Draft Prospect Watch: An Early Look at Two of the Top Players in this Draft Class

If you missed it, we posted our 2018 amateur draft preview last Sunday. Now with exactly 100 days left before the draft, we take a look at two of the players who were mentioned a few times in that article. The Pittsburgh Pirates have the tenth overall selection in the draft. Both Jackson Kowar and Jarred Kelenic were players who ranked near the tenth spot in early draft rankings, so they kick-off our coverage.

Every Saturday, we are going to add reports for two players who look like possibilities for the Pirates in the first round. As we get closer to the draft,  we will be able to focus in on specific players who appear to be the most likely option for the Pirates, who haven’t picked this high since selecting Austin Meadows ninth overall in 2013.

We start with Jackson Kowar, who is a 6’5″, 180 pound right-handed pitcher for Florida. The 21-year-old junior was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 2015 out of high school, but they had no shot of getting him out of his commitment to a top baseball school in the country. According to MLB Pipeline, Kowar has two plus pitches, with a 65 grade fastball that gets up to 98 MPH and a 60 grade changeup. His curve/slider is an average pitch at this time, though it shows flashes of a plus pitch occasionally. Kowar commands his pitches well, has a clean and easily repeatable delivery with minimal effort, and he still has room to fill out.

Kowar made his season debut last Saturday against Siena and gave up two runs over seven innings on six hits and no walks, while striking out ten batters. He was efficient on the mound, throwing 89 pitches total. It’s not the best team he will face this year, but it’s a strong first start. He goes tonight against Miami, which is a much better test. According to reports from Baseball America, Kowar was sitting 90-93 MPH early during his Siena start, but was up to 93-94 in his final inning. His changeup was strong as usual, while his breaking ball is already showing some solid improvements over last year.

BA posted an article recently explaining what every one of their top 30 draft prospects needed to accomplish to get better this season. For Kowar, it was strong performances and show more durability. The first part comes from the fact that he had a 4.08 ERA last year, despite stuff that plays so much better. In his first game this seasons, he accomplished both of those things, though they are obviously goals for an entire season and not just one outing.

I’ve included a highlight video from his College World Series start last June

Jarred Kelenic is a prep outfielder from Wisconsin, who has a lot of tools to his game. BA had his 2018 goal listed as just going out and “destroying Wisconsin pitching”. Prep Baseball Report just moved him up to the second best high school player in this draft class.

Kelenic is a very athletic and energetic kid, listed at 6’1″, 195 pounds, who turns 19 years old in mid-July. He rates at least average in all five tools, with a 60 grade for hitting and arm, and 55 for running. With a tremendous work ethic, it’s possible that we are talking about a five-tool center fielder in the future. Kelenic has an advanced approach at the plate and make a lot of hard contact. He has a commitment to Louisville and would be a draft-eligible sophomore due to his age, but it’s not expected that he will get to college.

I’ve included two videos here. First in one from 2080 Baseball, which has Kelenic hitting at a Super 60 event earlier this month, showing off a sweet lefty swing that would play well in PNC Park. Not shown in the video are his outfield throws, which were all 95-96 MPH and him running a 6.55 in the 60.

Second video is a local newscast which shows off his work ethic and routine, plus you get a chance to hear his thoughts about the draft. Ignore the draft info from Wisconsin part of the video. Plenty of players from Wisconsin have been drafted and made the majors, more than most states. Fun fact: The only other MLB player from his hometown is Jack Kading, a first baseman for the 1910 Pirates.

** I don’t expect to talk much about Florida’s Brady Singer, but it’s still early in the year for the player who rates #1 overall for MLB Pipeline and Baseball America. He’s still worth watching though, because not everyone is sold on his being at the top of the class. Singer breezed through his first start versus Siena last Friday, allowing an unearned run on two hits and a walk in seven innings, with eight strikeouts. He didn’t breeze through a much better Miami team last night, allowing three runs on nine hits in five innings.

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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