At the start of the year, I moved across Bradenton, getting closer to Pirate City. That wasn’t the goal of the move, just a fortunate side effect. After day one of the Pirates’ 2017 draft, I might have to move again, getting a bit closer to the minor league complex, and maybe even trying to get a dorm room at Pirate City.

The Pirates drafted four prep players on day one, and assuming they can sign them all, that would put all four players in the GCL this summer, which means I’ll be spending a lot of time in the Florida sun each afternoon.

The first two picks saw the Pirates drafting high school pitchers, with right-handed pitcher Shane Baz going 12th overall, and right-handed pitcher Steve Jennings going with the 42nd overall pick. The next two picks saw prep outfielders getting taken, with Cal Mitchell going 50th overall, and Conner Uselton going 72nd.

“Through four picks — and we have 38 picks to go — we felt like we have the potential to add two quality arms and two quality bats to the system,” Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington said.

The Pirates didn’t go in with a focus to take a lot of prep players in this draft, but said that this was how the board fell to them. The combination of this many prep pitchers — plus rumors that Baz might be difficult to sign — leads to the question of whether they can sign all four players.

“We don’t always get them signed,” Huntington said. “That is a challenge. We’ve run that situation a few times in the past. We felt that [Baz] was the best pick for this organization at this point in time. We felt that we have a legitimate chance to have him join the Pirates, but we recognize there is a risk that he might not get done, and we’d get the 13th pick next year. But we’re going to do everything in our power to have this player join the Pirates.”

If the Pirates can get all four players signed, they will give the lower levels of the system a nice boost in talent, filling an area that has shown some weakness in the last few years.

A Growing Amount of Pitching Depth

The Pirates added two high-upside arms in Shane Baz and Steve Jennings. Obviously Baz is ahead of Jennings in his development, with a 92-96 MPH fastball that touches 98, and the potential for three plus pitches. Jennings sits 89-92 MPH, hitting 95, and has the chance for a plus breaking pitch to pair with a future plus fastball.

The Pirates already have strong pitching depth throughout their system, but most of the talent in the upper levels has settled in as back of the rotation starters, with a few guys like Nick Kingham and Clay Holmes who can be a number three or four starter in the big leagues. But there is a growing amount of high-upside pitching in the lower levels, and Baz and Jennings add to that group.

Mitch Keller is obviously the leader of this group, and his rotation mates in Bradenton — Taylor Hearn and Gage Hinsz — both have the stuff to be much more than back of the rotation starters. Luis Escobar is another promising arm with more than back of the rotation stuff, pitching in West Virginia. Last year’s prep class saw quick promise from left-hander Braeden Ogle and right-hander Max Kranick, along with two projectable pitchers in Travis MacGregor and Austin Shields. Add Baz and Jennings in the mix, and the Pirates have some impressive pitching depth growing in the lower levels.

Baz is closer to Keller than any of the other pitchers on this list, but still has some things to work on. Some of the reports about him said that his fastball can be a bit hittable. Huntington pointed out that the pitch also has action and movement, which intrigues them.

“We’re looking forward to finishing the signing process, getting him in the organization, developing all of his pitches, developing his ability to use and recognize swings,” Huntington said. “People can write a lot of different things, and we certainly have our internal information that we’re excited to potentially add this player to our system.”

Scouting director Joe DelliCarri liked that Baz was a competitor, and said that the team was “very hopeful” in getting something done with the first round pick, noting that they would be starting the work to sign him right after the conference call with the media.

“Really, really competitive pitcher,” DelliCarri said. “We talked about the stuff being plus or positive across the board. Believing in Shane’s background and how he competes.”

I wrote earlier after talking with Baz that he had some praise for the organization and how they’ve developed pitchers. He briefly discussed his relationship with area scout Wayne Mathis — who will play a big role in getting Baz signed — describing Mathis as “awesome.” DelliCarri felt there was a good connection with Baz.

“I do think there was a connection there with our organization with his past experiences with some teams, and then Wayne followed through and connected real closely with Shane’s parents and Shane himself right from the start,” DelliCarri said. “He was complimentary of the organization, that’s great to hear. We’re awfully proud of our people and humble to work together with this group, and Wayne is one of those guys.”

While Baz is a bit more polished, and would probably follow a path similar to Jameson Taillon with a more aggressive push, it’s likely that Jennings would follow a path similar to prep pitchers like Ogle and Kranick. He’s got some promising stuff, and the Pirates were following him closely right from the start as a possibility for their draft. One thing that really stood out to them was his quick return from a torn ACL last fall.

“To come back from the ACL injury, roughly a time frame of four and a half months to start and get on the mound in the early part of the season, was impressive,” DelliCarri said. “I think they did a nice job in his workload and how they used him. It all came together in front of us right from the start. Area supervisor Jerry Jordan has known the player since before the spring. … He was ready to go right from the start. All the credit to Steven, and all the credit to the people around him. Right from the start, we were following him right out of the chute.”

Baz is a guy who the Pirates hope will hit his upside, while Jennings would be another guy to add to the growing group of prep pitchers, hoping that if you draft enough of them, one of them might break out and become a top prospect — something that already happened with Keller, and could happen again with Ogle and/or Kranick.

Adding Some Position Player Depth

While the Pirates have a lot of pitching depth in the lower levels, they are short on hitting prospects. Part of this is the aggressive nature in which they promote pitchers. The college guys who are advanced go right to Bradenton in their first year, and move up in their second year. Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer — the first and second round picks in 2015 — are already in Altoona.

Even the prep hitters move quickly, with Ke’Bryan Hayes already in Bradenton, despite being drafted in 2015. By comparison, a prep pitcher drafted in 2015 wouldn’t reach Bradenton until 2018 at the earliest, using the normal time frame.

But the lowered budgets in the draft and international markets the last few years, plus the recent trend where the Pirates are having more international success on the pitching side than the hitting side, has led to fewer hitting prospects in the low levels.

Outfielders Cal Mitchell and Conner Uselton can help in that regard, adding two strong hitting prospects to the lowest levels. Mitchell is more of a bat-first prospect, while Uselton provides some defensive value, while also providing some offensive upside.

Mitchell didn’t see the best results this spring, and word was he fell on some draft boards, but DelliCarri said the Pirates’ scouts stayed with him consistently, seeing him last summer and this spring, and that he didn’t fall down the board for them.

“He’s a real quiet hitter in that box,” DelliCarri said. “He can slow the game down in that batter’s box. Athleticism, who the man is. We’re excited to have an opportunity to work with Cal. He has some real quality traits in that batter’s box, and slowing the game down. Quite frankly, we think he’s a good hitter.”

The Pirates drafted two former quarterbacks today, with Steve Jennings being one, and Conner Uselton being another. His athleticism allows him to play in center field, with the arm strength to move to right, and the ability to hit for power and the possibility to hit for average. The Pirates liked the athleticism in both cases, highlighting that for Uselton.

“Jennings and Uselton, two multi-sport athletes. We believe athleticism plays,” Huntington said. “We believe the best players at the Major League level are athletic. And we believe that multi-sports helps an athlete to develop in very different ways on and off the field. We like all four athletes, as well as the baseball players and the people. It is definitely beneficial when you see a guy that has some athleticism, they tend to be able to make adjustments.”

Huntington said that one of the benefits for multi-sport athletes is that they don’t have as much wear and tear. That’s probably better for Jennings as a pitcher, but the Pirates may have indirectly benefitted from that with Uselton. He’s older for a high school player, turning 19 last month, but also really came on with a strong spring, and the focus on other sports may have delayed his development in baseball until now, with more potential to come from his many tools.

The Pirates have a long way to go to have their low-level offensive depth match the current pitching depth, but drafting Mitchell and Uselton is a good start.

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58 COMMENTS

  1. excellent article. i’m happy to see the pirates have started this draft with high upside picks. i think baz will be a great pitcher for the pirates in a few years

  2. One thing to consider with Mitchell is what they said on the broadcast he was considered to be one of the top couple prep bats prior to the year but he completely changed his approach because he thought power over contact would up his profile. So if the Pirates try to get him back to how he was before he could wind up being a steal.

  3. Overall, I like the draft because it seems to be filled with high upside guys. My big fear was that they would select a 1B only guy in round 1. Jennings seems to have been taken right around where he was ranked by MLB, FG, & BA. There seems to be a little disparity where Mitchell and Uselton ranked but they don’t seem to be major reaches. I only get an uneasy feeling when they select players on Day 1 who aren’t ranked in the Top 100 by anyone.

  4. Hopefully Baz is similar in ability to the last TX HS SP chosen in the 1st round by Pirates, Jameson Taillon. And hopefully he has the same mental makeup, too.

  5. Bucs have done better with the latin America signings with Osuna, Diaz looking like contributors. Couple of hard throwing RH bull penners last night as well. So in total, not great but not bad. Add in Bell, Tallion who like to be the real deals and eventually meadows that is still a nice core. But correct, high selections are not very good early on.

    • Gotta agree on the L.A. guys, which have been weak for awhile.
      Also agree with your high selections statement.

  6. With picks 42 and 50, the Pirates passed on both MJ Melendez a very skilled HS Catcher and Sam Carlson a HS RHP with mid to upper 90’s velocity and an excellent change-up which he already uses.

    Catching, especially young Catching is a need, and after watching the difficulty TG is having developing a change-up as a 3rd pitch, it may signal a need for guys who can hump it up there and already have the change-up developed. I think that was the reasoning for many pitchers last year. And, if the scouting services are worth anything, we reached for both Jennings and Mitchell.

    • Keith Law had Uselton #20 overall, Jennings #22 and Mitchell #63. Mitchell was also much higher coming into the year but had a bad spring. It’s not reaching because NH didn’t draft the specific players YOU wanted.

      • Baseball America had Uselton around #90, and both Jennings and Mitchell also lower than their draft number. Carlson was around #15-#20 as late as last week, and Melendez was higher also – probably in the 20’s. He’s the surprise because we unloaded McGuire and Gushue last year and his scouting report is very impressive.

        NH will always provide some surprises, and the scouting services are all over the map. I was on Pratto, Adell, Hiura, and Carlson.
        What I was getting at is that by reaching is NH hoping to save a few bucks to use on Round 11+ Prospects?

    • Not many high school catchers stick in the league. Carlson is rumored to have priced himself out of a lot of teams range, being considered a Top 15 talent but falling. I like the guys we got as do 90% of other people. Sorry you don’t agree.

      • I was against Baz from day 1 simply because we lost Lodolo to TCU last year – a big difference between #42 and #12, but TCU has a very strong rep for hanging onto top HS talent. Baz signs, fantastic – he is that good. If not, the Pirates will have 2 picks in the Top 15 next year, but lose a year of development with one.

        Had not heard about Carlson’s demands.

  7. Soooooo, how many of you want to go back to the wonderful years of drafting before the NH years? Bullington is a name that still elicits pain.

    • How about Littlefield’s decision not to draft a certain left-handed pitcher named Clayton Kershaw. The 2009 pick of Tony Sanchez at No. 4, passing on Mike Trout among others, is down to this FO as well. And the pick of Pedro over Buster Posey in 2008 doesn’t look too good either!!!

      • Lol Mike Trout, like every other team that passed him until the mid 20s but okay.

        NH was quoted as saying they had Posey second on their board, who was ranked some where around 8th to 10th best player in draft. The concecus was Alvarez was best player in draft. I’m sure you would have been the first to bitch had they taken the “8th best player” 2nd overall, instead of the concensus #1. Cheap! Cheap! Attack! Narrative! Why can’t GMs be 100% perfect all the time! Attack! Narrative! Cheap! Repeat…

        • If the Pirates had taken anyone other than Pedro everyone would have screamed “CHEAP”!!

          He had a few good years and now we could have him back for free if we wanted him… just sad.

          Jeff King was mediocre. Kris Benson? Good at getting contracts… anyone remember Mark Merchant?

          Heck, Littlefield had by far the best 1st rounder luck of any Pirates GM, pulling the serviceable Alvarez along with the strong Neil Walker and the MVPish McCutchen. Maholm was solid and tradeable.

          OBTW, when do we start saying Cole has been a mistake?

          When it comes to MLB drafting: No ReGerts

          • I remember Baseball America saying the Bucs “missed the boat” for not drafting Sheffield instead of King. Damn those Mariners for not drafting Merchant! An outfield of Bonds, Junior, and Alou could’ve been the best ever, if only for a year or 2 lol.

            • That’s amazing. Bonds – Griffey – Alou. With a little luck.. a few things breaking in their favor.. Pittsburgh fans would been blessed with one of the greatest OFs of all time instead of the dark ages of Al Martin & Co.

          • No one would’ve screamed cheap. Posey was a consenus top 5 prospect and a viable possibility at the time.

        • They are cheap cheap cheap Tony Sanchez draft and also Cole Tucker were signability picks CHEAP

          • How are they cheap when they spend to their limits in the draft? Oh, you’d prefer they spent over and lost a draft pick? How about how they set records with spending on Gerrit Cole or Josh Bell? So much so, that’s a large reason as to why the bonus pool’s exist now.

          • Almost as cheap as giving Josh Bell $5 million a record for 2nd rd pick and Cole $8 million in the same draft.

            • You’re right. The Pirates under NH have never been cheap in the draft. They’ve been stupid but not cheap.

          • Sanchez yes. Cole Tucker definitely not. As was pointed out, the Bucs spend over their limit every year. Can’t spend any more.

        • Nonsense. Posey was a consensus top 5 prospect. The Rays were torn between Posey and Beckham at #1. The Rays like the PIrates, made the wrong choice.

    • Littlefield was horrible, but let’s be honest, what does Huntington have to show for all of his great drafting? A below average SS, a replacement level(to this point in his career), 1Bman, an “ace?” pitcher in Cole, Taillon, and a bad #5 pitcher in Kuhl. That particular tree is not bearing the delicious fruits of all of his draft picks.

        • Not for his first 4 draft classes, ’09-12 should have given us more than what we have from them.

          • If you look at teams draft classes from 09-12 around baseball can show me one entire team made up of all homegrown players similar to the Pirates?

            • You are missing the point. The goal of each draft is to get 1-2 starters, and a bench guy. That means from ’09-12, the Pirates should have between 8 and 12 players on major league rosters from their drafts. They do not. I do not expect the entire team to consist of draft picks, but currently, this team doesn’t meet the bare minimum. I am not trying to say Huntington does a bad job of drafting, but somewhere between the draft and the major leagues, there is a gap.

              • So, do you include players such as Brock Holt in that list? Players that are currently on a major league roster, but not Pirates. Or do they have to be on the Pirates roster?

              • Or, what about players like Jake Lamb or Trea Turner? Players drafted, but were unable to sign.

              • Pirates right now have 13 players on roster that where drafted/signed by this organization and came up through the system. 15 players on current roster have made their major league debuts with Pirates. I say that’s pretty good. Add in Jung Ho and Marte the numbers go up to 15 and 17 out of 25.

              • don’t forget, Pirates did use drafted talent to trade for established ML talent:
                – Colton Cain (2009), Robbie Grossman (2008), and Rudy Owens (DL pick) for Wandy Rodriguez
                – Vic Black (2009) and Dilson Herrera (INT) for Marlon Byrd
                – Jacoby Jones (2013) for Joakim Soria
                – Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt (2009) for Mark Melancon

                So Huntington has made trades that has sent prospects for players who could have ended up playing for the Pirates, making those draft classes look better in terms of home-grown talent.

                • I don’t think you can use drafted players that never amounted to anything……that goes into showing skill for trading, not for drafting.

                    • That’s not the point. The point here is arguing how good we are at drafting major league players. Not….how good are we at drafting players that at some point have enough value to get something for.

              • You have to include players they ended up trading to other organizations that fill that same definition.

          • You’re partially right. The early drafts under NH fell short of expectations as you stated. What you fail to acknowledge is NH recognized the shortcomings of the Scouting Department and made wholesale changes, which has resulted in better drafts of late.

      • There is nothing wrong with Taillon. Hope you weren’t grouping him with the others. IMO, Bell will be above average in time. I also like Adam Frazier.
        By no means am I a DL supporter (who would admit to that?) or to a lesser degree a NH supporter. It does look like there was a reach on the first day’s drafting, but maybe he was a signability draftee.

      • Littlefield drafted Cutch, one of the greatest Pirate picks.
        He also made some killer trades, got Brian Giles, signed Jose Bautista.. He was straddled by front office and I believe the famous A-Ram trade.

        • Oh my. You mean the same Jose Bautista he let go in Rule 5 draft and had to trade back for? By giving up at the time his best pitcher in Benson? I fully believe Littlefield lucked into McCutchen, and took Walker bc he knew he would sign. The guy had no plan or reason. Zero emphasis on player development and prospects. The man traded Rajai Davis for Matt Morris. When the team was in no position to compete. Gave Jeromy Burnitz and Joe Randa $ pushing players like McLouth and Sanchez to the bench for years. I could go on and on.

          • The scouts had to beg Littlefield to take McCutchen. He relented in that case.

            They also wanted to take Clayton Kershaw, but Littlefield saw him on a bad day when it was cold, and didn’t want him.

            I don’t understand this praise for Littlefield, and the false equivalency to Huntington.

            • I’ve heard the story of the scouts having to beg DL to take Cutch in the past. Is that documented anywhere, beyond it being repeated on the internet like Boy Scouts telling ghost stories around a campfire?

                • I’ve also heard that the Rays scouts wanted Cutch but were overruled by management and they took Wade Townsend with #8. Have you ever heard scouts talk about that? The draft room back and forth seems fascinating to me.

      • Cervelli was acquired for Justin Wilson, who provided a few years of relief for the Pirates.

        Evaluating Bell based on his career so far is highly misleading.

        Mercer has been a below average shortstop, but that’s not a bad result at all for a third round pick.

        Meadows should be making his debut this year.

        Cole and Taillon are two leaders of the rotation. Kuhl has shown some positive signs in his time in the majors. They also have plenty of other young options that you can’t close the book on yet.

        Adam Frazier has been looking really good as a former sixth round pick.

        There are the guys who aren’t in the system anymore, but who contributed. The biggest one would be Alvarez, who was a good player for a few years there.

        There’s all of the players they traded away at the deadline for short-term help. Some of those guys made the big leagues with other teams, and some are still in the big leagues.

        Not to mention there’s the fact that the second draft was weak, and the first and third drafts were average-to-above average, but not great. The scouting department was overhauled after the first two, and the drafts got much better. The results so far are heavily influenced by the first two drafts, and we’re only starting to see the impact of the later drafts with all of the guys who are just starting to come up.

        So if you’re saying they weren’t good at drafting in 2008-2009, then you’re right. But that has little to do with their drafts going forward, since there was a notable change following that 2009 draft.

          • No one is saying he’s a draft savant. There’s a middle ground between that and he’s shown nothing/very little, and he’s somewhere in that middle ground.

            • But, in the Pirates situation, he needs to be better. Actually, I am not so upset about the drafts, the organizational development of this drafted leaves something to be desired.

      • Is drafting the problem or development? The so-called experts like the Pirates farm system. The results at the MLB level have not been there. Maybe a deeper system is needed. There would be more competition to move up.

    • I don’t think we could call the site “Pirates Prospects” under DL. That would imply that there were prospects. We’d have to call it “Pirates Ignored Farm System”.

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