Day Three Recap: Why the Pirates Went College Heavy in the 2016 Draft

The Pirates wrapped up the 2016 draft today by selecting 30 players. Out of those 30 players, only three were from high school. The remaining 27 were made up from the college ranks, with only one JuCo player.

The college-heavy approach wasn’t because the Pirates favor college players. It wasn’t because this was the strength of the draft. It was due to the new draft system making it extremely difficult to sign prep players after the first ten rounds.

“It’s a new system. Get used to it,” Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington joked about all of the college picks. “With the draft pools in place, if you like college players early in the draft, it’s going to be very challenging to get a high school player, unless you’re one of the higher pools in the game, and you have money you can save at the top of the draft, or reallocate elsewhere in the draft. Otherwise, it’s hard.”

The Pirates only took six high school players out of 41 picks in their entire draft this year. By comparison, in 2011 they drafted six high school players in their first nine picks. It only took them eight picks to do that in 2010. They needed ten rounds in 2009. And the 2008 draft was college heavy, but they still had six prep players in the top 18 rounds.

“It’s harder and harder to get high school players,” Huntington said. “As the industry shifts, you’re seeing high school players go earlier and earlier, even if they’re signable. You’ve got guys that are coming off the board maybe earlier than they would in some situations, because they are signable high school players, and you’ve got to go get them. Once you get beyond a certain point in the draft, you’re looking at probably 80% college and 20% high school from a selection pool, and at other points in the draft, it’s even heavier than that. It’s not a tragedy, it’s a reality of the new system.”

Most of the players signed today will fill out the Morgantown and Bristol rosters. The Pirates got a good assortment of position players, taking a few catchers early, along with shortstops, outfielders, and a few first basemen late. They also took a lot of college pitchers. Most of those will make up the lower level bullpens, but some could get a shot at starting, since a lot of young pitchers were skipped over the low levels this year for West Virginia.

“We had a nice combination of having opportunities to add some more arms that we like a lot,” Pirates Amateur Scouting Director Joe DelliCarri said. “In terms of the traits that they bring, frames, athleticism, obviously the stuff now, and even a little room [to improve], even on the college guys, some things that we can work with.”

John Dreker will be breaking down some of the notable day three picks in tomorrow’s morning report, but there were a few that stood out to me today that I wanted to go over.

One of them was 23rd round pick Garrett Brown. He spent two years in college playing football, and barely played baseball until this year. He put up some strong numbers, showing off plus-plus speed and a lot of athleticism. He’s raw, but that’s to be expected with his background. It will be interesting to see how he transitions to pro ball, if he signs. The Pirates have taken some all-speed options in the past in the middle rounds, and none of them made it above A-ball. But Brown’s numbers give some hope that he can do more than just run fast.

The early catchers were also interesting. The Pirates don’t have any standout catching prospects in the short-season leagues, so 12th rounder Arden Pabst and 14th rounder Hagen Owenby have a chance for a lot of playing time. Pabst is glove-first with a strong arm, throwing out 44% of base runners in his career. He doesn’t have much of a bat, but provides what the Pirates love — strong defense and good work with pitchers.

Owenby had strong numbers, with a lot of power at East Tennessee State University (a school that the Pirates raided for three picks on day three). He’s very athletic, playing football in high school as a quarterback, and running and passing for over 1,000 yards in his junior and senior years. There weren’t many reviews on his defense, and he only threw out about 22% of base stealers, so the defense is a question mark here (as in, not much information, rather than questionable skills).

Ideally, you’d like to combine these two guys and create a top catching prospect, but we don’t have the technology yet. So we’ll have to just wait and see how the playing time is divided in the lower levels, while also considering seventh round pick Brent Gibbs.

The Highlight of Day Three

The third day was college heavy, but the highlight of the day was 11th round pick Max Kranick. He’s a highly rated prep pitcher who finished in the top 100 rankings for Baseball America, MLB.com, and Keith Law. He already has the ability to sit in the low 90s with his fastball, and touch 95, while showing promise with his changeup and his curveball.

“We had a chance to get to know Max well,” DelliCarri said. “We’ve liked Max for a long time. He brings a lot of things that we do like. Extreme athleticism. He’s got some good arm speed. Throws strikes, and is a terrific competitor. … He brings a lot of things of what he does now and what he can do in the future.”

The challenge for Kranick will be getting him signed. Based on the comments from DelliCarri that they’ve got a good relationship with Max, they probably have a good idea of his asking price, and selected him with the idea that they could get him under contract. They were able to do the same thing two years ago when they drafted Gage Hinsz in the 11th round and signed him for $580,000.

But the challenge might not be with getting Kranick to agree to signing. It might be in finding money in the top ten rounds to sign the three prep pitchers taken in the first four rounds, while still having money left over for the 11th rounder. I’ll have more on that tonight in First Pitch.

Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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