The Pirates didn’t exactly ignore power in the draft prior to the 2017 season. At the same time, they weren’t making a strong effort to seek it out.
The approach in the draft was largely around complete hitters who could also field a premium position, with power being the thing that took a back seat. They would draft someone with the ability to hit for average, get on base, avoid strikeouts, while maybe providing some speed, and enough athleticism to have a shot at a premium defensive position. The power came in the form of extra base hits, with the hope that more power would develop as the players got older.
That’s not a bad approach. If you have a team full of guys who can hit, get on base, and play good defense, then you can contend as long as you have a good pitching staff. The problem, as I’ve written before, is that when you have an average pitching staff, this approach doesn’t work, as you don’t have the power necessary to counter the poor pitching.
During the 2014 and 2015 drafts, the Pirates went heavy on this approach. Again, they didn’t totally ignore power in those years — they took Jordan Luplow in 2014 and Kevin Kramer in 2015, and both have good raw power — but they didn’t go heavy on the approach.
That all appears to have changed in 2017. The biggest thing that stood out to me was that the Pirates drafted more players this year with power as the big part of their game. This was obvious in the GCL this year, with guys like Mason Martin, Calvin Mitchell, and Conner Uselton showing easy raw power. It also existed in Morgantown, with middle round picks like Tristan Gray, Bligh Madris, and Deon Stafford standing out for their raw power abilities at their positions.
It’s not just the draft. When the Pirates traded Tony Watson, the top prospect they got in return was Oneil Cruz. He is lauded for his raw power, and seeing him after the deadline, plus getting a lot of matching reports on him, I can safely say that his plus raw power ratings are legit.
I don’t know if it’s a change in approach, or just how everything lined up this year with the draft and the Watson trade, but it appears the Pirates are focusing more on power than they have been in the past.
They shouldn’t go to the other extreme and only focus on power. I think the old approach of finding well-rounded hitters is still an avenue they should pursue, along with trying to find power. There are benefits and risks with both approaches. But it seemed like they were neglecting power for a few years, and if anything, it’s good to see that trend changing.
One downside with this trend is that it brings a different problem. The well-rounded players who lacked power had the obvious downside that they didn’t have power, which limited their upside. Without that power, they would be limited to a bench player or an average starter at best. The recent guys with power all have higher upsides if their power plays out. However, they all seem to have their own strikeout issues, which could also restrict their upsides.
The well-rounded players seem like a safer bet if you want MLB players, as they come with higher floors. The trade-off is a lower ceiling. The power guys come with higher ceilings, but much more risk involved, and a bigger chance of busting.
In each case, you’re ultimately looking for the same thing. You want a power guy who learns how to hit, get on base, and avoid strikeouts. Or you would take a well-rounded guy who adds power to his game. Both of those paths would create an impact player, and I don’t think one path is easier than the other. Again, I do think it’s unwise for the Pirates to focus only on one of these two paths and ignore the other. The good news is that this trend appears to be over, with more of a focus on power in the last year.
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.