You can kind of get repetitive when offering first look analysis at draft picks. Almost every pick a team makes is going to be years away from the majors. You’re focused on the tools a player has, the weaknesses, and what the player needs to do to maximize the tools and minimize the weaknesses.
I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve written that the Pirates took a projectable pitcher with a tall, skinny frame, and the chance to add velocity as he fills out. It’s not that velocity is the only thing that matters. But it’s usually better to get a guy before he throws 97 MPH than to get him after. Plus, if you can find a guy with a good secondary pitch and/or good control, then add velocity to that package, you’ve got the makings of a mid-to-late round steal.
The Pirates have a pretty good track record of developing toolsy pitchers into top prospects. They did it with Tyler Glasnow and Mitch Keller, along with other pitchers who haven’t lived up to expectations at the big league level in Pittsburgh, such as Nick Kingham and Clay Holmes (raising a question of whether there’s an upper-level development reason at play with some of these guys).
Because of this, it was easy to rely on cookie-cutter summaries, looking at how the next group of pitchers might improve and lead to one becoming a top prospect like the last guy who broke out from the pack.
You didn’t have that with hitting. The Pirates didn’t have the same results with their hitters as they did with their pitchers. There’s also the factor that the position players are graded on their position and defensive skills, meaning there are different expectations for a first baseman compared to a center fielder. It’s harder to take a cookie-cutter approach across multiple positions, ignoring that there was no cookie-cutter to be found in the Pirates’ system.
On day one of the draft, I found myself thinking about a possible cookie-cutter for the hitters: The development of power.
I wrote this spring about how the Pirates were implementing modern hitting philosophies, while also utilizing new technology. That same approach is going on in the minor leagues.
We’ve already seen some big results from Josh Bell in the majors. It’s hard to evaluate the minors, since players are at different levels each year. Without looking, it does feel like there have been more home runs this year, and not a lot sacrificed to get that power.
Indianapolis has seen their ISO go up 47 points this year over last year. Altoona has been -10, Bradenton +5, and Greensboro +43.
I’m skeptical of these numbers for various reasons, aside from the “players playing in different leagues” factor. Indianapolis could be up because the Triple-A ball now appears to be juiced. Greensboro could be up because it’s a better hitting environment compared to West Virginia.
I didn’t expect this process to be like flipping a switch, where we’d clearly see that the new approach was working two months into the season. I’m a bit optimistic because of Bell. Watching him for his entire pro career, I’ve seen how quickly he can adapt to adjustments and new mechanical approaches. If anyone was going to be the first to benefit from the new approach, my money would have been on Bell.
That doesn’t mean the Pirates will get similar success from other MLB players on a delayed timeline. And it doesn’t mean the minor leagues will show similar results. Ultimately, we don’t know if the new approaches will lead to the Pirates starting to develop some sleeper hitting prospects the same way they’ve done with the pitchers.
What we do know is that they need this. Not just because of the obvious reason that they need to develop good hitters, but because the 2019 draft is already shaping up to be an interesting one if they can find a way to maximize power with these guys.
I’m optimistic that the Pirates can develop Quinn Priester into a top prospect, based on their history. But the same projection for the hitters requires that you believe their new hitting philosophy will work.
Sammy Siani has a smooth swing from the left side, with the ability to hit for average, and strong defense in center field. He could make the majors based on his hitting tool and defense alone, but there’s a chance that this wouldn’t be enough to make him a starter, or at least a starter on a contending team.
But if you improve his power production, then you might be looking at a future first-division starter. He’s got some uppercut to his swing, and part of the new approach for the Pirates is finding the ideal contact point for each player to maximize the upward part of their swing. Perhaps a small adjustment can lead to more power?
It’s a similar story for third baseman Jared Triolo. He’s got plus defense at third base, along with the ability to hit for average, and good plate patience. He doesn’t hit for a lot of power, but if he can find a way to add that to his game, then you’re looking at a potential starting third baseman with the 72nd pick.
The big test though will come with Matt Gorski. He does have power, and a lot of it. The problem is that he sacrifices his average and strikes out too much in pursuit of that power. If the Pirates can find a way to get him hitting for power without sacrificing his average or increasing his strikeouts, then they could have a very promising bat in the system.
This hasn’t worked in the past with guys like Casey Hughston, Wes Freeman, and other plus raw power guys who sacrificed their hit tool for power. It hasn’t worked so far for Dylan Busby, who is hitting for power in Bradenton, but also hitting below .200 with a 38% strikeout rate.
And the thing about this power focus is that it’s much like the pitchers in that you’re looking for one player out of a large group to take a big step forward. But that seems like a big task when the Pirates don’t have a good track record in this area, and when their new approach is largely unknown in terms of results.
So far in this draft, the Pirates drafted two players with good tools who lack power, and one player who has power but a questionable hitting approach when trying to hit for power. This is going to be common the rest of the draft. Anyone who hits for power and average goes in the first round. After the first round, you pick one and hope you can develop the other.
The Pirates have to hope that their new approach will lead to similar results on the hitting side as they’ve seen on the pitching side. It would be a boost to the system if they can look to both pitchers and hitters as potential breakout prospects, and this draft might be the first big test for that new philosophy in the minors.
DAY ONE COVERAGE
If you missed any of our day one coverage, you can find it all here:
We’ll have full coverage today of every pick, with a recap at the end of the day, and any key updates as they come.
Altoona is in fourth place in their division, nine games back with 15 games remaining in the first half.
Bradenton is in a tie for first place with 13 games remaining in the first half.
Greensboro is in second place in their division, six games back with 14 games remaining in the schedule.
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates had off yesterday. They now host a three-game set against the Atlanta Braves, starting on tonight with Steven Brault on the mound. He threw 5.1 shutout innings against the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday. That followed two runs over 5.2 innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers five days earlier. The Braves will counter with 25-year-old lefty Max Fried, who has a 3.19 ERA in 62 innings, with 56 strikeouts and a 1.21 WHIP. He gave up four runs on nine hits and three walks in 5.2 innings in his last start, which was a week ago today against the Washington Nationals. Fried has a 3.81 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP in 26 innings on the road this season.
The minor league schedule includes Pedro Vasquez returning to Altoona for an early morning game after firing six shutout innings in a start for Indianapolis. Vasquez allowed just one hit and one walk, while striking out seven batters. Dario Agrazal makes his seventh start for Indianapolis. He has allowed a total of four runs over his best five starts since being promoted to Triple-A. Steven Jennings will make his 12th start. He had a 7.89 ERA in April and a 4.97 ERA in May. Bradenton doesn’t have a starter listed.
The full 2019 Pirates Prospects Prospect Guide is now available, up to date as of April 3rd, with every player in the minor league system (NOTE: There have been just three players released and two added since then, so the book is still 99% up to date). Includes full reports on the top 50 prospects, reports on over 150 other players, as well as looks back at the recent drafts and international signing classes. Subscribers get 20% off the purchase of a book.
MLB: Pittsburgh (28-30) vs Braves (32-27) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Steven Brault (5.87 ERA, 26:18 SO/BB, 30.2 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (34-22) @ Louisville (23-34) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Dario Agrazal (2.17 ERA, 32:7 SO/BB, 37.1 IP)
AA: Altoona (25-29) @ Erie (26-26) 10:35 AM (season preview)
Probable starter: Pedro Vasquez (3.32 ERA, 31:9 SO/BB, 43.1 IP)
High-A: Bradenton (33-23) @ Daytona (30-27) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD
Low-A: Greensboro (37-19) vs Charleston (31-26) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Steven Jennings (6.22 ERA, 53:18 SO/BB, 50.2 IP)
DSL: Pirates1 (1-1) vs Rays2 10:30 AM (season preview)
DSL: Pirates2 (2-0) vs Tigers2 10:30 AM (season preview)
From Pittsburgh, since there were no highlights of interest on the minor league side, the top five plays of the week.
6/2: Pirates release Randolph Gassaway
5/31: Pedro Vasquez and Alfredo Reyes assigned to Altoona. Adrian Valerio and Ryan Valdes assigned to Bradenton.
5/31: Jack Herman assigned to Greensboro. Brett Kinneman assigned to Extended Spring Training
5/31: Allen Montgomery added to Bradenton roster
5/30: Connor Kaiser activated from Greenboro injured list.
5/29: Joe Jacques promoted to Bradenton.
5/29: Jake Elmore sent outright to Indianapolis.
5/28: Mitch Keller optioned to Indianapolis.
5/28: Alfredo Reyes promoted to Indianapolis. Domingo Robles promoted to Altoona.
5/27: Pirates acquire Yefry Ramirez from Baltimore Orioles for cash or PTBNL.
5/27: Pirates recall Mitch Keller. Montana DuRapau optioned to Indianapolis.
5/27: Cam Vieaux promoted to Indianapolis. Steven Baron activated from injured list.
5/27: Ryan Valdes and Austin Coley promoted to Altoona.
5/27: Alex McRae added to 40-man roster and recalled. Doydas Neverauskas optioned to Indianapolis.
5/27: Pirates recall Richard Rodriguez to serve as 26th man for doubleheader.
5/26: Francisco Cervelli placed on 7-day injured list. Jake Elmore designated for assignment. Jacob Stallings and Jose Osuna added to Pirates.
5/25: Pirates add Rookie Davis and Dovydas Neverauskas. Chris Stratton placed on injured list. Michael Feliz optioned to Indianapolis. Lonnie Chisenhall moved to 60-day IL.
5/25: Pedro Vasquez promoted to Indianapolis. Ryan Peurifoy added to Altoona roster.
5/25: Ike Schlabach placed on injured list.
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a major trade of note. We start with the trade and it involved a Hall of Famer in his prime. On this date in 1953, the Pirates traded All-Star outfielder Ralph Kiner to the Chicago Cubs as part of a ten-player deal. They also sent three other players to Chicago, receiving six players and $150,000 back, which back then was a significant total. The Pirates ended up getting almost nothing from the six players they got, but didn’t lose much when Kiner hurt his back and his stats fell off quickly before retiring in 1955. What they gained was some payroll relief from Kiner’s salary, plus the ability to spend money on some young players over the next few years. While the return looked bad, it could have been much worse if Kiner remained a star.
Two of the players born on this date were significant players with the Pirates. Tony Pena caught for the Pirates from 1980 until 1986, then was traded to the Cardinals for a return that helped the Pirates to three straight NL East pennants. He was an All-Star and a Gold Glove winner for the Pirates, hitting .286 over 801 games with the team. Before the 1987 season, he was traded for Andy Van Slyke, Mike LaValliere and pitcher Mike Dunne, who had one strong season in Pittsburgh. Van Slyke and LaValliere played big roles during the 1990-92 playoff run.
Bob Klinger pitched for the Pirates from 1938 until 1943, then served in the military for two years before returning to baseball. He won 62 games with Pittsburgh and had a 3.74 ERA, splitting him time between roles, with 129 starts and 80 relief appearances.
Others born on this date include 1974-77 pitcher Larry Demery, 1914-15 pitcher Herb Kelly, and 1901 catcher George Yeager, who played for the first pennant winner in franchise history.
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.