The Pirates Took a Familiar Approach to Start the 2018 Draft

Coming into the 2018 draft, the expectation was that the Pirates would take a prep player with their first pick, with many projecting them to take a high school pitcher. They gave a bit of a surprise when they drafted college outfielder Travis Swaggerty.

Swaggerty was ranked high, being taken tenth overall, and being ranked 11th by Baseball America and, along with fourth by Keith Law. The Pirates then landed their prep pitchers by taking Gunnar Hoglund with the 36th pick and Braxton Ashcraft with the 51st pick, adding two young right-handers.

At the end of the day, the Pirates got a familiar mix of players. Swaggerty has some upside, with five tool potential. He’s got the defense and arm to stick in center field, along with the ability to hit for average, get on base, and provide speed on the bases. His power lags behind the other tools, but should be good enough for future average power.

Pirates’ scouting director Joe DelliCarri said that the team liked that Swaggerty can provide an impact on offense, defense, and base running.

“[He’s] strong in all facets,” DelliCarri said. “Has done some things with the barrel. Has grown with some impact. And a good base runner. So for us, there’s a player at a premium position that has a chance to add in all three facets of the game. Stood out at that part of the board that he was the best player for us right there.”

I wrote earlier about how Swaggerty improved his power and offense after moving away from pitching. If those offensive improvements continue, or just carry over to pro ball in a good way, then his other skills should be enough to provide him with a pretty high floor. He’ll eventually provide defense and speed that will allow him to reach the majors, and right now it seems a conservative projection with his offense would make him a future starter in center field in the majors.

Swaggerty has upside, but the higher floor from his defense and speed really drive his value. The Pirates went for the higher risk, higher upside guys with the pitchers they took.

DelliCarri said that they liked the fastballs of both prep pitchers, along with the progress of their secondary stuff and their traits on the mound.

“Gunnar right now has shown control and command,” DelliCarri said. “He hasn’t walked anybody. I think Braxton is coming into growth development coming off of football. We saw middle, end of the year equally so to be able to command that fastball.”

Gunnar Hoglund showed a ton of control this year, walking just two batters. DelliCarri said repeatedly that he didn’t walk any hitters when they saw him. His only two walks came in his final start of the season, which the Pirates might have missed since they referenced him walking no one. They definitely noticed the lack of walks as a big thing throughout the year.

“I think each one of us who continued to follow him in our group just kept asking if he walked somebody,” DelliCarri said. “We were actually tracking it pretty much from his first start, maybe more into his second or third start. It became something within the group that we just never saw him walk anybody.

“Our guys did a really good job. It really stands out. The fastball command, control and command from that young man, it’s exciting. To be able to do that at a young age, with the body control he has, be able to repeat something that’s hard to repeat, it clearly stands out.”

Braxton Ashcraft is a two-way player who has put up some impressive numbers as a wide receiver in high school. The Pirates noticed his game improving when football season ended. That could be a good development if he signs and focuses on just baseball.

“I think the progression through this spring, coming out of football, he’s working through the delivery,” DelliCarri said. “In the early part of the spring it was a little cool for Texas. Broke out middle of the year for the weather there, and he took off. You see the athleticism keep coming out and how he gets to it. You see the arm speed start to play really well. I think that’s where the athleticism plays in those two areas, in that delivery and then the arm speed keeps coming.”

The Pirates continued to stock up on young prep pitchers — a trend that they’ve never really stopped — while adding another outfield prospect to the system. They got some upside with all three guys, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they take a few more higher upside/higher risk guys on day two and early in day three to join Hoglund and Ashcraft.