During the 2017 amateur draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates went on a run of selecting college shortstops, picking them in four consecutive rounds. Two of those draft picks went to the Bristol Pirates and two went to Morgantown. The 21st round pick was Robbie Glendinning, who made 15 starts at shortstop for Morgantown. Nick Valaika, the 24th round pick, made six starts at shortstop for Bristol and 23rd round pick Ben Bengtson made all of his starts with Bristol at third base. Then there was 22nd round pick Brett Pope, who made more starts at shortstop than the other three combined. From watching him play numerous times with Morgantown, there is reason to believe he could stick at the position going forward.
The Pirates took Pope out of Western Carolina, where he was primarily a shortstop during his three seasons of college, making 121 starts at the spot. He also saw limited time at third base, second base and left field during his first two years, but his junior season saw him start all 56 games at shortstop. He primarily played the position in high school as well and he also had experience in shortstop during collegiate summer league baseball. The Pirates had him play 28 games at shortstop with Morgantown, and he played second base seven times. That carried over into the Fall Instructional League, where he played both middle infield spots.
Pope has the defensive talent to stick at shortstop and be above average at the position. From what I saw while he was at Morgantown, he has great first step quickness and range to either side. He has sure hands and excelled at coming in on balls. He has quick hands, plus a quick release helped him on close plays. I saw accurate throws from every angle and he made a lot of difficult plays look easy. It was basically everything you want to see in a shortstop while looking for someone who could stick at the position going forward. I didn’t see a plus arm, but Pope was a pitcher part-time in high school and has played third base, so the strength is more than enough for him to stick at the spot. That’s especially true when you add in the quickness part of his game.
Pope isn’t just a glove-only shortstop, he can run the bases too. That foot speed translates well to first step quickness at shortstop, but he’s also been very successful at stealing bases over the years. In high school, he went 56-for-58 in steals. In three years of college, he was 35-for-43 in stolen base attempts. With Morgantown, he was 8-for-12 in steals. It’s a good combination of speed and knowing when to run.
The offense was where we saw the main issue in the pros. In 39 games, he hit .205/.295/.238, with four doubles, 16 walks and no triples or homers. Those aren’t the stats you want to see, but he does have a recent track record of success prior to pro ball. As a sophomore in 2016, Pope hit .323/.408/.379, while missing some time and losing some power due to a fractured hand suffered in March on a hit-by-pitch. After the season, he played in the Northwoods League, a summer collegiate league. He had a .331 average and an .816 OPS in 43 games for the St Cloud Rox.
Going into his junior year, Pope told me that being healthy from the hand injury and adding some muscle over the winter to his 6’0″ frame led to his first sign of power. That hard work paid off in 2017 for Western Carolina, where he hit .342/.399/.465, with 12 doubles, three triples and four homers. He had a total of 11 extra-base hits in his first two college seasons. The Pirates first took notice of him during the previous fall, but the better hitting solidified his draft spot this year.
That added power didn’t translate to the pros with Morgantown, as there was an adjustment period between his final college game on May 25th and his pro debut five weeks later. Most players mention the grind of pro ball between playing everyday and travel, but for Pope, it was about seeing strong pitching daily.
“The Northwoods League was the same travel-wise and games played, so playing two summers prepared me well,” Pope said, before addressing the adjustment made between college and the pros. “The difference was just getting used to the more consistent pitching on a day-to-day basis.”
Pope finished strong in his last week with Morgantown, then went to the Fall Instructional League, where he got some extra playing time and continued the learning process of adjusting to pro ball.
“We all are getting into something new I guess you would say,” Pope said about his takeaway from Instructs. “So just getting acquainted to the new process and starting to feel more comfortable with the Pirate way. Becoming more familiar with the organization, teammates, and coaches.”
Going forward, Pope’s off-season plan is to add more muscle and strength. At this point in his career, you will likely see him stick at shortstop and the Pirates will hope the bat can come around. There seems to be an opening with the West Virginia Power for him, where Oneil Cruz might see some time at shortstop, but all signs indicate that he will eventually outgrow the position. That could leave Pope as the starter for the Power, where we will see if he can improve his hitting in the pros.
I like his approach at the plate as far as making a lot of contact, going with the pitches and never looking over-matched. He’s going to be a line drive type hitter, who could use his speed to take extra bases. If he could keep that approach and add some power, then we are talking about a decent on base guy with the ability to hit doubles and the speed for occasional triples.
You add in the defense at the premium position and the base running ability, and you have yourself a shortstop prospect. That’s something to look at as a ceiling down the line, but for now we wait to see what progress he makes in 2018 before you get excited about a possible late round gem. He at least has the athleticism at this point to move around the field if the bat doesn’t come around like you hope, making him a solid defensive utility player with speed.