The 2022 MLB Draft begins on Sunday, with the Pittsburgh Pirates selecting fourth overall.
John Dreker has a draft primer, and we’ve got a Prospect Roundtable looking at what the Pirates should do with their draft strategy.
Before the new players enter the system, I wanted to recap where the Pirates stand with their previous drafts.
The Pirates made a huge splash in 2021, maximizing the first overall pick and the biggest bonus pool to land several first round talents.
The Pirates took Henry Davis, addressing their catching need, and saving about $2 million for their bonus pool to load up on prep players later. Davis shows a lot of power, but has been very raw defensively. I wouldn’t rule him out behind the plate, but he’s shown so far that we can’t just stare in awe at the home runs and expect him to magically appear behind the plate at PNC Park one day. Davis has missed time twice with a wrist injury this year. He gets hit by a lot of pitches at the plate, and plays the most wear and tear position. The hope is that Davis can catch in Pittsburgh. I think the bat will be good enough to at least handle a corner spot if that doesn’t work out.
The entire draft strategy surrounded the prep picks in the middle rounds. Anthony Solometo (2nd round), Lonnie White Jr. (Comp B), Bubba Chandler (3rd), Owen Kellington (4th), and Braylon Bishop (14th), all received over-slot bonuses. That group has been fun to follow in the lowest levels this year, boosting the future of this system.
The biggest standout on the college side has been Tyler Samaniego (15th), who has already reached Double-A, maintaining solid numbers in the late innings out of the bullpen. Samaniego could be the first player from this draft class to reach Pittsburgh at this rate. Justin Meis (10th) has shown some promise in the A-ball rotations. Wyatt Hendrie (7th) excels behind the plate defensively, but hasn’t shown much of a bat.
This draft really built up the lower levels, which will pay dividends long-term. The addition of Henry Davis will help the Pirates in the short-term, especially if he can stick behind the plate without being a liability. The Pirates could also get some depth from this draft, with Samaniego looking like the first candidate. The value of this draft will be felt long-term by those prep players, with the immediate impact coming from Davis.
The 2020 draft was shortened to five rounds, due to the pandemic. It was also the first draft under Cherington.
Nick Gonzales was the first pick by Cherington, taken seventh overall. At the time, Gonzales was praised for his pure hitting abilities. That hasn’t played out in pro ball so far, outside of the hitter friendly home park in Greensboro. The Pirates have a long-term hole at second base, and Gonzales is still a top candidate for that position. He has lost ground this year, and is currently injured. He still has the upside of an average starter, with a chance to be more. The problem he faces is that the Pirates have other players around him who are further along in their development to that same upside.
Carmen Mlodzinski (Comp A) was basically a first rounder, taken 31st overall. He has struggled in Altoona as a starter, and profiles best as a reliever who can cover multiple innings in the majors. The Pirates took three other college pitchers in the third through fifth rounds, landing Nick Garcia, Jack Hartman, and Logan Hofmann, respectively. Garcia has shown the most promise, working as a starter in Greensboro this year.
The highest upside player from this draft is Jared Jones, taken in the second round and given an over-slot $2.2 million. Jones has a fastball that can sit upper 90s, along with a plus slider. At the least, he could be a power reliever who could impact the late innings. The Pirates are trying to develop him into a starter, where control has been his biggest issue in High-A.
The Pirates only have six picks, but could easily see multiple MLB players from this draft. At this point, I wouldn’t rule any player out. What you want to see are starters. Gonzales can get there, though he’s shown flaws that need to be addressed. Jones has the highest upside, but you’re less likely to get your heart broken if you envision him as a future power reliever. At this point, I see an average starter, a power reliever, a middle reliever, and depth options — with the hope that Gonzales or Jones can emerge to provide more impact.
I think it’s important to remember that the amateur scouting department in place now is largely the one that was in place prior to Cherington taking over as the General Manager. I previously featured the current amateur scouting department, and the prospects each scout was responsible for heading into the 2022 season.
I thought it would be worth taking a look at the pre-2020 players, since the amateur scouting department is going to be on display on Sunday through Tuesday.
Quinn Priester was the final first rounder under former General Manager Neal Huntington. Like a lot of 2019 picks, Priester has seen limited playing time due to the pandemic. He missed time this year with an oblique injury, as has only made four starts in Altoona as of this writing. Those have gone well, with a 2.81 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 16 innings. The Pirates could see Priester in the majors next year, possibly with a preview by the end of 2022.
Travis Swaggerty was the tenth overall pick in 2018, and made his brief MLB debut with the Pirates this year. He’s been working on learning the corner outfield spots, which he discussed with Ryan Palencer. Swaggerty has a .270/.338/.447 line in 238 plate appearances in Triple-A this year. His offense has been down since returning from the big leagues, with more power, a lower walk rate, and a lower average. He should get a longer look in the majors at some point — probably when he starts getting comfortable with the development work he’s been doing since going down.
I’m not sure we’re allowed to talk about Shane Baz, but it’s a credit to the scouting department that they took him 12th overall in 2017. Of course, the same department took Will Craig 22nd overall in 2016. A big problem in the past wasn’t scouting, but player development. I think we saw with Craig that the old development system left some players ill-prepared for the big leagues. Meanwhile, if the Pirates kept Baz, I don’t think his path would be much different, as he was in Single-A in the Rays system when the Pirates made their front office changes.
The draft is about adding talent. From there, it’s up to the player development system to maximize the talent. I think that this new group will have their best chance at results from the 2018-2019 draft classes.
Matt Gorski (2019, 2nd round) had a strong season at the plate between Greensboro and Altoona, before going on the 60-day IL. Gorski could challenge Swaggerty eventually for one of the outfield roles in Pittsburgh. Altoona features a lot of the 2019 draft class at this point, with Jared Triolo (Comp B), Matt Fraizer (3rd), J.C. Flowers (4th), Blake Sabol (7th), Aaron Shackelford (14th), and Andres Alvarez (22nd) have shown big league potential. Trey McGough (24th) is a left-handed reliever currently in Triple-A.
On the prep side of the 2019 draft, Sammy Siani (Comp A) shows the most potential to reach the majors, currently playing in High-A. Jase Bowen (11th) looks like he can at least reach Double-A due to his versatility and contact skills. Jasiah Dixon (23rd) and Deion Walker (35th) were both raw skilled players, and are both still developing in Bradenton.
The remaining 2018 college picks beyond Swaggerty are mostly 35-40 grade players, looking to crack the majors and stay. Lefty pitcher Cam Alldred (2018, 24th) reached the majors this year. Aaron Shortridge (4th) is returning from Tommy John, and has the best shot of the remaining group. Colin Selby (16th) is also returning from Tommy John and could reach the majors.
The highlight of the 2018 draft class has been Mike Burrows (11th). Between these two drafts, Burrows may have the highest upside at this point, edging out Priester. He could make his MLB debut this year, joining the rotation long-term next year. The other big prep pitcher signed this year was Braxton Ashcraft (2nd), who went down with Tommy John last August, and could still have an MLB future when he returns. The Pirates also drafted Gunnar Hoglund with their Competitive Balance A pick. He went unsigned, went in the first round last year to Toronto, and is currently recovering from Tommy John.
These two drafts could yield two of five starters in a contending rotation, along with a starting outfielder and some MLB depth.
THIS WEEKEND ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
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.