On Tuesday morning, Baseball America released their 2017 draft report card for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Every year, the recap the draft, highlighting the players with the best tools from the class, as well as other areas, such as the best late round pick, most intriguing background and the pick that got away. For a full look at the report, click the link above, which was written up by J.J. Cooper.
We start with the pitching side, because that’s where the Pirates started when they chose right-handed prep pitcher Shane Baz with the 12th overall pick. Baz was rated as having the best fastball in the class. We saw some inconsistencies with his velocity, especially with runners on base. BA mentions that he hits 93-96 consistently, which was true from the windup. With runners on base, we saw that velocity dip into the low-90s. That being said, the 18-year-old was at the end of a long season for him and should be able to improve on those numbers as he continues to fill out his 6’3″ frame.
The only pitcher who throws harder than him in this draft class for the Pirates is 18th round pick Shea Murray, who hits 99 MPH, but he doesn’t have much control and he didn’t even make his pro debut due to an elbow injury. So I’d agree with Baz being the obvious choice here.
For best secondary pitch, Baz got praise for his slider and curve. The slider was highly rated prior to the draft, with some calling it the best slider in the class, while others had him second best. Also mentioned is Blake Weiman, who is an interesting player to look at due to his other mention in the article. BA called his slider a plus pitch and said that he was closest to the majors in this draft group.
We didn’t mention Weiman in our Morgantown top ten recap, but that was mostly due to space. Part of it was also due to the reason BA thinks he will be the first to the majors. Weiman is an experienced lefty reliever, who offers that potentially plus breaking ball, along with excellent control. Assuming they plan on keeping him in the relief role, then he should be able to jump up to Bradenton to start next year. He was an extreme fly ball pitcher with Morgantown, but that shouldn’t affect him in the FSL, where fly balls go to die. Morgantown also plays in a park and league where you can get away with being an extreme fly ball pitcher, but that gets harder to do once you move to the upper levels.
To go along with the high fly ball rate, Weiman had trouble with right-handed batters, who hit .301 against him and also were much tougher to strike out than lefties. The Pirates have said that they don’t like specialists in the bullpen, so that issue with righties could keep him from shooting through the system to the majors. With the Pirates going for prep players early and some raw draft picks in their top ten picks, I could see Weiman still being the first to the majors, but that’s usually the case with any experienced major college reliever. If the Pirates want him to start next year, then that will slow down his progress.
On offense, outfielder Calvin Mitchell got recognized as the best pure hitter. It’s hard to argue with that after we saw his strong approach at the plate, along with the easy power in his bat. He didn’t put up the best stats in the draft class, though he was above average for the Gulf Coast League. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Pirates jump him to West Virginia on Opening Day next season shortly after his 19th birthday because of that solid approach.
The best power hitters were both prep players, with Conner Uselton and Mason Martin getting those honors. We saw what Martin could do, putting together one of the best seasons in the GCL ever, not just for the 50 years the Pirates have been in the league. His OPS was the third highest ever for a player who qualified for the batting title. That also earned him the best pro debut honors, along with Tristan Gray, who we named as our top prospect for Morgantown.
Uselton didn’t get to show off that power, or the athleticism that got him named as one of the best athletes in this draft for the Pirates. Shane Baz and second round pick Steven Jennings also got recognition for their athleticism. Uselton injured his hamstring during his second game and didn’t return to action, though he going through baseball activities (except games) during the Fall Instructional League.
As for best defense, the only argument against BA’s choice you would get would be from a late round draft pick. Catcher Jason Delay, taken in the fourth round, was named the best defensive player in the draft. I talked to multiple Bristol pitchers and they all had very high praise for his abilities behind the plate in all areas. The other defensive player who received a lot of praise from his teammates was Morgantown shortstop Brett Pope, who was taken in the 22nd round. I did not get to see Delay catch, but saw Pope play about ten times and he made a lot of above average plays look easy.
Jared Oliva was named the fastest runner and I didn’t hear about or see anyone who would challenge him for that spot. His speed is legit.
Hunter Wolfe was named as the pick who got away. He was taken in the 12th round out of Walters State, where he was teammates with Hunter Stratton, the 16th round pick. The Pirates signed 37 of their 42 draft picks, so it’s hard to be upset about one getting away. Wolfe was a solid pick in the 12th round, although 36th round Ryan Hoerter would have been my choice. Hoerter only dropped that far due to bonus demands and announced early on that he was going to Auburn. The Pirates could have (and maybe they did) offer Wolfe up to $349,000 without losing a draft pick due to over-slot penalties.
More in the BA link at the top of the page.
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.
Not signing Hunter Wolfe or Brock Deatherage really hurt the Pirates’ chances of assembling the league’s best Death Metal band. A pity, really.
I really hope Mason Martin is able to keep tapping into that power as he faces better pitching. I’m sure there are holes in his swing, but if he keeps them small enough to let his power to what his power can do, look out.
I wonder if Mitchell will end up as good of a hitting prospect as Josh Bell?
This sounds like one of the better Pirate drafts. It would be great if it results in a good starting pitcher and some legitimate power hitting outfielders. They have been signing plenty of catchers the past few years. One them has to grow into the role. How long can we wait for Diaz to take over. I think he is almost 28 years old.