposed to teaching a good glove how to hit. Senzel plays for Tennessee, a team I watched last year a few times trying to get a look at outfielder Christin Stewart. So I have seen a little of him, just wasn’t watching him closely enough to form a strong opinion. More on Senzel below.
On the high school side, Nolan Jones might be one to watch. He’s currently a shortstop, but most think the 6’4″ Jones will end up at third base, due to a strong arm. MLB Pipeline even said that he could be an offensive-minded second baseman, putting a Ben Zobrist comp on him. He might be the sentimental favorite for fans of the Pirates, hailing from Holy Ghost Prep in Pennsylvania. That means he is a cold weather player, which some scouts believe gives him more room to grow once you get them into a farm system. With shorter schedules, players from cold weather states usually get the “raw” tag. Jones scores well with the hit tool, has some power potential, and he uses the whole field. He’s also described as athletic, so you could see the Pirates having interest.
Ryan Boldt from Nebraska will be an interesting player to watch. He’s a good hitter, who uses the whole field and makes solid contact. He also plays center field and can run well. One of the things about covering the draft here for four years, is that Boldt was already mentioned here during the 2013 draft out of high school. He’s a slightly different player now, partially due to an injury that slowed him down. He’s still an above average runner, but he doesn’t have plus speed anymore and that leaves some questions about his ability to stay in center field. What he does have though, is a track record of hitting. He led Nebraska last year with a .344 average and an .837 OPS. Boldt is also interesting in that he right now ranks between the two Pirates’ picks, meaning if he does well, you could see him being a first round option, but if he drops just a little, you’re getting a highly regarded player with the second pick instead.
Another college outfielder to watch is Jake Fraley from LSU. He’s a high OBP guy with speed, who doesn’t strikeout often. His power is rated below average, but he projects to be more of a lead-off hitter, who can make things happen on the bases. His above average speed also gives him plenty of range in the outfield. Like Boldt, he might end up being a better choice for the second pick.
If the Pirates want to stick with the athletic shortstop types like the last two years, they could go for Errol Robinson from Ole Miss. He’s described as a gifted defender, who will stick at the position in the future. He’s also shown the ability to get on base and create some havoc, putting up some strong on base numbers in the Cape Cod League this year, while also stealing 15 bases. Robinson ranks a little lower than the others, but he has the chance to move up the rankings with a strong showing his junior year. He got off to a good start with a double and triple in his opening game. The Pirates would obviously have interest in a strong on base guy, with plus speed and outstanding defense.
College catching isn’t great in this draft and only two high school catchers rank among the best in their class. I think of the group, Ben Rortvedt out of Wisconsin(HS) sounds like the most interesting. Cooper Johnson(Carmel Catholic, IL) is an elite defensive catcher already, so that might interest the Pirates. His bat has some question marks though. Rortvedt trails Johnson in defense, but he has improved his defensive work a lot over the last couple years and added 15 pounds of muscle this off-season. He hits from the left side, with power to all fields and makes solid, consistent contact with a short swing. Because he is a high school catcher, he would be well behind the top prospects in the system(McGuire/Diaz/Jhang), so there would be time for him to develop.
There will be more players to watch, but I just wanted to give some thoughts on players who fit the Pirates’ new mold. If they stick to that drafting strategy, then those players above are some of the top ones to follow. If they want to go with pitching instead, then there are a lot of names to choose from. The Pirates have a tendency to go for 6’3″-6’4″ right-handed pitchers, and you can find plenty of those just outside the top ten in this draft class. You’ll hear a very familiar name from last year, Kyle Funkhouser. He was drafted 35th overall last year and decided to return to Louisville, which I didn’t mind because I’m a Louisville baseball fan. He might be appealing, as an advanced 22-year-old, who could move through the system quick. Funkhouser didn’t look strong in his opener on Friday against a small school, struggling with command and lower velocity, so that might be something to watch.
Without getting into all of the pitchers, there is one who is very interesting, and currently ranked outside the top 20 for some people. Ian Anderson is from New York, so he is a cold weather player. He is 6’3″ and lanky, with a nice current mix of pitches and plenty of room to fill out. Anderson can hit 95 and throws on a downhill angle. He also has solid command and a slider that looks like a plus pitch at times. He throws an average change-up, plus he isn’t afraid to attack hitters. That means he already does a lot of things the Pirates teach to young kids and he could still have a lot of room to develop. If he shows improvements this year, he could quickly move out of the Pirates’ range, but as we saw the last two year with similar cold weather pitchers in Scott Blewett and Mike Nikorak, they can fall down the draft rankings in a hurry.
The Pirates won’t draft for need, but we saw during the recent prospect rankings that left-handed pitching isn’t a position of depth in the system. If you want a southpaw to watch, you might remember another 2013 draft pick who we covered here. Matt Krook was taken by the Marlins 35th overall that year and didn’t sign. He went to Oregon and needed Tommy John surgery after just eight starts in freshman season. He missed all of last year, but returned during the Cape Cod League and looked like he was back on track. At 6’3″, 205 pounds, he has good size, and he possesses a strong fastball/curve combo, complementing that with an average change-up and good command. Krook might be the third best lefty in this draft class, with the first two(Jason Groome and A.J. Puk) looking like they could both be gone within the first three picks.
Finally, I’ve heard some people mention that the Pirates should go for a power hitting first baseman early. That’s usually not a position teams try to fill with their first round pick. They would rather go for a power bat at another spot, who might eventually end up at first base, but doesn’t currently play the position. Not many early draft picks each year are first baseman. They tend to fall in the draft as well, even when they perform well. Baseball America doesn’t have a first baseman in the top 50 for either high school or college, so that likely won’t be something the Pirates are looking at early.
If you’ve followed our draft coverage the last few years, you know that we talk a lot about the mock drafts from the top sources in the industry. We also provide links to some other mock drafts. When a team is picking further down the first round like the Pirates, the mock drafts become more of a guide and less likely to be true picks. They give you a good idea of who is in your team’s range, rather than a specific player who they are looking at, because it’s impossible to guess where that many teams might be going with their pick.
I figured I’d start the draft preview off with the first mock draft from Jeff Ellis over at Scout.com. He has covered the draft for awhile and that site always has good draft info. Ellis will update his mock draft multiple times during the season we will post about them leading up to the draft, though the individual articles will be saved more for the top(well-known) sources.
Even Ellis admitted in his write-up that it is “comically early” to be doing a mock draft at this point. A lot can change in the next 109 days, including the spot where the Pirates pick. That being said, he compensated for the Orioles signing Yovani Gallardo(which has been rumored for a week), and has the Pirates picking 23rd, where they take Nick Senzel. As you saw above in the preview, Senzel is usually rated a little higher than this spot, but he is a player we will focus on this year due to his bat and athleticism.
Expect the mock draft articles to be sporadic leading up to mid-May, then we will have them more often as experts hear things from certain teams. Until then, we will provide any mock drafts of interest in our coverage, so you can get a good sense of the players mentioned most often in the Pirates’ range.
One final note for the preview. We have added subscriptions to D1Baseball.com and PrepBaseballReport this year, to go along with ESPN Insider and Baseball America, so we will have more scouting reports for comparison sake. That will give us expanded coverage of the draft and more than one opinion on some of the later picks on draft day.