Every Sunday, we are going to take a look at two top draft prospects in this upcoming June amateur draft. The Pittsburgh Pirates make their first selection with the 18th overall pick. They also have the 37th overall pick. Our players featured each week will be those who are ranked on prospect lists in the general area of the 18th pick, while also showing some players who could be available when the Pirates make their second pick. The first day of the draft is June 3rd. You can check out our draft preview here.
In our first Draft Prospect Watch, we took a look at pitchers Matthew Allan and Zack Thompson. That was followed by our first two position players, infielders Brett Baty and Will Holland. Two weeks ago, we look at pitchers again, going with prep right-handed pitchers Daniel Espino and Jack Leiter. In our fourth installment last Sunday, we went with two college shortstops, Will Wilson and Brandon Shewmake.
A few days ago, Baseball America updated their top draft prospects rankings, expanding to the top 300, while also adjusting their previous list. I decided to look at the two players closest to the 18th spot, where the Pirates make their first pick. BA just happens to have two new players in the 18th and 19th spots, so they are today’s subjects.
Right-handed pitcher Alek Manoah out of West Virginia is ranked 18th on the new list, moving up four spots since the last rankings. They also did a mock draft on Thursday, where they had Manoah going to the Pirates. He’s a huge figure on the mound, listed at 6’7″, 270 pounds.
Manoah was a top prospect out of high school, but he went undrafted due to his college commitment. At West Virginia, he split his time as a freshman and sophomore between starting and relieving. He had a 3.07 ERA in 55.2 innings n 2017, then saw that ERA rise to 4.00 over 54 innings last year. While the results were as strong, he picked up 60 strikeouts last year, compared to 45 in 2017.
Manoah started Friday against Baylor. He went 7.1 innings, allowing four runs on eight hits, with two walks and six strikeouts. On the season, he has a 2.97 ERA in 36.1 innings, with a 51:11 SO/BB ratio, a .219 BAA and a 1.06 WHIP.
With his huge frame, Manoah throws his fastball in the 92-96 MPH range. Walks have been an issue in the past, but he has really cut down a lot on them this year, while increasing his strikeout rate. He also throws a low 80s slider that will occasionally look like a plus pitch, and a changeup that shows good separation. There are some questions as to whether he will remain a starter, but he clearly has the workhorse frame to put up a lot of innings. Manoah has shown better velocity in relief, so he could be a power back-end reliever if starting doesn’t work out.
Here are some videos, starting with one from Fangraphs, showing game action and a nice side view of his mechanics
The second video from 2080 Baseball shows Manoah when he was starting in the Cape Cod League
2080 Baseball also has footage taken earlier this month
The second player is George Kirby, a right-handed pitcher out of Elon. He is now ranked 19th overall, which is 19 spots higher than the last ranking. He basically went from looking like a solid pick at 37th overall (Pirates second pick this year), to looking like a solid pick at 18th overall. Kirby doesn’t have the size of Manoah, but he still has a frame that could add a little more, standing in at 6’4″, 205 pounds. He just turned 21 years old last month (Manoah is one month older).
Kirby started yesterday against College of Charleston and went 6.1 innings, allowing one run on five hits and two walks, while striking out four batters. Prior to yesterday, he had a 3.26 ERA in 30.1 innings, with one walk and 41 strikeouts.
Kirby has always been a strike thrower in college, though that didn’t always lead to the best results because he didn’t command the ball well, so he would occasionally get too much of the zone. He also relied heavily on his low-90s fastball that recently touched 97 MPH. Kirby throws a hard slider in the mid-80s, a looping curveball and a sinking changeup, giving him a solid four-pitch mix.
MLB Pipeline said prior to the season that he just needs some refining of his secondary pitches and his command. Scouts also believed that he could add some velocity in the future due to his easy delivery, sound mechanics and solid frame. Things are really starting to come together for Kirby, and we’ve seen some of those improvements already, helping him rise up the draft charts.
Here are some videos, sticking with the popular 2080 Baseball, taken during the Cape Cod League last summer
BA has their own video from last month.
Meet George Kirby. The Elon righty struck out 10 batters, walked no one and allowed just two singles against Lafayette this weekend.
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) February 19, 2019
There isn’t much out there for Kirby yet, so I had to use this video from D1Baseball, which is just a quick look from the side view
Also not the best quality, but you take what you can get. Sam Niedorf has a strikeout from last year.
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.