In our draft rankings earlier in the week, we wrote about how this was a talented draft class. It looked like the Pirates could get some impressive talent in the first round, landing someone who would have ranked higher than 24th overall in previous drafts. They might even have had a chance to land a first round talent in the second round.
What they ended up doing was drafting Cole Tucker with their first pick, and Connor Joe with the second pick. There’s nothing wrong with these two players. We had both in our top 100, and they would have been good picks in the second round. That’s the issue here. The Pirates didn’t get good value with their most valuable picks. They got some nice value with their second round picks, taking two projectable prep pitchers, but that didn’t make up for the drop in value in the first round.
After the dust settled with this draft, I started looking around at what other teams did, and noticed who the Milwaukee Brewers had drafted. They reached a bit with their first round pick, taking Kodi Medeiros with the 12th overall pick. Baseball America had him 32nd, MLB had him 29th, Keith Law had him 46th, and Scout.com had him 35th. There wasn’t a consensus on him, but there was a consensus that his best ranking was the back of the first round.
They will save some money with this move, and they’ve already put that to good use. Two picks after the Pirates took Connor Joe, the Brewers drafted Jacob Gatewood. That would have been my pick for the Pirates in the first round. We averaged all four rankings mentioned above, and Gatewood ranked 25th overall in the average rankings.
Then Milwaukee took Monte Harrison nine picks later in the second round. That would have been my backup pick in the first round, as you can see here before the first pick was made. Harrison ranked one behind Gatewood, coming in at 26th overall.
The Brewers essentially traded down in the first round to trade up with their next two picks. They had the 12th, 41st, and 50th picks, and got players ranked 25th, 26th, and 32nd in the average rankings. In other words, they traded a mid-first round pick and two early second round picks for three late first round picks. That’s a good trade-off. And they’ve already signed Gatewood and Harrison, going a little over a million over-slot to sign them both.
The Pirates didn’t get the same trade-off. As I said, they got some talented players in round two, but those players were drafted at their appropriate spots. Mitch Keller, who looks like at least the second best player in this draft, if not the best, went 64th overall. The average rankings had him 69th. Trey Supak went 73rd, while the average rankings had him at 82nd.
The Brewers traded down, and used the savings to get two guys at a great value with their Competitive Balance and second round picks. The Pirates reached, and in turn they got guys who were drafted right where they should have been drafted. There was no benefit on the other side like Milwaukee received.
On day two, the Pirates went almost exclusively with college players, and not many of those guys had big upsides. They definitely didn’t make up for the reaches in day one. On day three they took a few guys who have high upsides, and who might help to make up for the value loss. But none of these guys are close to first rounders. Instead, they were guys who were ranked around rounds 6-10 from a talent perspective.
If there’s a flaw in this logic, it’s that I’m using rankings of web sites to establish value, while the only rankings that matter to the Pirates are the ones developed from their scouts. The average rankings do have value. This isn’t the opinion of one person. This comes from everyone at Baseball America, plus Keith Law, Jonathan Mayo, Jim Callis, and Kiley McDaniel. That’s a lot of people with a lot of connections to the amateur scene, and when you combine their rankings, they say that the Pirates didn’t get appropriate value with their first two picks.
This would all be different if the Pirates had a track record that said they knew better than the above sources. They have displayed this, but it’s more on the pitching side. Their best picks after the 10th round have been pitchers — Casey Sadler and Phil Irwin. Their biggest breakout from the high school ranks has been a pitcher, Tyler Glasnow. The biggest sleeper from the college ranks has been Brandon Cumpton, who was a ninth round pick with no hype. Not every pitcher works out (SEE: 2009 prep pitchers), but the success from this group has been strong.
That’s why the Pirates reaching in the first round is concerning. They reached for two hitters, who they liked much more than everyone else. And their track record in this case isn’t favorable. Consider the makeup of their top 50 prospects heading into the season.
Pitchers – 27
Pitchers via Draft – 19
Pitchers via International – 4
Pitchers via Trade – 3
Pitchers via Other – 1
Hitters – 23
Hitters via Draft – 12
Hitters via International – 9
Hitters via Trade – 2
The number for the hitters seems decent from the draft, but when you consider those hitters, you see that the Pirates aren’t exactly displaying a track record of finding sleepers. First or second round picks like Austin Meadows, Reese McGuire, Josh Bell, Tony Sanchez, Barrett Barnes, Wyatt Mathisen, and Stetson Allie (who was drafted as a pitcher) dominate the list. The only example of a guy taken as a reach was Sanchez, who doesn’t exactly display the Pirates’ ability to find sleeper hitters.
There isn’t a Tyler Glasnow in this group. There’s no Nick Kingham. There’s not a Brandon Cumpton or a Casey Sadler.
The Pirates entered the season with the best farm system in baseball. They didn’t just do this because they had high draft picks. They did this because they managed to find sleepers beyond just the first few rounds of the MLB draft. There was also a specific way they were doing this. They were very successful finding pitching talent in the draft, and extremely successful finding hitting talent on the international side.
If the Pirates had reached on two lower ranked pitchers with the first two picks, I’d defer to their rankings and judgement here. I’d probably give the draft a better grade than they’d get from the outlets that had those pitchers ranked lower. And that’s because the Pirates seem to know what they’re doing with pitchers. They just don’t have that same track record with hitters.
I didn’t have much time the last few days to look at the comments. I scanned through between rounds, and some of what I saw was the typical draft clichés.
“Maybe it will work out.”
“The draft is unpredictable.”
“Anything can happen.”
Two things about these types of comments. The first thing is that they’re absolutely right. The Pirates could be correct here. They could know something about these picks that makes them good selections in the first round. These could be the first hitters who display an ability for the Pirates to find sleepers, and go against the industry grain. I’m not saying that these guys are doomed to fail. Like I said, they’re good talents, just not appropriate value for the first round. It’s always possible that they might end up being really good value picks. That’s the beauty of the draft.
But here’s the other thing about those draft clichés. You never hear “maybe it will work out” or “anything can happen” when talking about a good pick.
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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.