It’s really easy to get excited about Pittsburgh Pirates first overall pick, LSU right-hander Paul Skenes. I wrote in detail on Monday what makes him such an elite talent, and a rare find in the draft.
The cost of drafting a top-end talent like Skenes, at least for fans, is that those middle rounds don’t seem as exciting. In previous years, the over-slot prep players in the middle rounds were one of the biggest draws of the draft, simply because there was no one like Skenes at the top.
This year, with an elite talent secured in the first round, the Pirates leaned on their scouting department for the rest of the top ten rounds.
“You’re getting a collection and a general sense of a lot of traits that are important to the organization,” said Pirates scouting director Joe DelliCarri. “We believe this this collection or group definitely has some unique opportunities in some different areas to take advantage of growth and big gaps and growth that we think we can tap into with our coaches and player development.”
The Pirates know these players better than anyone at this point. They’ve been scouting them for years, spending time with them on, around, and off the field. Let’s take a look at who the Pirates have added in the draft, in rounds 2-10, after Paul Skenes.
Second Round: Mitch Jebb
On day one, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected infielder Mitch Jebb with their second round pick. DelliCarri described Jebb as a “high energy young man” who is a knowledgable hitter in tune with his movements and tendencies.
“Well-versed college hitter that very much knows how he hits, likes how he hits,” said DelliCarri. “At the same time is wide open and knowing some of the things that he can still get to. Really impressive young man in terms of knowing and what he needs to do and what he’s done to this point in time.”
What stands out about the Michigan State shortstop is the hit tool. He had an incredible 88% contact rate in 2023.
“High contact, swing decisions, delivers the barrel consistently, may have a little old time look to how he does it, but make no mistake, he knows very well what he’s doing,” said DelliCarri. “He knows his swing well. And he knows there’s opportunities ahead of him of some areas that he can still build upon.”
Competitive Balance Pick: Zander Mueth
In a normal year, where the Pirates don’t get the best prospect in the draft, we’re all looking to these middle rounds for upside. That’s usually found in the form of prep players who can develop rapidly inside the system. The Pirates took one of those players in the first ten rounds, adding Belleville Township East High right-hander, Zander Mueth.
“Really likeable young man,” said DelliCarri. “Knows what he’s done to this point, even as a high school kid. Knows some of the areas, self-shared of what he wants to get better at, and has growth mindset to it.”
DelliCarri shared that Mueth is a good athlete with a fast arm, who gets unique looks from a low arm slot.
“Legitimate movement in the fastball at times, with the combination of slider,” said DelliCarri. “And then the changeup is good for a young pitcher as well.”
Third Round: Garrett Forrester
With their first pick on day two of the 2023 MLB Draft, the Pirates added Oregon State third baseman Garrett Forrester. Like their second round pick, Forrester stands out for his contact skills.
“He does have very, very good swing decisions coming into this thing,” said DelliCarri. “Coming into professional baseball, he’s been around it a long time and how he sees, he sees well. He’s a high contact hitter that does hit the ball hard.”
Forrester is a third baseman with a stocky body who doesn’t profile to stick at the position. He also doesn’t profile to have the power to excel at first base. Advancements in the defense or with the power would increase his chances of reaching the majors.
“I think there’s an opportunity to get even more out of Garrett,” said DelliCarri. “Sitting down with Garrett in Phoenix, clearly there’s an understanding of what he does and how he does it. And I think there’s some alignment here with our player development and coaches, that we can definitely help Garrett and continue what he’s done there at Oregon State.”
Fourth Round: Carlson Reed
In the fourth round, the Pirates added West Virginia right-handed pitcher Carlson Reed. As a reliever this year, Reed had a 2.61 ERA in 38 innings, with a 60:25 K/BB ratio. The control is poor, but he’s got the makings of three above-average or better pitches.
“There’s an opportunity to tap into athleticism, arm speed, how he has taken and adapted to some things in terms of aptitude, what he’s been given so far,” said DelliCarri. “We think we can do some things with all of his pitches — fastball and then two breaking balls.”
Carlson has long arm action, which can make his stuff difficult to control. He profiles as a reliever in the long-term, but could get a chance to start in order to continue maximizing on his opportunities to develop.
“He’s done extremely well to this point in time [with] a lot of strikeouts in the opportunities he’s been given in the innings and the appearances that he’s been given,” said DelliCarri. “So he’s off to a great start with what he’s done in his college career. But we think there’s even more here.”
Rounds 5-8: The SEC Pitchers
The Pirates took four pitchers out of the SEC ranks with the next four picks.
Fifth rounder Patrick Reilly, a right-hander from Vanderbilt, had a 5.77 ERA in 48.1 innings of work. He struck out 65 and walked 30.
In the sixth round, the Pirates took Hunter Furtado, a lefty out of Alabama. Furtado had a 4.75 ERA in 36 innings, with a 38:17 K/BB.
Jaden Woods gave the Pirates another lefty in the seventh round. Drafted out of Georgia, he had a 5.77 ERA in 48.1 innings, with a 62:25 K/BB.
Finally, Austin Strickland gave the Pirates a right-hander from Kentucky in the eighth round. Strickland had a 5.04 ERA in 55.1 innings, with a 58:20 K/BB.
All of these guys have poor numbers in a difficult conference, and all worked as relievers. The 2020 draft was shortened, which sent an inordinate amount of talent to college. This is the first year that group of 2020 prep players would be available again for the draft, had they gone to one of these SEC schools.
“I think if you probably looked across the industry and the draft for the first 10 rounds, there are a lot of good arms that come out of that conference, as well as a lot of other power conferences,” said Pirates assistant General Manager Steve Sanders. “There are only so many guys that can start on some of those better pitching staffs.”
If there was additional talent that went to these schools, it would work from the top down. The best would still start, however, some guys who would have otherwise been starters would get moved to the bullpen. Some guys who would have been standout relievers end up moving down and getting less development time. In each case above, the Pirates seemed to have drafted the skills, rather than the roles and numbers.
“A lot of those [power conferences] do have some some pretty impressive arm talent up and down the roster,” said Sanders. “We were fortunate to grab a few of them today.”
Scouting Preferences: Adversity
You’ll notice a trend above, especially with those SEC pitchers: Struggle.
If a player was putting up monster numbers, with nothing obvious to work on with their game, they would go in the first round. The players in rounds 2-10 all have obvious reasons why they went in rounds 2-10. High ERAs. Poor control. Low power. Not all of them had success at their previous levels, but the struggle isn’t an issue for the Pirates.
“We like to see adversity, and we’d like to see some ups and downs,” said DelliCarri.
Some leagues offer hitters the challenge of facing 90-plus every single night. The SEC lineups certainly would offer a challenge for pitchers in nearly every at-bat.
“We get a chance to talk to them about it, we get a chance to see their aptitude and how they make changes from week to week,” said DelliCarri. “That’s a big part of the look-see, if I could share, of what we value. See how they come through different things, and get a chance to talk to them about how they view things. That’s complete insight into how they might face some challenges as they go forward as part of it.”
This approach makes a lot of sense. All of these players will struggle in pro ball, regardless of whether they turn into a “prospect” or not. Knowing how they face struggles ahead of time and knowing they have the tools to succeed might be all you need to know if you trust your development group.
Signability For Day Three?
With their final two picks on day two, the Pirates added a pair of college seniors.
Danny Carrion, a right-handed pitcher from UC Davis, had a 2.45 ERA in 29.1 innings of relief this past year. He also pitched in the Cape Cod League, making six appearances as a late inning reliever. He had a 3.72 ERA in 9.2 innings, with a 16:6 K/BB ratio.
Landon Tomkins, a right-handed pitcher from Louisiana Tech, made 30 appearances and six starts, posting a 3.52 ERA in 76.2 innings. He struck out 75 and walked 34. He also pitched in the prospect league last summer, showing better control.
In each of these cases, the Pirates will no doubt save money for an over-slot guy. With plenty of money at the first overall slot to sign Paul Skenes, the only seemingly over-slot guy among this draft class is prep right-hander Zander Mueth.
Does this point to a potential over-slot addition on day three? We’ll find out when the draft concludes this afternoon. Follow along at PiratesProspects.com.
My column yesterday was on the selection of Paul Skenes.
Here are all of the day two picks:
Missed yesterday? Pirates Prospects Daily: Where Do The New Draft Picks Fit in the System?
We’re scaling back this week with the draft. Check out yesterday’s minor league action in the Prospect Watch.
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Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.