First Pitch: Where the Pirates Could See Improvements in the 2014 Draft

Last night I wrote why I thought the Pittsburgh Pirates had a bad draft. A draft is something that can be constantly evaluated over multiple periods in time. The first evaluation obviously comes right after the draft, and is meant to give the first impression. However, that’s hardly set in stone. Things can change, players can see unexpected improvements or declines, or a player can just flat out prove his scouting reports wrong in either a good or bad manner.

I wrote briefly about this subject over the weekend, but here are some of the things the Pirates need to go right in order for this draft class to improve. Not all of these things need to go right, but every little bit helps, especially at the top of the draft.

Day One

Cole Tucker – It seems that the Pirates were higher on Tucker’s offense than other teams. There might have been a few teams that were equally high, as Neal Huntington said that a few teams picking after him confirmed that Tucker wouldn’t have made it to pick 39. That was the fear the Pirates had, and it was why they took him at 24. This could end up being a good pick if Tucker’s offensive improvements from the 2014 season are a sign of things to come.

Connor Joe – I actually like Joe better as a catching prospect. That’s where his bat profiles the best. The Pirates drafted him as a right fielder, and said he could get time at first base. He doesn’t project to have the bat to provide strong offensive value at either position. Huntington said on Sunday that they viewed Joe as one of the better college bats in the draft. If they’re right, and if he does develop more power, then this wouldn’t be a bad pick. Just like with Tucker, they seem to be higher on his offense.

Mitch Keller/Trey Supak – I grouped these two together because they are very similar. These are your typical projectable right-handers, and the Pirates have had success in this department. I like Keller better, and he might be my top prospect from the draft, narrowly edging out Tucker.

Day Two

I’m not going to go through every pick from here on out, but I’ll point out a few guys who could provide an impact.

Jordan Luplow – He hit well in 2014 after finally getting healthy. If he’s fine from a medical standpoint, then he might be a nice sleeper bat with some good offense.

Taylor Gushue – One of the big things the Pirates stressed about Tucker and Gushue is that they were younger than most in their class. The theory is that they’ve got an extra year to develop and mature. In Gushue’s case, that could lead to a nice catching prospect. The Pirates don’t really have a big need for catching prospects with Reese McGuire and Tony Sanchez, but it can’t hurt to have another.

Tyler Eppler – He’s a projectable college right-hander with a fastball that can reach 95. He needs to work on the secondary stuff. If he can improve the changeup, and add a good breaking pitch, he could turn into an interesting starting pitching prospect.

Day Three

The guys who could make a difference on day three are mostly the guys who have signability issues. The key thing for most of these guys will be actually signing them. Not all of them will sign, and if a guy has said he won’t sign, I didn’t include him here. The more guys that sign, the better it is for this draft.

Gage Hinsz – He might be the best pick on day three. He’s a 6′ 4″ prep pitcher who sits 90-93 MPH, and needs work on his secondary stuff. Just like Keller and Supak, this is an area where the Pirates have had success.

Tyler Filliben – He’s not a prep guy, but he is a college hitter who has some power potential and could end up at third base. He might not hit for average, but if his power translates over and he sticks at third, he could be an interesting hitting prospect.

Eric Thomas Jr. – A prep outfielder who is raw with his defense and hitting, but has a ton of speed, with 80 grades in the 60-yard dash. He’s more of a project, but is athletic and has speed, which are two things you can’t teach.

Zach Warren – He’s a lefty who works in the mid-to-upper 80s, and has some room to add velocity. Once again, this is an area where the Pirates have had success, and if they can have that success with a lefty, it would be even better.

Denis Karas – Karas is a prep hitter who profiles as a third baseman who could hit for power. He’s got a strong arm, but also a strong commitment to Cal.

Luis Paula – He’s a starter at UNC who sits 88-91 and touches 95. Just like Eppler in the sixth round, Paula could be a nice arm to add to the system, with the chance to develop into a starter.

Colin Welmon/Bryant Holtmann – These two are similar in that they’re both highly rated college pitchers who somehow fell beyond the 30th round. Welmon isn’t a hard thrower, and none of his pitches are plus offerings, but seems like a good all around pitcher. Holtmann probably fell due to a forearm injury, which came a few years after having Tommy John surgery. He sits 89-92, topping out at 94 when healthy.

Links and Notes

**SALEGet 24% Off the 2014 Prospect Guide and Other Pirates Prospects Gear

**Prospect Watch: Vance Worley Does it All, Homers From Allie and Ramirez

**Minor League Schedule: John Kuchno Has Been a Ground Ball Machine This Year

**Gerrit Cole Placed on the DL, Jeff Locke Recalled

**Updates on Gerrit Cole’s DL Placement

**DSL Pirates Report: First Week Pitching Woes Overshadow Strong Offense

**Prospect Highlights: First Look at Four More New Pirates Draft Picks

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.

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Larry Smith
Lee Young

Interesting article on all of the seniors that were taken.


I don’t buy some of the revisionist optimism and I am the most revisionistic optimist I know. Connor Joe isn’t the next Barry Bonds and they sure don’t seem to see him as a catcher.n And those “projectable arms” are all just 2013 Adrian Sampson’s until they become 2014 Adrian Sampsons.

THAT SAID… if the Pirates end up signing most of their picks, including all of the high potential picks, that saves this draft for me. Bristol gives them a lot of slots for domestic players. If they sign 10 more players than usual, again, including the tough signs, that’s 10 prospects in Bristol as opposed to 10 22 year olds cut from other orbs (or ours)


I don’t think I saw anyone saying Connor Joe was the ” next Barry Bonds “. Is it my reading comprehension going bad,or maybe your’s ?


Since Bonds leads MLB history in HR I’d say the odds of Connor Joe being the next Barry Bonds would be between slim and none. Those same odds would apply to every other kid in the draft as well. But I wasn’t making the point that Joe is the next Bonds. I was asking the question about whether his swing is something special, using Bonds as an example of a special swing.


If you analyze this draft it looks like the Pirates have several very good shots at major league caliber players. The more I look at this draft the more I see the Pirates way of thinking, it is hard to follow their thinking because it is usually different than media or fans and usually takes a while to digest, much like a trade they might make.


The right way to evaluate Cole Tucker is to project where he would be ranked in next year’s draft. If it is in the top 10 places then the Pirates made an excellent strategic move which upgraded their #24 position to a top 10 position. This is what teams that consistently win have to do in order to not degrade the roster over time due to lower drafting position that results from winning. You guys ought to be writing articles about the Pirates brilliant, though risky, strategy to maintain the stream of highest quality of talent into the organization.

If the Pirates’ scouts see Connor Joe as a MLB middle of the order hitter there must be something about his stroke (bat speed, short stroke, etc.) that they really like. When Barry Bonds was really young baseball people in the know. like Jim Leyland, said well before there was any significant evidence of it, that he would hit for tremendous power someday. It was because of his short quick stroke depending on his wrists to generate bat speed. Of course eventually the power surfaced (even before the steroid era). How about obtaining some details for us about exactly what the Pirates like about Connor Joe’s swing that convinced them to pick him so highly, instead of just being depressed about the selection?


From the videos of Joe I have seen piraddict,I can see why they like that swing ! No un-necessary movement in his head and hands that I could see,and quick bat movement through the zone


Thanks Leo!

R Edwards

I assume Tyler Brown won’t sign? If so, big loss….


Tim, have you had a chance to figure out where Tucker fits in the prospect rankings? Does he break the top 12 at least?


moose: IMO, I doubt that he fits the Top 20, and would probably be between No. 25 and No. 30 coming in. After a year or 2 of positive results, he could make it into the Top 20.


You may be underrating him a little bit. He’s at least top 20, that’s including Holmes and Taillon. Although I do have a hard time thinking of him in the top 15


You’re crazy if you don’t think Tucker will be a top 15 prospect for the Pirates – not in a year or two, but today.


Tim, I
heard NH talk about how much the organization liked their draft. I AGREE with the
comment that you wrote the other day, “The only scouting report that the
Pirates care about is the reports of their scouts”. It is obvious, that
the Pirates believe that they have in place, a codified, “methodology for
player procurement. You would think that other teams also have a system of
player evaluation in place (I am sure that they do) but, the Pirates probably
think that THEY are on the cutting edges of the evolution of 21st century
baseball. This may sound like organizational conceit (hopefully a healthy
conceit), but if you look at Money Ball, defensive shifts now becoming standard
in the game, the signing of young players to “donut hole” contracts
that buy out their most productive years, the evaluation and the procurement of
players maybe the NEXT phase of the evolution of the game. For example weight
training used to be taboo in baseball because of flexibility concerns. Now it
is standard practice. I heard an old-time baseball hall of famer during an
interview compare the modern day player to HIS era of players. He said,
“fundamentally, we were more sound as players…but if an All Star team of
my era faced TODAY’S All Star team, they would beat us 18 to 5″. The
difference is of course, the training. Beyond just the use of Saber metrics, I
would not be surprised at all, if the Pirates are using psych tests like
Wunderlic to map potential draft picks to historical achievers in the game.
Besides just using their eyes to evaluate a player, the Pirates are probably
also using hi-tech physical data research, just the NFL does in it’s player
evaluations. For example, the Steelers know EXACTLY what kind of size, speed,
physical prowess and intelligent ratio that a linebacker has to possess in
order to be successful in their scheme. They can literally MAP a player’s
profile to their historical data and get a probability quotient of success or failure for a
player…whether to acquire that player or to pass on him. I believe that is
the direction that the Pirates are going. In the end, this approach may fall victim
to the folly of ” thinking that you’re smarter than everybody else”.
Time will tell. I am sure that everybody thought the same things about Billy


I think there is enough talent from the first two days, and if they can sign Warren, Hinsz, Karas, Paula, and Thomas out of the 3rd day it will be more than enough to work with.


BTW, I know the interest is in guys coming from the draft into the system, but one of the guys from the top of the minors system at AAA had an excellent game yesterday for the mother ship. Jeff Locke went 7 innings with only 3 H, 5K/1W against a very strong Brewer lineup. Watching the game, I think it was Bob Walk who called it the best pitched game he has seen out of the Pirates in 2014. Brandon Cumpton has made a spot for himself in the Rotation and I think Locke did the same yesterday. I would not be surprised to see the Pirates going into August with Cole, Morton, Volquez, Cumpton and Locke.


Tim the thing that stands out to me is other teams had signed deals 5 minutes after the draft. Brewers are one example. Do you make anything of the fact that the bucs
have not announced anybody yet? It just makes me wonder if the FO is further behind in getting these guys on the field. Things have dragged on in some cases.

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