BRADENTON, Fla. – The Pirates went heavy on prep players in the 2017 draft, taking high school players with their first four picks, along with a few more over-slot picks later in the draft. Those first four picks gave the draft a lot of upside, as the selection of projectable high school players can allow for one to dream about high ceilings if all comes together.
The first two picks were pitchers, but the Pirates went with prep outfielders with their two second round selections. This fills a bit of a void in the lower levels, boosting the offense at levels where the talent trends heavy on pitchers.
I’ve had a chance to catch up with those second round picks — Calvin Mitchell and Conner Uselton — along with their hitting coach Austin McClune for some early impressions. I haven’t had a chance to see over-slot 17th round outfielder Mason Martin or talk with him for an extended period yet, so expect an article on him later in the month.
John Dreker wrote recently about how Calvin Mitchell looks like a first round talent who fell to the Pirates in the second round. So far that is what I’ve seen. Mitchell shows off a compact swing with a lot of power potential, but also the ability to hit for average and get on base. He seems to be adjusting to pro ball very quickly and easily.
“The first few games I might have been a little nervous, but I think I’m settling in right now,” Mitchell said. “The talent level is different, there are a lot of good ballplayers out here, but I’m just happy to be playing.”
Mitchell wasn’t surprised when the Pirates drafted him. He said that he had a lot of contact with area scout Brian Tracy, and when the Pirates called 30 seconds before their pick to confirm his price and signability, he was ready to sign with them.
“[Tracy] developed a really good relationship with me and my family, and it all worked out on draft day,” Mitchell said.
Since turning pro, Mitchell has played ten games, putting up a .256/.341/.385 line in the pitcher friendly GCL. This includes a home run and two doubles.
The thing that stands out about Mitchell above is the ease in which he gets his power, coming from a short, compact swing.
“That’s something I’ve worked on my whole life is just having a compact, quick swing that I can put the barrel on the ball when I want to,” Mitchell said. “My whole philosophy for hitting is having a stress free swing. No tension in the body or hands. Just keeping it loose.”
On the day of his home run, I talked with GCL hitting coach Austin McClune, who praised not only the homer, but how Mitchell followed it up.
“He made that look easy,” McClune said of the homer. “And the even cooler thing with that, and to show how good he can be, he did that and in his very next at-bat they came back fastball middle-away, and he shot it in the six hole past the shortstop. So he showed the ability in two at-bats to do a pull side home run and then go the other way with a line drive. Kind of a testament to the type of hitter he’s going to be.”
Mitchell has been playing all over the outfield, although he profiles in the corners long-term. That’s where he played growing up, spending most of his senior year in high school in right field. The power potential is there for him to have value in a corner spot in the long-term.
On top of that, Mitchell seems to fit the standard approach for the Pirates of drafting high character guys, and that was noticed right away by McClune.
“Calvin seems like he comes from a good family, just talking to him,” McClune said. “Very well structured and organized. Bright kid.”
I got to see Conner Uselton make his debut, which included three hits. The very next game he left early with a hamstring injury, which has since been revealed to be a small tear in his hamstring. The recovery will likely keep him out for the rest of the season, and possibly keep him out for instructs.
In the brief time I’ve seen Uselton, he has looked like a promising player, just from the build alone. Just like Mitchell, he is also another high character guy, which I believe leads to a better ability to develop, since most of the high character guys in the past have been more willing to accept coaching and working to improving their game.
In the one game I saw Uselton, he showed off a nice swing, with his frame and forearms projecting some power potential in the long-term.
“Conner, a little bit with the football background, it seems like he’s got some discipline there,” McClune said. “He looks like a big, strong kid. Drives balls in batting practice.”
Uselton also had contact with the Pirates before the draft, but wasn’t sure if they would be taking him.
“I had contact with them,” Uselton said. “I had contact with quite a few teams. I had no idea going into draft day who was going to take me. I’m glad they did though.”
Just like Mitchell, he found out right before the pick was made, when they called and confirmed his signability and price. There were rumors that Uselton was going to be a difficult guy to sign, but that obviously wasn’t the case, and he said the decision was easy.
“I wanted to play pro ball and start the development process,” Uselton said.
Uselton has played all three outfield positions, but only played left field in his one game. It’s hard to say how the Pirates will use him in the future, although his build profiles for a corner outfield spot. The hamstring is a short-term setback, although he should be fine by Spring Training next year, and possibly capable of putting in a full season of hitting, giving us a first real view of his potential.