Draft Prospect Watch: A Look at Two Big Arms in This Year’s Draft

We began our 2018 amateur draft coverage in mid-February with our preview article. Since then we have looked at a pair of potential draft pick for the Pirates each week. We continue with two more players today who could be intriguing early in the first round.

Two weeks ago, MLB announced the draft slots and bonus pools for each team. The Pirates will have over $10M to spend on their draft picks, although the final number will be closer to $12M (assuming they sign all of their top ten round picks) once you add in the bonuses after the tenth round.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have the tenth overall pick in the 2018 draft, which is now just 51 days away. That’s their highest pick since taking Austin Meadows with the ninth overall pick in 2013. They also have the 36th and 51st overall picks. Every Saturday leading up to the draft, we will have an article looking at the players who are possibilities for that tenth overall pick. We will also have separate articles as we get closer to the draft whenever some of the top draft sources have updated rankings or post mock drafts.

Here is a list of the player featured in the previous articles:

Jackson Kowar and Jarred Kelenic

Ryan Rolison and Travis Swaggerty

Casey Mize and Jeremy Eierman

Nolan Gorman and Nander De Sades

Logan Gilbert and Ryan Weathers

Alec Bohm and Griffin Conine

Mason Denaburg and Carter Stewart

We start this week with prep right-handed pitcher Ethan Hankins, who was mentioned by Jonathan Mayo this week as someone who could end up among the top ten picks. Hankins is a tough one to pin down because he came into the season as one of the top players in the class, with a chance to go first overall. Then a shoulder injury briefly sidelined him and he didn’t look strong early last week, before impressing some scouts in his last game. Based on talent and upside, he wouldn’t get to the Pirates, but the shoulder issue could have him slipping enough that the Pirates might get a chance to pick him.

Hankins was sitting 92-95 MPH early in his last outing according to Keith Law, who was there in attendance. The impressive thing about that velocity is his near effortless delivery. That allows him to command his fastball all around the zone. He has already been up to 98 MPH and with a 6’6″ frame that has room to fill out, there is likely more velocity in his future. He’s got the best fastball in this draft class now and there is room for improvement.

While the fastball is a plus-plus pitch, Hankins doesn’t have a breaking ball that you would consider above average at this point. MLB Pipeline rated his changeup as his second best pitch, giving it a 55 rating on the 20-80 scouting scale. It’s not bad to have three average pitches to go along with that plus-plus fastball, but most pitchers drafted this high have a solid breaking pitch to go along with their fastball.

The rest of the season will be big for Hankins and where he ends up in the first round. If he’s strong in his future starts and up to 98 MPH, then he will regain his early draft status. If not, the Pirates could get a chance to pick him and that will be an interesting decision for them to make on day one of the draft.

Here’s a video of Hankins from his first game back on March 20th after the should issue.

Next up we have Tristan Beck, who has been covered here before when he was in high school and passed on a chance of signing to attend Stanford. Baseball America brought his recent progress to my attention this week with a full feature story on Beck.

Back in 2015, Beck was part of our draft coverage, though his commitment to Stanford had him drop to the 34th round, where he was just an afterthought pick with no chance of signing. After a strong freshman season, Beck was draft-eligible as a sophomore last year. A stress fracture in his lower back caused him to miss the entire season and once again he was a late round pick with no intention of signing.

Now healthy in 2017, Beck is nearly back to top form. The 6’4″, 190 pound right-hander has made seven starts this season coming into this weekend. He has a 3.66 ERA in 39.1 innings, with ten walks and 39 strikeouts. Last weekend, he threw 101 pitches. In that game, he was sitting low-90s, topping out at 94 MPH, while throwing a curveball that got a lot of praise from those in attendance. He also mixes in a changeup and slider that are at least average pitches.

Beck had a major injury last year, but it appears to be behind him now and there aren’t many concerns. He’s like Hankins though, as scouts will be interested to see how strong he can finish out the season before the injury concern completely goes away. Beck has a track record of success already and a four-pitch mix that could lead him to future success as an MLB starter.

Here’s a video of Beck from earlier this month:

Draft Notes

** Keith Law scouted Kentucky right-handed pitcher Sean Hjelle, who stands 6’11”, 215 pounds. He doesn’t have the best fastball velocity yet, but there could be a lot more available in his long arm. Hjelle has a lot of room to fill out, which leaves Law with questions as to whether he can remain a starter. Law also has notes on a couple of other players he saw on his scouting trip

** Tyler Burchett, a 6’6″ prep pitcher from Pennsylvania, is getting some attention from the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had a scout at his last game. He’s not a potential first round pick, but he’s a name to remember.

** Baseball America continued their rankings by position in college, going with the top seven relievers in this draft class.

John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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