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Thursday, December 1, 2022

Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Draft Preview: A Class Loaded With College Pitching

We saved the best for last for the 2015 draft preview. While going through early draft rankings, there are 14 college pitchers that got rated as first round picks and another seven that got mentioned in the top 50, easily making it the best class of picks in this draft. We started the preview earlier this week with high school hitters, then moved on to prep pitchers on Tuesday and college hitters yesterday. None of those groups are considered strong, but the college pitchers make it a decent draft class. The Pittsburgh Pirates have the 19th and 32nd overall picks when the draft begins on June 8th.

I broke these players up into two groups because there are five pitchers with a strong chance of going in the top ten picks. Individually, there isn’t much chance they drop to the Pirates, but as a group there is a good shot that one of them will be available when the Pirates make their first pick. I’ll keep these guys brief, but we will follow them closely until it looks like they have no chance of dropping out of the top ten.

Duke right-handed pitcher Michael Matuella usually gets the nod as the best pitcher due to his plus fastball/curve combo. He has has a slider and change that are both at least average, with strong control. When Matuella isn’t listed as the top pitcher, it’s because Brady Aiken is first. He was drafted first overall by the Astros last year and didn’t sign. He hasn’t decided where to play yet this year, but he should be one of the first picks off the board again.

Walker Buehler - Photo Credit: Vanderbilt University
Walker Buehler – Photo Credit: Vanderbilt University

Just below those two are Vanderbilt righty Walker Buehler, Virginia lefty Nathan Kirby and and Louisville righty Kyle Funkhouser. Buehler was drafted by the Pirates in 2012, but his asking price was out of the Pirates range due to the bonus pool restrictions. Prior to 2012, they likely would have spent they money to sign him since his asking price wasn’t ridiculous, but it’s also possible Buehler wouldn’t have dropped as far as he did. There is something to watch early with Buehler, who will miss his first start due to elbow soreness. They said it is a minor setback, but he will need to show he’s healthy now. Kirby got plenty of mentions last year as a possible first overall pick this year after he had some huge games during the regular season. He’s got a strong three-pitch mix and good control of all three pitches. Funkhouser ranks just below Kirby, but he hits 96 MPH and has a big frame, plus two strong secondary pitches.

Leading off the group of more realistic options for the Pirates, we start with another Vanderbilt pitcher, right-hander Carson Fulmer. He’s a hard-thrower, with a plus curve, who will probably scare some teams off due to his size and high-effort delivery. Fulmer is 5’11”, 195 pounds and doesn’t always have the best control, so some scouts feel he might be better suited for the closing role he had prior to 2014. He is a dominating pitcher though, so it will be interesting to see where he goes, as it’s unlikely a team picks him early if they think his upside is as a reliever.

Righty Phil Bickford transferred so he would be eligible for this draft. Like Aiken, he was also taken in the first round(10th overall in 2013 to the Blue Jays) and didn’t sign. Bickford attended Cal State Fullerton, where he had good results as a freshman, but the scouting reports weren’t always the best. He pitched well in summer ball and decided to transfer to Southern Nevada, a community college, which makes his eligible a year earlier. Bickford throws hard and has a decent slider/change combo, plus solid control. He probably won’t go as high as he did in 2013, but he could be a strong option for the Pirates if he is still around. Bickford made his first start on Saturday and looked good early, but the game ended rough.

Cal Poly Pomona righty Cody Ponce is an intriguing arm due to his size. At 6’5″, 235 pounds, he is an imposing figure on the mound. He doesn’t quite have the stuff of any of the previous mentioned players, but he’s a workhorse that can sit low-90’s with his fastball. His secondary pitches and control are all average at best now. We covered Ponce(with video) earlier in the off-season, after he was ranked 20th overall by MLB.com when the Pirates still had the 20th pick.

Kentucky righty Kyle Cody is even bigger than Ponce at 6’7″, 245 pounds. He is a player that has jumped a lot in the rankings since his sophomore season ended. In the Cape Cod League, he was throwing harder than anyone else, which helped get him named the second best prospect in the league. He missed three weeks with an injury last year and was limited to 38 innings. He doesn’t have the best secondary stuff or command yet, so there are some questions as to whether he will stick as a starter. With that frame though, a team is probably going to give him every chance before they send him to the bullpen. He could catch the Pirates eye due to his size and the fact he throws effectively on a downhill plane already, something they look for in pitchers.

Riley Ferrell will be interesting to follow this year because he was a dominating closer in 2014 and now the TCU righty is switching to the starting role. If he can perform well in the new role, he could shoot up the draft boards, but he doesn’t have much of a third pitch(below-average change) and his size at 6’1″, 200 pounds brings up questions of durability due to some high-effort in his delivery. Ferrell will get a chance to show if he can handle the extra workload and still be as effective when he sees a lineup more than once a game. He throws hard and has a hard-breaking slider.

James Kaprielian doesn’t have huge upside, but his floor is much higher than most players on this list because he has a strong four-pitch mix, good control, durability and he’s a smart pitcher. The 6’4″, 200 pound righty from UCLA doesn’t throw as hard as most top picks, sitting 90-91 MPH, but he does it with command. Baseball America has a great recap for one of his starts from back in July when he was pitching for the USA College National Team. Besides the scouting report, Kaprielian noted that he wanted to add weight to help fill out frame.

Jake Lemoine is a 6’5″ righty out of Houston, who could move up the charts if he becomes a more consistent pitcher. Right now, he has a fastball that hits 97 MPH, with a decent slider/change combo and the size/build to be a workhorse type starter. He doesn’t have the best command, but his delivery doesn’t have a lot of effort to it, so that could be something he can fix with repetition. In two years of college, he has just 132 strikeouts in 176.1 innings. Despite that low total, scouts see potential to be a strikeout pitcher.

UC Santa Barbara righty Dillon Tate is a hard-throwing reliever with a high-effort delivery, meaning that his role will likely remain a reliever in the pros. He’s rated 30th overall by MLB.com and 33rd by Baseball America, which puts him right in the range of the Pirates second pick. Some scouts think he could start because he’s athletic and I don’t think the Pirates would take him with their second pick unless they believed he had a chance to start. He hits 98 MPH with his fastball and has a devastating hard slider. Tate is listed at 6’2″, 185 pounds, but in a recent video, he looks like he’s filled out a little.

Lefty Alex Young gets ranked in the mid-30’s pretty consistently. The 6’2″, 190 pounder from TCU has a great feel for pitching, throwing a four-pitch mix with excellent control. None of his pitches really stand out, but they are all at least average. We have provided video of Young below. As you can see, there is some effort in his delivery. He’s only pitched 83.2 innings in two season at TCU, making four starts and 40 relief appearances. He moved to the starting role in the Cape Cod League and put up strong stats, moving him up draft charts.

Other names to watch include: LHP Tyler Jay, Illinois, RHP Marc Brakeman, Stanford, LHP Andrew Suarez, Miami, RHP Jon Harris, Missouri State, RHP Ryan Burr, Arizona State, RHP Jacob Nix, IMG Academy, RHP Tyler Ferguson, Vanderbilt

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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.


Pirates Prospects has been independently owned and operated since 2009, entirely due to the support of our readers. The site is now completely free, funded entirely by user support. By supporting the site, you are supporting independent writers, one of the best Pittsburgh Pirates communities online, and our mission for the most complete Pirates coverage available.

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R Edwards

If we couldn’t sign Buehler in 2012 because of pool money limts, and his asking price was not ridiculously high, now did we manage to sign Josh Bell? Or did we get Bell before they changed the rules?


The story goes that Bell was *the reason* the rules were changed. The overslot that broke the system.

R Edwards

What is rather hypocritical of that change to the system, is that it punishes teams who place high value on their farm system and player development. They don’t allow these $4 million dollar draft signings, but have no problem with $200 and $300 million dollar contracts for veteran players. Although the system is more balanced than it was, MLB still needs a hard salary cap and floor – that would prevent these great disparity in payrolls that still exist.

R Edwards

I like the scouting reports on Cody and Lemoine – both sound like kids with potentially very high ceilings.


Watch this video of Kershaw and stop the video at between 6-7 seconds.


Even though Kershaw goes through a big leg kick, bends his knee slightly, and raises his arms above his head during the windup, it’s all smokescreen. His arms come back to waist high, his back leg straightens out, only with one foot balanced above the ground and one on the rubber.

Kershaw then dips his hips and knees, reaches back, throws the glove hand straight out in front, and fires.

Compare that to Young. His windup happens too quickly. He goes directly from the top of leg kick to falling forward and pushing off the rubber. The glove hand work is probably because Kershaw throws from a higher arm slot, Young looks to be a 3/4 slot.


I just don’t see college pitcher in the first round from this organization. Seems like the college pitchers they select are more late rounders.


Hmm, under NH, the Pirates have had 11 first round picks (including 2 supplemental draft picks and 1 protected reselection). Of those 11 first round picks, 3 were college pitchers (Vic Black 49th supplemental in 2009, Gerrit Cole 1st overall in 2010 and Mark Appel 8th overall in 2012). Four were college hitters (Pedro Alvarez, Tony Sanchez, Barrett Barnes and Connor Joe). Three were prep hitters (Meadows, McGuire and Tucker) and one was a prep pitcher (Taillon).
I would guess prep pitcher is least likely choice but really it all depends on the Pirates board and who they like and given that the College pitching class seems pretty strong, what reason would the Pirates have to not take a college pitcher since they’ve done it before?
Sorry, I don’t really mean to call you out. I read your comment and looked up who the Pirates have drafted under NH and I don’t think history really supports your gut instinct on this one. You are right about one thing though, the Pirates do draft a lot of college pitchers in later rounds in addition to prep pitchers.


They wouldn’t have drafted Cole if Rendon was healthy. Appel didn’t work out. Vic Black wasn’t really a first round pick.


So rationalizing away facts makes your unsupported opinion valid how? What’s your excuse going to be if the Pirates deem a college pitcher in a deep college pitcher class is the best option for pick 19?


I feel like it also depends how deep they feel the draft is overall and if they feel they can go overslot for prep players in later rounds. If that is the case, a college pitcher will likely be an easier sign, saving them bonus money. Also on a different note, I’m interested to see where Brady Aiken gets drafted, with his “small” UCL


isn’t High School Pitchers one of the lowest percentages to reach the majors?

There is a trend, they picked the person they thought would give them the best chance of a cornerstone player in the future. The Pirates don’t pick anymore, with he will be a number 3 starter in the show within 2 years. They want, he will be an ace down the line.


I think you’re right about high school pitchers being one of the lowest percentages to reach the majors. Although, HS pitchers also have some of the highest ceilings so it is high risk / high reward deal. You could end up with a Kershaw or Baumgarner, or perhaps a Shelby Miller or Zach Wheeler but the risk is getting a Matt Hobgood, Jacob Tuner, Matt Purke, Ethan Martin or Jake Odorizzi.
I think you’re right about looking for cornerstone players. The lone exception might be Tony Sanchez, although that draft was kind of odd. Most teams didn’t see Mike Trout coming (I think even the Angels got lucky as a few mock drafts I looked at had the Angels picking Trout either 24th or 25th). Trout is the only player picked after the Pirates 4th overall pick that has really taken off as one of the best players in the game. Sure, Wheeler, Mike Minor, Mike Leake, Drew Storen, Shelby Miller and A.J. Pollock have been pretty good players so far although none of them really stood out a whole lot more than Sanchez at the time.
Sanchez was the top college catcher that year, so …. although there were rumors that the Pirates took Sanchez as a signability pick to insure some extra money would be available during the bidding for Sano. It is possible the Pirates were thinking they’d have Sano and Sanchez.


Jake odorizzi had a real nice year with TB, don’t think I would put him with the group of busts that you mentioned.


Yeah, you’re right that Odorizzi has been a decent back of the rotation starter for the Rays. Although I wasn’t necessarily naming busts, just players who haven’t turned into stars or perhaps above average starters considering that is what one hopes for with a first round pick. Back of the rotation starter is something only Dave Littlefield would hope for in a first round pick.


Are we sure that’s true, though?

Seems like catchers and shortstops both are much more difficult to develop, generally speaking. Few kids actually drafted at those positions stick, whereas plenty of arms end up as relievers. Would be interesting to see studied, either way.


Ah well, if we start delving down into individual positions, you would probably be right that catchers and shortstops are more difficult to develop. I was looking at the higher level of prep hitters / pitchers and college hitters / pitchers (4 categories).


Ah, yeah, that makes more sense than my logic.


I want me a pitcher name of “Funkhouser.” Sold on the name alone and the possible walk-up songs.


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