We start the draft coverage with the preview of the top draft-eligible prep hitters this year. This is part one of four, with prep pitchers tomorrow, followed by college hitters on Wednesday and wrapping up with college pitchers on Thursday. The Pittsburgh Pirates currently have the #19 and #32 picks in the 2015 amateur draft, which begins on June 8th this year. The draft order changed on Monday when the Padres signed James Shields. They gave up their first round pick(16th overall) and the Pirates saw each of their spots in the draft order move up one. That also means their draft bonus pool got bigger, as the higher the pick, the higher the assigned value of that pick.
As we saw last year covering the draft when the Pirates picked #24 and #39, it’s very difficult to predict which player a team will draft the further you go down in the draft order. The Pirates surprised many people by taking Cole Tucker with their first pick and Connor Joe with the following pick, because neither player got mentioned at any point during the year by any reliable source as a possible first round pick. They also threw a curve by saying they drafted Tucker because he was young for his draft class, but then took Joe, who was old for his draft class, making it even harder to guess what they could do this year.
Our draft coverage will continue to run the same as it has the last few years, highlighting any player that gets mentioned in the Pirates range(which would be approximately 11-40), while also giving you some names of interest from now until draft day.
Starting with the prep hitters and the first name is one you won’t hear much of this year from us. I’ve read numerous times that there isn’t a consensus first overall pick in this draft, but when I went through all the top draft rankings I could find, they all picked shortstop Brendan Rodgers going first overall. The reason you won’t hear much about him is that he is highly unlikely to fall to the Pirates, so no reason to get any hopes up. You can read a recent article from Jonathan Mayo on Rodgers here.
After Rodgers, everyone else is a possibility now and the group is loaded at the top with outfielders. We start with outfielder Daz Cameron, who has at least average tools across the board, getting higher marks for his hitting and fielding. He is the son of Mike Cameron, who spent 17 seasons in the Majors. The younger Cameron has good size at 6’1″, 190 pounds and he bats/throws righty. He profiles as a center fielder, who is currently a line drive hitter, but should add power. I’ve included a video at the bottom, courtesy of Big League Futures.
Outfielder Trenton Clark isn’t far behind Cameron and they are very similar players, with one big difference, Clark is a lefty/lefty center fielder. MLB.com ranks him just below Cameron’s arm and glove, with the same grades in hitting, power and speed. He has moved up a lot in the rankings since last year, so he could keep climbing as he gets older and more experienced. Not everyone is sold on him sticking in center field.
Another high-ranked outfielder is Nick Plummer, who has a solid approach at the plate, which should allow him to hit for average and power. He also has above average speed, though it doesn’t translate well to his defense. He plays center field, but his overall defense is average at best, so he will probably move to a corner spot. Among the players profiled in this article, he has the worst arm. Plummer has the bat to play a corner spot, so his defense shouldn’t hold him back in the draft. He is on the small side at 5’11”, 180 pounds and old for the draft class, turning 18 back in July. The latest mock draft had Plummer going to the Pirates.
Garrett Whitley is a step behind the previous three outfielders, but one source had him ranked 14th overall, so he is certainly a possibility for a mid-first round pick. He has the ability to stick in center field and his tools rank average or better across the board, with speed being his best asset. He’s from upstate New York, which tends not to have many well-rounded players due to the cold weather, but Whitley already has an advanced approach at the plate and good baseball instincts.
Switching it up a little from the outfielders, we have catcher Chris Betts, who actually went to the Pirates in one of the early mock drafts. There is no guarantee that he will stick behind the plate. He has the arm for it, but his overall defense lacks polish. A patient team might be able to turn him into a catcher, but his bat is advanced already, so keeping him behind the plate could hold him back. Betts is a power lefty bat, who might be a good fit at first base instead. He is extremely slow, so outfield likely isn’t an option. Teams are excited about the potential from his bat and that should keep him in the first round, even without defense or speed.
One name that might remind you a little of Cole Tucker, is shortstop Cornelius Randolph. He wasn’t universally high rated, making the top 40 for two of the four sources I used. He is the youngest player among the group I’m profiling here, turning 18 days before the draft begins. Randolph probably won’t stick at shortstop due to his range, but he has the bat and arm to stick at third base. He’s a left-handed batter, who should hit for both average and power.
Infielder Kyler Murray is an interesting name because he is also a star football player, who comes from good baseball bloodlines. Murray ranks fairly high for most people without concentrating on baseball, so the feeling is that once he plays just one sport, he could really take off. He’s played some shortstop, but might be better suited for second base. Murray is one of the fastest high school players in the draft and has solid tools across the board. What might hold him back is his size at 5’11”, 180 pounds, and the fact he turns 19 less than a month after the draft.
Two other outfielders have been ranked near the end of the first round, making them a possibility for either Pirates pick. Rail-thin Kyle Tucker is a 6’4″ lefty bat, who could hit for plus power and average once he fills out more. He profiles as a corner outfielder. Demi Orimoloye is also 6’4″, but he has 50 pounds on Tucker. He’s also a corner outfielder, but considered very raw and he lives in Canada, so he isn’t getting a lot of time on the field due to weather. Orimoloye projects to have plus power, to go along with above average speed and arm strength.
Other names to watch are: Shortstop Ryan Mountcastle, first baseman Devin Davis, IF/OF Alonzo Jones, infielder Jonathan India, first baseman Luken Baker, OF/3B Bryce Denton and outfielder Mitchell Hanson.
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.