Williams: The Pirates Have Added More Prospects With Power in the Last Year

The Pirates didn’t exactly ignore power in the draft prior to the 2017 season. At the same time, they weren’t making a strong effort to seek it out.

The approach in the draft was largely around complete hitters who could also field a premium position, with power being the thing that took a back seat. They would draft someone with the ability to hit for average, get on base, avoid strikeouts, while maybe providing some speed, and enough athleticism to have a shot at a premium defensive position. The power came in the form of extra base hits, with the hope that more power would develop as the players got older.

That’s not a bad approach. If you have a team full of guys who can hit, get on base, and play good defense, then you can contend as long as you have a good pitching staff. The problem, as I’ve written before, is that when you have an average pitching staff, this approach doesn’t work, as you don’t have the power necessary to counter the poor pitching.

During the 2014 and 2015 drafts, the Pirates went heavy on this approach. Again, they didn’t totally ignore power in those years — they took Jordan Luplow in 2014 and Kevin Kramer in 2015, and both have good raw power — but they didn’t go heavy on the approach.

That all appears to have changed in 2017. The biggest thing that stood out to me was that the Pirates drafted more players this year with power as the big part of their game. This was obvious in the GCL this year, with guys like Mason Martin, Calvin Mitchell, and Conner Uselton showing easy raw power. It also existed in Morgantown, with middle round picks like Tristan Gray, Bligh Madris, and Deon Stafford standing out for their raw power abilities at their positions.

It’s not just the draft. When the Pirates traded Tony Watson, the top prospect they got in return was Oneil Cruz. He is lauded for his raw power, and seeing him after the deadline, plus getting a lot of matching reports on him, I can safely say that his plus raw power ratings are legit.

I don’t know if it’s a change in approach, or just how everything lined up this year with the draft and the Watson trade, but it appears the Pirates are focusing more on power than they have been in the past.

They shouldn’t go to the other extreme and only focus on power. I think the old approach of finding well-rounded hitters is still an avenue they should pursue, along with trying to find power. There are benefits and risks with both approaches. But it seemed like they were neglecting power for a few years, and if anything, it’s good to see that trend changing.

One downside with this trend is that it brings a different problem. The well-rounded players who lacked power had the obvious downside that they didn’t have power, which limited their upside. Without that power, they would be limited to a bench player or an average starter at best. The recent guys with power all have higher upsides if their power plays out. However, they all seem to have their own strikeout issues, which could also restrict their upsides.

The well-rounded players seem like a safer bet if you want MLB players, as they come with higher floors. The trade-off is a lower ceiling. The power guys come with higher ceilings, but much more risk involved, and a bigger chance of busting.

In each case, you’re ultimately looking for the same thing. You want a power guy who learns how to hit, get on base, and avoid strikeouts. Or you would take a well-rounded guy who adds power to his game. Both of those paths would create an impact player, and I don’t think one path is easier than the other. Again, I do think it’s unwise for the Pirates to focus only on one of these two paths and ignore the other. The good news is that this trend appears to be over, with more of a focus on power in the last year.

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  • Let me just says this, Connor Joe. Enough said about the prior approach. the Pirates are behind the times in both pitching and hitting. Low ball pitchers now are being lit up while the power hitters golf the ball out of the park. The pirates require low ball pitching and have no power. Now they will change and try to catch up but this shows you that management doesn’t have a clue as to what is happening in the game.

    • Joe was one of the guys from those draft classes who was projected to hit for some power.

      The lesson learned from him is: Don’t draft someone who will have a major back injury before he plays a game.

      I’m not sure how that lesson can be applied though.

  • The top 8 teams in slugging % all made the playoffs. The top 9 teams in ops all made the playoffs. Hardly earth shattering news but I see a trend here, something like hitting for power is pretty important.

    • The Red Sox were 26th in slugging. They had one of the best pitching staffs.

      The trend isn’t that power is necessary to make the playoffs. It’s that you need either a top offense or a top pitching staff. You can go without one, but not without both.

  • Drafting baseball prospects, a hard way to make a living.

  • When you finish 28th in the league in runs, you don’t get particular about whether a guy is well-rounded or shows pop.

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