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Draft Prospect Watch: New Top 200 Draft Prospects List from Baseball America

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With the MLB draft starting in 37 days, we take a look at the updated top 200 draft prospects list from Baseball America. They will eventually expand their list to 500 spots, but that will be much closer to the start of the draft. Since this isn’t a mock draft, I wanted to take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of this draft class.

We always say, and the Pirates have mentioned it many times, you should never draft for need in baseball. What is currently a need at one point, might not be a need by the time the drafted player is ready for the majors. It should always be the best player available, with the only time that need comes into play is when you rate two players at different positions the same. If you can’t decide who is a better choice between a first baseman and a shortstop, then you’re going to take the shortstop every time. It’s an easier player to move elsewhere on the field and he will have more trade value. If you have a need for a catcher and you’re pick is between an equally valued shortstop and a catcher, then that’s when need comes into play.

That being said, some teams will look at the strength and weaknesses of a draft class and use that to judge their picks. If the class has 2-3 elite catchers then a huge drop-off, a team might reach for one of those 2-3 catchers if they have a need for catching. If a class is loaded with talented right-handed pitchers, you might go elsewhere early, then still have tons of pitching choices in the 2-5 round.

Keith Law noted in his updated rankings recently that this draft class is weak up the middle for position players and generally weak overall, so “safe” college players could go off the board early in a large group. Teams want to get value from their first round pick because that is almost always their biggest investment. Law notes that this draft isn’t really deep at any position, although I’ve heard others say that teams could stock up on solid prep pitchers after the first round.

If you  go by Law’s thoughts though on the strength of the class, then this look at the Baseball America list is just about which positions have the most depth, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a strength. For example, if our Pirates Prospects top 50 had one outfielder in the top 40, then 41-50 were all outfielders, you would have a lot of outfield depth, but it wouldn’t be considered a strength in the system. BA considers the class to be strong for college pitching for what it’s worth.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the position strengths and weaknesses in the BA Top 200. For players with two positions, I’m going with their primary spot.

BA has 17 right-handed pitchers in their top 52 (51 and 52 are both RHP), and 33 in their top 100. There are 42 of them among the top 101-200, with many in the 101-150 range, so you could say the position has depth. There are always going to be a lot of right-handed pitchers in a top 200 because it’s the most well-represented position in baseball. It’s a nice split between high school and college as well.

Left-handed pitchers make up nine of the top 55 spots, with four of them being prep pitchers. Then there are just 15 over the next 145 spots, with many of them later. Just for reference, the 200th overall spot in the draft is early in the seventh round, so you’re talking about many they consider 5th to 7th round talents. That gives you 83 pitchers in the top 200, which is fewer than normal. Usually it’s a fairly even split, but it’s not an alarming total.

Up next is catchers and there are 19 total, but not one until you reach Luis Campusano at 46th overall. Clearly this is a position of weakness in the draft, despite a decent total. You can get a solid catcher after the first couple rounds, but the upside will be limited. Catching is also a position that many players end up moving off of, with corner outfield or first base being the popular destinations.

There are five shortstops in the top 50, which is low for an average year. Your most athletic player is going to be at shortstop, even if they don’t end up at the spot in the majors. Two of the top 50 have doubts about sticking at the position, so Law seems to be correct about the weakness up the middle. There is a decent run on them over the next 55 spots, with 12 listed, but then it really drops off after that. Here is where you could see a run of shortstops picked earlier than usual. They probably won’t take up the first round, but that second round could have some shortstop picks considered reaches.

If you’re looking for a third baseman, just two are in the top 50. With not many shortstops in the top 50 either, that means there aren’t going to be many who end up at third base in the pros. Many of the remaining third baseman listed are 120th and after, so this isn’t a position of depth or strength.

Teams don’t usually look for second baseman in the draft. It’s rare that one is drafted high. If the player was good, he would start somewhere else on the field and end up at second base. Look at all of the second baseman in the majors and minors for the Pirates. None were signed at second base, they were all shortstops or third baseman. So it’s no surprise that after UC Irvine’s Keston Hiura, who is ranked 20th overall, the next highest second baseman is rated 157th.

First base is the position I’d consider stronger than normal. You have Virginia’s Pavin Smith and prep 1B Nick Pratto near the top, then five more among the top 64 spots. It drops off the cliff after that, with three among the last 136, but first base is usually a spot that Major League players move to, not start at when they’re in school. It appears a team could end up with a solid first baseman in the first two rounds this year.

Outfield would be all of the remaining spots and four of them are among the top 13 players, plus another ten are in the top 42. The problem with BA’s list is that they don’t differentiate center fielders from corner outfielders, so without going through many of these names outside the top ten, I don’t know off-hand what kind of chances they have to stick in center field. Since Law was right about C/SS/2B being weak overall, I’m going to assume that center field isn’t well represented either.

The Pirates pick 12th this year, so I wouldn’t worry about a quality player being available in that spot. Doesn’t mean they won’t reach a little, but the quality is there. Where it might hurt is with their group of picks right after at 42, 50, 72 and 88. Because of the high pick and amount of picks, the Pirates have a lot to spend this year. That doesn’t mean that the players in those spots are worth the slot amounts though. That might help them in the later rounds though, when they are looking for players who slipped in the draft due to demands. Pitchers like Max Kranick last year and Gage Hinsz in 2014 were taken in the 11th round, but they were 2nd/3rd round talent, who slipped due to bonus demands.

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John Dreker
John Dreker
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.

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