Here’s Why the Pirates Overloaded on College Players on Day Two of the 2018 MLB Draft

The Pirates had eight picks on day two of the 2018 MLB draft. They used all eight picks to take players from the college ranks.

They’ve gone college heavy in the past. The 2015 draft saw all college guys in rounds 3-10, although one of them — fourth rounder Jacob Taylor — was from the JuCo ranks. Casey Hughston, the third round pick that year, was a college sophomore. They took all college players in 2014, except for seventh round prep shortstop Nelson Jorge. Every other draft under the current system has seen a few prep players taken in the middle rounds, and the Pirates went prep heavy before the draft changed in 2012.

This is the first year they’ve taken all college juniors or seniors in rounds 3-10, providing a more extreme approach to what the current draft has become. Because this is the draft now. You have a limited amount of money that you can spend, and college players usually come with easier to negotiate prices.

The Pirates have done this in the past, going college heavy with these picks in order to free up bonus pool money for over-slot guys. That appears to be what they’re doing again this year.

They already know what prep pitchers Gunnar Hoglund and Braxton Ashcraft will need, as both pitchers are set to sign deals after the draft. They would then know how much they’d need to save from the middle rounds. And they could also try to save a bit more to take someone in the 11th round or beyond, which is something they do every year.

The picks today weren’t bad. But they weren’t exciting or filled with high upsides like what you get with the prep guys. You can only dream so much on college guys. The flip side is that the risk is lower, and the Pirates could get a few players who can complement some future teams, with the potential for one or two guys to step up into regular roles.

“In reality there is a finite number that you can use to sign,” Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington said about the draft pools. “It wasn’t that we walked away from players because we couldn’t afford them. We walked away from players because they didn’t fit in our pool. We chose the players that we liked.”

The trade-off here is that the day two picks are going to help pay for some players that the Pirates really like, to the point where some picks beyond the 10th round might be paid more than what anyone in rounds 3-10 will end up getting. We’ll see the preview of how that plays out with who they pick tomorrow. They took college seniors in the final two rounds today, which is a sign that they’re at least planning on saving slot money with two spots from today.

After the day two picks, Pirates’ scouting director Joe DelliCarri discussed what the team liked about each player. Here are some quick hits, along with links to their player pages.

3rd Round: Connor Kaiser, SS

Player Page

Summary: Kaiser is a big shortstop at 6′ 4″, 195 pounds. He has the tools to stick at the position, while also having some offensive upside. DelliCarri discussed what they liked and how he has grown while they’ve watched him:

“Connor has grown in his strength and his young man strength. I think he’s athletic, and his reliability, durability, his athleticism staying on the field, in his batter’s box he’s grown because of those things. … He’s gotten a little stronger. He’s got the athleticism and combination of studying the game. He’s going to continue to grow there.”

4th Round: Aaron Shortridge, RHP

Player Page

Summary: Shortridge was a reliever his first two years of college, but moved to the rotation this year and fared well. DelliCarri said that the Pirates see him as a starting prospect in the future, rather than a guy who will move back to the bullpen right away. I didn’t get much else, since there was some noise on the call while he was talking.

5th Round: Grant Koch, C

Player Page

Summary: Koch is a guy who has improved behind the plate, and who has some good offense with power potential. His offense took a step back this year, but the Pirates seem to think he can gain that back. DelliCarri said that they liked both the offense and the defense from Koch:

“We like him behind the plate. Really good at receiving the ball. He’s done a nice job with the USA team. He’s shown us things last year, and again this year in the box. A combination of offense and defense drew us to him. He’s going to be good behind the plate, solid behind the plate, and we believe we can catch a little bit more of the offense upside in him as well.”

6th Round: Michael Flynn, RHP

Player Page

Summary: Flynn didn’t have good results, but a lot of the reports on him said that his stuff was much better than the numbers, and what drove his value and prospect status. When I asked about that, and what the Pirates saw beyond the numbers, DelliCarri drew a comparison to Chad Kuhl coming out of college (for reference, Kuhl had a 6.39, 4.42, and 3.75 ERA in his three years with Delaware, and had declining strikeout numbers each year):

“We go back to Chad Kuhl. You go back in college and you see the traits in Michael’s size and pitches and working with him. You see a little upside that we can add to, and where he is today. How he gets to his stuff, and how he uses his stuff. We feel the fastball comes out good, secondary is in there and he uses it. I think there’s upside in a similar capacity where the numbers aren’t going to show everything that we can build upon and who he is and how he does it. We can definitely build upon where his college coaches have gotten him today.”

7th Round: Brett Kinneman, LF

Player Page

Summary: Kinneman is an interesting pick here. He hit for a lot of power in the first half, leading the NCAA in home runs at one point. His offense trailed off in the second half, and wasn’t nearly as productive. However, DelliCarri sounded optimistic about his offensive upside, and said they really like what he can do, noting that “He’s grown as a hitter right in front of our eyes.”

8th Round: Zach Spears, LHP

Player Page

Summary: Spears is a huge left-hander at 6′ 7″, 237 pounds. He throws in the 89-93 MPH range, but could add some velocity if he adds some muscle to his big frame, or makes some adjustments to tap into his size. DelliCarri briefly discussed what they liked about him:

“The ball comes out good. Development of his pitches, his changeup. He’s hitting his breaking ball a little bit.”

9th Round: Logan Stoelke, RHP

Player Page

Summary: Stoelke is an interesting pick. He’s a college senior who will be easy to sign, and who will save some money. But he’s also a full-time pitcher after being mostly a position player prior to this year. The Pirates see his lack of innings as a positive thing, as they should since his arm has little wear and tear, and he can already throw 92-95 MPH. I asked DelliCarri how they were able to get a good feel for his abilities with so few opportunities to watch him as a pitcher.

“Our guys did a nice job. We got several looks. We caught him a little bit early, a little bit in the middle, and a little bit late. Another one, the ball comes out good, he throws strikes. We’re really excited to work with him and the upside with Logan.”

10th Round: Mike Gretler, 3B

Player Page

Summary: The Pirates took Gretler last year in the 39th round, but he returned to Oregon State for his senior year. He’s a guarantee to sign this year as a college senior, and will probably sign for under slot. DelliCarri discussed the improvements the team saw from him this year:

“He continues to be the man for [Oregon State]. An integral part of that team. Versatility on the field. Bouncing around, and we like him in the batter’s box. That’s probably where we’ve seen the greatest growth, watching his at-bats. Really tough at-bats, continues to grow that way, and I think when you have the combination of athleticism and aptitude that I think Michael has, you’re going to continue to see little steps and big steps in those areas.”

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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