Draft Prospect Watch: Virginia Is The Team To Watch This Year

Friday was the day for most of the best pitchers in the nation to get their work, though two of the biggest names didn’t go until Saturday. Today we take a look at some more of the best college hitters and how they fared during the weekend, plus update some former Pirates picks. The 2014 draft begins on June 5th. The Pittsburgh Pirates have the 24th pick in the first round this year.  For more information on the top players in this draft class, check out our four-part draft preview.  2014-Draft

With the Pirates picking late in the first round this year, it’s hard to focus on a small group of players like in the past. It also makes the later picks more important, especially when they pick 65th overall in the second round and then nine picks later with their competitive balance pick. That makes Virginia one of the best teams to watch this season. They have Derek Fisher, an outfielder that looks like a late first round pick. They have Mike Papi, a big bat at first base, who is making some noise this year. They have Nick Howard, who has been playing DH and pitching in relief. Then there is center fielder Brandon Downes and second baseman Branden Cogswell. That gives them five players that could all be taken in the first five rounds, and that is probably a conservative estimate, although the latter two have been struggling early. Below you will find the triple slash lines for all five players through 14 games, as well as the pitching stats for Howard.

Fisher: .333/.393/.451 in 51 at-bats

Papi: .347/.484/.571 in 49 at-bats

Downes: .235/.361/.471 in 51 at-bats

Cogswell: .216/.333/.255 in 51 at-bats

Howard: .308/.333/.423 in 26 at bats – 2.25 ERA, four saves, 12 strikeouts in 8 IP

Third baseman Taylor Sparks from UC-Irvine had a rough start to the season, both at the plate and in the field, but he has come around lately. On Saturday, he went 2-for-4 with two singles, then had a big game on Sunday against Gonzaga. He went 3-for-4 with two doubles, a triple and four RBIs. Sparks had a mid-week game this week in which he went 1-for-2 with a walk and sacrifice fly.

South Carolina has two highly rated players in this draft, catcher Grayson Greiner and 3B/LF Joey Pankake. Pankake can also play both middle infield spots. They played a weekend series against Brown and South Carolina’s pitching really looked good, completely shutting down Brown over three games. In game one, Greiner went 3-for-4 with three runs scored and an RBI. Pankake was 2-for-5 with a double, walk and RBI. Game two saw Greiner go 2-for-4 with a double and two runs scored, while Pankake was 1-for-2 with a run scored. On Sunday, Greiner ended his week with an 0-for-3, walk and run scored. He caught all three games. Pankake tweaked his hamstring in the middle of Saturday’s game and left early. He took off Sunday and will likely miss South Carolina’s mid-week game. With three wins, South Carolina improved their record to 15-0.

Reliever Nick Burdi from Louisville got in an inning of work during Sunday’s 10-0 win. Burdi is the best reliever in this draft due to his fastball, which hits 100 MPH consistently. In his only inning of work this weekend, he struck out three batters, but also allowed two base hits. In five scoreless innings, he’s allowed three hits, two walks and has racked up nine strikeouts.

San Diego State’s Michael Cederoth is also one of the highest rated relievers in this draft, but that is only because he has a chance to be a starter at the next level. In 13.1 innings this year prior to Sunday, Cederoth has 16 strikeouts and an .098 BAA. His weak point has been his control, eight walks, which is the reason he was moved to the bullpen. On Sunday, he picked up his sixth save by throwing a scoreless ninth against Nevada. He gave up one walk and struck out one.

Catching Up With Former Picks

Pepperdine’s Aaron Brown has been making a name for himself this year with his hitting and pitching. On Sunday, the 2011 pick of the Pirates, threw eight shutout innings, allowing two hits, no walks and he struck out seven batters. At the plate, he went 3-for-4 with a run scored. Brown plays center field when he isn’t pitching. He is 22-for-61 with three homers and 15 RBIs. His teammate Jackson McClelland was drafted by the Pirates in 2012. He pitched Saturday night  and gave up three runs on eight hits and two walks in 4.2 innings. In four starts, he is 2-1, 4.64 in 21.1 innings.

Miami’s Dale Carey is trying to make his senior year count after going undrafted last year as a junior. In 15 games, he is hitting .285/.385/.536 with three homers and four stolen bases.

Jo-El Bennett, the 11th round pick of the Pirates in 2011, looked like he might be breaking out finally at Troy. In the first week of the season, he had a three home run game and drove in six runs. Now it looks like that one game may have just been a fluke for the toolsy, raw outfielder. In his other 13 games this season, he has no homers and just one RBI.

Connor Goedert is beginning to look like the one that got away in the 2013 draft class. At Neosho County Community College in 18 games this year, he is hitting .534 with seven homers and a 1.052 slugging percentage. He is the younger brother of Jared Goedert(third baseman for Indianapolis in 2013). Connor was drafted in the 34th round.

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.

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