The Pirates wrapped up day one of the 2016 MLB draft with some familiar strategies. In the first round, they took third baseman Will Craig, who gets high marks for his ability to get on base and avoid strikeouts. Those two traits have been shared by almost every top ten round hitter the Pirates have taken in the last few years, and their focus on OBP and low strikeouts has even carried over to the majors this year. One key difference here is that Craig has some nice power, and this pick could look very good if that power translates over to the big leagues.

After going with a hitter in the first round for the fourth straight year, the Pirates switched to a very familiar strategy, taking prep pitchers with their Competitive Balance pick and with their second round pick. They took left-hander Nick Lodolo with the first pick, and right-hander Travis MacGregor with the second pick.

Here is a breakdown of the day one picks, with everything you need to know about the new Pirates prospects.

Pirates Take a Big Bat in the First Round

The Pirates had been linked to Will Craig in mock drafts, so it wasn’t a total surprise when they selected him with their first pick. It was a surprise that they selected him as a right-handed pitcher. Or at least, that’s what the broadcast said. And that surprised everyone.

“That really shocked me and my family,” Craig said. “We were like ‘A pitcher, what?!’ It was kind of funny when I first heard it and saw it on TV.”

There was a different reaction in the draft room at Pirate City.

“We didn’t think it was very funny,” Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington joked, after the fact. “From our mind, we did everything we believed to be the right thing. We entered it as a third baseman, we verbally gave it as a third baseman, and somewhere, somehow there was a miscommunication. We scrambled the room to get to Will, to get to his representative, to get to as many people on the baseball network as we could. Because we like him a lot as a hitter, and wanted to make sure that got out there.”

Craig was listed as a two-way player, and played both third base and pitched at Wake Forest. But there’s a reason the Pirates like him so much as a hitter. He’s got great plate patience, along with some power, which isn’t something we’ve seen from a lot of Pirates picks in the past few years. They’ve gone with a lot of picks who get on base and avoid strikeouts, and Craig does a great job with this. But not many of those guys have the power potential that Craig has.

When asked what type of player they see Craig becoming, Pirates’ Director of Amateur Scouting Joe DelliCarri had a quick and definite answer.

“A good hitter,” DelliCarri exclaimed. “We believe he has the hitter traits obviously to square a baseball. He does have a good eye, hand/eye coordination, and he does impact the baseball. Across the board, he has some things that we believe will transition right into professional baseball, and he’ll tell us as he moves through the system and through the levels how it goes, but coming in, we think he has the chance to be a good hitter in the Major Leagues.”

There have been some concerns about his ability to hit for power with wood bats. He struggled playing in the Cape Cod league last year, although that wasn’t his first time playing in a wood bat league. He also played in wood bat leagues in high school, playing in the same league as 13th overall pick Josh Lowe, who was drafted by the Rays.

“I’m pretty used to using wood bats,” Craig said. “Overall my experience in the Cape was great. I had some ups and downs. Obviously every player does. I was able to go to having a great season in school, after struggling a bit in the Cape.”

Craig hit for a .242/.366/.318 line in the Cape Cod last summer. He went on to hit for a .392/.537/.766 line in 171 at-bats, along with 16 homers in his junior year with Wake Forest. The power is clearly there, but there are questions about how much power can carry over to wooden bats.

“There are a lot of traits there that should hold up against velocity, off-speed, regardless of the level he’s playing against,” DelliCarri said.

Even if the power does drop a bit, Craig does a great job of getting on base and avoiding strikeouts, which the Pirates have favored so much, that they went with a completely new (and so far, very successful) approach of building their Major League offense this year.

“I’ve always been the kind of guy who sees a lot of pitches,” Craig said. “I like getting on base. It helps me with doubles and extra base hits. Being able to lay off the pitches that I don’t want, and balls off the plate, not having to chase, it gets me in a good place to square up. … I take a lot of pride in not striking out a lot.”

The Pirates had a long track record of scouting Craig. He was scouted this year by Jerry Jordan, who is a long-time scout that has been with the Pirates since 2011. His most notable pick has been Austin Meadows, although he also signed Alex Dickerson, Austin Coley, and Scooter Hightower. Jordan was moved to cover the Carolinas this year, but back in 2013 he scouted Craig in high school, so the two already knew each other coming into the year.

Craig is also familiar with the Pirates and their farm system, enough to know the key basic info.

“I know Pittsburgh is a great city, a lot of rich history,” Craig said. “I know the big league team is doing really well. They’ve got a lot of great players. I know that they’re real strong. They’ve got a great farm system and a great coaching staff. I’m real excited to be a part of it.”

One question about that system is where he will fit in. The Pirates drafted him as a third baseman, although because of his 6′ 3″, 235 pound frame, he doesn’t project to stick at the position long-term, profiling as a first baseman or a DH. There were some Billy Butler comps that I saw floating around, which would be fitting if he moves to first base, sees a bit of a drop in his power, but maintains the OBP and low strikeouts. But for now, Craig feels he can play third.

“I feel like I’m definitely a third baseman,” Craig said. “Obviously I’m not going to be Manny Machado over there with the glove. I try to be as good as I can. I think I can play third base with my arm, and my ability to have a high baseball IQ, and be able to move certain ways around the diamond.”

An interesting thing to watch will be how the Pirates handle Craig and Ke’Bryan Hayes next year. Hayes was a first round pick last year, and is currently in West Virginia. They usually send top college picks to Bradenton in their first year, which could put both players on track for third base in Bradenton next year. Hayes projects to stick at the position, so it would make sense to keep him there and move Craig. But the Pirates have a long time to decide on that.

“We’re a long ways away from having to focus on that at this point in time,” Huntington said. “It’s a great question. One, we’ve got to sign these guys. And then two, we’ve got to get a feel for where they are. Ke’Bryan Hayes, we felt was ready to make that jump. And we’ll see where these guys are again once we cross that major hurdle of signing them, and two, once they get out and play this summer, once they come to instructional league, we’ll have a much better feel for what level they’re ready to handle, and what challenges they’re ready to take on.”

For this year, expect Craig to go to Morgantown, where we should get an early preview of how his power carries over to pro ball. He might get a late promotion to West Virginia, at which point we might get another early preview on how the Pirates handle him and Hayes on the same roster.

The New Approach to Over-Slot Prep Pitchers

The Pirates went a familiar route with their next two picks, taking two prep pitchers to finish off day one. It was very similar to their approach in 2014, when they took Mitch Keller and Trey Supak in the second round. They also took prep lefty Blake Taylor in the second round in 2013. For years, the Pirates would take over-slot prep pitchers all throughout the top ten rounds, and pay them big bonuses to break their college commitments. That is harder to do under the current draft system, and if you want those over-slot guys, you need to take them early.

“There’s no question that the new system makes it more challenging to take a high school player later in the draft, and pay him what you think he’s worth,” Huntington said. “If you think a pitcher is worth a second round figure, you essentially need to take him in the second or third round. It’s much harder to take him in the eighth or ninth round as we used to our first four years here.”

Huntington pointed out that the Pirates have taken a few different approaches in the past with signing players. They went over-slot on Max Moroff in 2012 in the 16th round after saving money in rounds 1-10, although that money was originally saved for Mark Appel. They went over-slot on Keller and Supak in 2014, and had to save money elsewhere. They’ve also been able to go over-slot several times on picks after the tenth round, where anything over $100,000 counts towards the bonus pools.

“The system does structure that as you’re taking guys that are looking for certain amounts of dollars, you’ve got to be aware of where you select him in the draft,” Huntington said. “Joe and our guys do a great job of negotiating aggressively.”

The two prep pitchers are projectable. Nick Lodolo is a 6′ 6″, 180 pound left-hander who can hit 92, but usually sits in the upper 80s. Travis MacGregor is a right-hander who can sit 90-92 MPH, touching 94, at a 6′ 3″, 185 pound frame.

“Both of these young men have now stuff, and are giving us now stuff with the chance to exceed and continue to progress,” DelliCarri said. “We believe we can add to their frames and athleticism, and grow them as young men to stand up as grown men on that mound at PNC Park.”

MacGregor, who was taken in the second round, wasn’t highly rated in the national rankings, but did show a lot of late improvements. Baseball America pointed out that he jumped from the upper 80s to his 90-92 range, and that scouts saw improvements as the season went on. The Pirates also saw those improvements.

“I think Travis is definitely one coming into his own a little bit,” DelliCarri said. “I think he had been in some events, but definitely has shown a nice progression all through last fall, and then this Spring. We continue to see improvements over time in Travis for sure.”

Lodolo’s velocity wasn’t consistently as high. After he was picked, it was discussed on the broadcast that the velocity was low at times. DelliCarri said the Pirates didn’t see anything alarming in the times they saw him, instead seeing the normal “peaks and valleys” that high school pitchers have.

“There has been a nice progression with Nick,” DelliCarri said. “You’re not going to see the same velocities every time out with young arms. As they work through their deliveries and arm actions, and growing in their bodies, you’re going to see different velocities at different times, but in no way did we see decreases.”

Of course, the big appeal with drafting prep guys is the hope that these guys can figure all of that stuff out in the next year or two in your system, rather than going to college, figuring it out, and improving their draft stock three years from now. Some of the prep pitchers see rapid improvements, and it sounds like that might have already happened with MacGregor. The Pirates are also in a good position with a lot of pitching prospects where they can take their time with these guys.

“Because we’re not drafting to win a game tomorrow, there’s a lot that goes into drafting, especially high school pitchers and high school position players,” Huntington said. “These guys have a lot of traits that we believe, down the road, will project into quality Major League pitchers. It would be a different story if these guys were coming right into our Major League team tomorrow. They’re not. They’re guys who we believe will grow, will develop, have arm speed, have athleticism, have pitches that we see now that we can project in the future. We’re very pleased with their projected path.”

Lodolo has a commitment to TCU, while MacGregor is committed to Clemson. Because of where they were picked, both should be easy to sign. Based on the Pirates’ history, you can expect both to pitch in the GCL this year after signing.

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43 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t claim to have insight on the Pirates’ view of these guys talent relative the the rest of the league. They may have these three guys as the top three players on their board for all we know, and these guys may end up being the top three players in the entire draft class. My point here is beside that.

    I struggle with these picks from the perspective of optimization of draft-positional value. Given that they are publicly rated where they are, couldn’t you have had a good shot at these same three guys each a pick later and still gotten a Hudson or a Jones in the process? I realize baseball drafts are more complicated that that, and the slot strategies for getting guys signed and allocating savings in other ways plays a major role, and it’s not just about where they rank. But isn’t there a large enough pool of signable talent out there that you can find guys who you can take at a draft position at least a little closer to their (public) ranking who will sign at the slot values?

    • These issues complicate the draft, and it was clearly evident again last night when highly rated players were passed upon in favor of prep pitchers who you have to draft high in order to pay them to sign. These guys look pretty raw on video, but the Bucs seem committed to a strategy of building them up and hoping they hit the lottery. It is clearly unlike any other professional league draft. I would point out the NHL solves this by allowing the 18 year old draftees to remain club property even if they go to college or stay in junior.

    • Nolan Jones probably wasn’t signable by the Pirates at 22. He wanted top half of the round money. The only team that could make that work were those with multiple first rounders. I suspect that he will go to school given where he was drafted.

      Will Craig, on the other hand, has to realize that signing for a small discount from slot for this pick is about the maximum signing bonus he will ever get, and it gets him started in pro ball now instead of next summer. And he is about as talented as Jones, although in much different ways. So in retrospect, this was a no-brainer for the FO.

      And there’s little chance that Craig would have gotten past the Cardinals; Allan Craig, Matt Holiday, and Matt Adams could easily pass for Will’s family members. And they all look like they can’t get enough pizza. But they have all had seasons where they simply mashed in the big leagues.

      And then there was John Kruk.

      • Good point on multiple first round pick teams. And, yeh, I didn’t have the information on the signability of Jones. Thanks

  2. Man, that’s a sweet draft set-up Tim has. Although, I question the food combo of pizza and Lucky Charms!

    • I prepped all week for this. The draft barely gives me time to eat, so I need something simple and quick. To prepare for the three days of poor eating, I made a tray of grilled veggies on Monday and had that, salads, and smoothies all week.

  3. The more I hear about this guy, the more he sounds like Matt Adams….great hitter, big, has some power, not very athletic, slow runner, limited defensively….
    Now, if he turns out as good a hitter as Adams, he will find a place to play somewhere – but it appears he only has two potential positions – third base and first base.

  4. The draft is a crapshoot, but it sure looks like the Pirates made sure of that with the picks they have taken so far…..

  5. Craig sounds like a very good hitter, with some power potential – good things. If he can stick at third base, I like the pick. If he can’t, I don’t like the pick very much….where is he going to play for an NL team? First base? We have Bell knocking at the door….and Jaso there now.

    • So much could change in four years! I’m not excited about the pick, but then again my knowledge comes from reading a few articles.

      • If Craig is as good a hitter as advertised, I think he gets to Pittsburgh in 2-3 years, not 4 years….he’s already 21/22….

    • Calm down bro, long time to worry about all of that. Bell isn’t a given to suceed, injuries happen, etc. Also, I feel there is a very good chance the DH becomes universal next year. That solves a lot of problems for the buccos.

    • With the way this organization is set up, you can ask the same questions about any position.

      C – Cervelli in the majors through 2019, Diaz and McGuire in the system
      1B – Jaso/Bell
      2B – Harrison under control through 2020, Newman and Tucker among the middle infielders
      SS – Mercer through 2018, again Newman and Tucker
      3B – Kang through 2019, Hayes in the minors
      OF – McCutchen through 2018, Marte through 2021, Polanco through 2023, Meadows, Ramirez, and Polo in the minors

      One thing to remember here is that prospects aren’t guaranteed. Way back when Littlefield was here, he turned down that Ryan Howard for Kris Benson trade because they already had Brad Eldred. And that shows why putting all your eggs in one basket is a bad idea. The worst thing you’re avoiding is having a good player in the majors, and a good prospect who is blocked. That’s not a problem at all.

      • That is true Tim, and I said the same thing last year when they drafted Newman (although I still don’t think he’s a major league shortstop).
        With Craig, he’s a college player, so he is likely only 2-3 years from Pittsburgh (if he performs) as opposed to 4-5 years for a HS kid. In addition to Jaso and Bell, we have Espinal, Osuna, Joe, and Munoz.
        If this kid could stick at third, I like the pick a lot given his hitting potential. But almost every “expert” and scout indicates he can’t play third because of his limited lateral movement – so, if Bell is entrenched at first starting 2017 or 2018, what do we do with this kid?

      • As for that Littlefield reference, that is why he is not longer a GM in MLB. For anyone to think Eldred was a real prospect, had to have their head examined. He was a novelty – HR or K – and nothing more.

        • Howard was striking out 30% of the time in Double-A and Triple-A at the time. Not saying the move was right to pass on him, but Eldred definitely had some appeal. But you don’t put all your eggs in one basket like that.

      • That’s a great answer. By the time Craig or Hayes or even Tucker are ready means nothing todays club. Nothing. Craig was drafted as a pitcher anyway, says so right on the TV so it has to be true.

    • Mike Schmidt played 3B at 6’2″ and 205 lbs and had a decent career. Just because a guy is big doesn’t mean he can’t play the corner. David Freese lists at 6’2, 225lbs; JH Kang lists at 6’0, 220 lbs. They play decent 3B. Don’t obsess about size.

      • And it’s not like the Pirates’ low minors coaches don’t have good workout programs to trim down the tubbies and build up the toothpicks. Scouts see today, and assume that everybody develops the same way. But the guys that succeed in working through the minors to get to the big leagues are guys with a whole lot of “want to” and to those guys, reshaping their body is the fun part of the process.

  6. As usual, it does not do much good to read what the “experts” project because the Pirates under-drafted in all three picks. Craig had fallen back in many of the latest mock drafts, Lodolo was listed as #80 by Baseball America, and I could not find MacGregor in the Top 200 listings put out by Baseball America.

    Lodolo is said to have a pretty firm commitment to college, but drafting him at #41 could have been a necessity to buy that out for about $1.3 – $1.8 mil which was about the range for that pick last year. Hopefully, that deal was already cut.

    • I heard this spring that they didn’t get what they were hoping for out of him, and dealt him away. This was from an outside source though, so take that how you will.

      He fell behind Hinsz in our rankings heading into the year, before the trade. We always had Keller a step ahead of the other two, with Supak edging out Hinsz. But Hinsz showed more promise last year than Supak.

        • They had him in the system for a year and a half. You see 52 innings on the stat sheet, but they worked with him for half a season in the GCL, two months during instructs, a month of Spring Training, two months of extended Spring Training, half a season in Bristol, and two more months of instructs. Only two of those segments show up in the stats.

        • Yeah, that sounds like revisionist history to justify a trade – see it all the time in sports, like when a HS recruit spurns a school – all of a sudden that school never offered the kid
          ….when in the system, Supak had so much potential – now that he’s traded, he’s no good and will amount to nothing (and he’s only 20)….so, in other words, its either sour grapes or the Pirates blew it on another high draft pick and wasted $1m in the process – its one or the other….

          • Or maybe they just saw an opportunity to acquire a piece that they felt could help the Major League team in the immediate future, and decided Supak was a worthwhile sacrifice to make that move?

          • They felt the need for help this year and used a chip of which they have many. I’m not sure what the odds are of a right handed pitcher making the show but I’d bet low. Pirates received a bat at a position that was thin who was major league ready. I’d make that trade again and again and again as we are now reloading the right handed pitcher bucket as we speak. Furthermore, trades are meant to help both teams, not one up the other guy.

  7. I could see Lodolo turning into a pretty darned good prospect with some consistent mechanics and a bit more meat on him. Already touching 92 (even if it’s not consistent) as a rail, I could see him sitting mid-90s in a couple seasons. If he does, I’d consider leaving his arm low and adding a big slider. With all that length he’s got, he could wipe guys out if he mastered that pitch.

    But man, I love the Will Craig pick. I expect him to move through the system pretty quickly. I like his swing, and if he generates enough bat speed, he’ll hit enough fly balls to hit for some power. He loads his hands at about chest level, and that’s low enough. But the swing is pretty direct, and he’s got good balance.

    • Can he play third base? I think that is what makes or breaks him for me….if can’t play third base, where is he going to play?

      • if he can play 1st and back up 3rd he will be fine. KeBryan is set for 3rd already. Bell can also move around if he is doing well in three to four years.

        • I have yet to read or hear anyone who has the opinion that Craig can stay at third base in the pros – and the assumption seems to be that he will be relegated to first base or DH – he would not be able to play a corner outfield at PNC Park – I think that is a given.
          I’m excited about his bat and power potential, but concerned about a position for him….this is what kind of frustrates me about the Pirates recent drafting of position players – like Craig, Joe, Luplow, and even Newman to some extent – I don’t see an overall plan, knowing the positional strengths and weaknesses of the existing farm system and prospects. For example, if you have Bell, why would you draft Craig?

          • Because you never draft for need in baseball … you always take the BPA. Plain and simple.

            Now whether Craig (or Lodolo or MacGregor) were the BPA’s is a different question, but in the Pirates view, they obviously were.

          • Because you simply cannot know for sure what the roster will look like in 3 years.

            Its why you dont draft for need, because needs now arent needs in 2-3-4 years often. If the Pirates felt Craig was BPA, good on them for taking him.

            When drafting lower in the 1st round, most fans dont like the pick since its such an impossible job to predict whose BPA there.

      • Ask Pedro Alvarez where he played for the first four years of his major league career. And this guy should be a better hitter (although not a better power hitter) than Pedro.

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