We began our 2018 amateur draft coverage in mid-February with our preview article. Since then we have looked at a pair of potential draft pick for the Pirates each week. We continue with two more players today who could be intriguing early in the first round. They come from the new mock draft by Jonathan Mayo at MLB Pipeline.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have the tenth overall pick in the 2018 draft, which is now just 30 days away. That’s their highest pick since taking Austin Meadows with the ninth overall pick in 2013. They also have the 36th and 51st overall picks. Last month, MLB announced the draft slots and bonus pools for each team. The Pirates will have over $10M to spend on their draft picks, although the final number will be closer to $12M (assuming they sign all of their top ten round picks) once you add in the bonuses after the tenth round.
Every Saturday leading up to the draft, we will have an article looking at the players who are possibilities for that tenth overall pick. We will also have separate articles as we get closer to the draft whenever some of the top draft sources have updated rankings or post mock drafts.
Here is a list of the player featured in the previous articles:
Jackson Kowar and Jarred Kelenic
Ryan Rolison and Travis Swaggerty
Nolan Gorman and Nander De Sades
Logan Gilbert and Ryan Weathers
Mason Denaburg and Carter Stewart
Ethan Hankins and Tristan Beck
We start this week with Matthew Liberatore, who has been mentioned here before during this year’s draft coverage, but only in the notes section of a few articles. That’s because he’s been rated at or near the top of this class since back in February. In the new mock draft from MLB Pipeline, Liberatore went seventh overall, so he’s getting into that tenth overall pick range. That is a slight drop because Pipeline had him fourth overall in their recently updated rankings.
Liberatore is a 6’5″, 200 left-handed pitcher from Mountain Ridge High School in Arizona. According to Pipeline, he has four pitches that are above average, though none of them are considered plus pitches at this time. Scouts believe that all four of his pitches have the chance to get better, but if just two of them improve then he could be a special pitcher. It’s rare for a prep pitcher to have that kind of four-pitch mix, along with above average control, so that’s why he ranks so high in this draft class. Liberatore touched 97 MPH this spring, but in his most recent outing, he was sitting 88-93 MPH, touching 95 once early in the game.
The slight drop in Liberatore’s rankings recently comes from the fact that he hasn’t reached those early season velocity numbers. He’s also had a few outings with shaky command of his pitches. This is a strong draft class at the top, but will those two things be enough to let him slide to the Pirates with the tenth pick? If he’s there at ten, I don’t think he drops any further because that’s a tough talent to pass on. With that 6’5″ frame and room to fill out, it’s not hard to see him add some velocity, or at least improve his average velocity by hitting 95-97 MPH more often. You add in a nice mix of three off-speed pitches, along with the ability to throw strikes, and you have a talented 18-year-old who could develop into something special.
Here’s a video from Liberatore. It’s from Fangraphs and it’s an entire outing from March, so if you’re bored today, this will keep you busy for awhile. If not, just watch until you get bored.
Next up is another lefty pitcher, Shane McClanahan from South Florida. I didn’t plan on doing two southpaws in the same article, but with Liberatore going seventh in the mock draft and McClanahan going eighth, they were the two closest players to the tenth overall pick, who I haven’t covered yet.
McClanahan was originally draft in 2015 by the New York Mets, but decided to go to college instead. He would end up missing his first season due to Tommy John surgery. He just turned 21 last week and he has a 6’1″ frame to fill out, coming in just under 175 pounds. McClanahan’s calling card is a fastball that has hit 100 MPH this year and routinely sits in the 95-97 MPH range. He pairs that with a plus changeup that shows good separation and looks a lot like his fastball until it’s too late for the batters to realize the difference.
Going into this weekend, McClanahan has a 2.84 ERA in 63.1 innings over 11 starts. He is holding batters to a .160 BAA and he has 107 strikeouts, which is more than 1.5 per inning. His big issue so far is that he has walked 34 batters. He had 36 walks in 76 innings last year, so his walk rate has climbed slightly this season.
Scouts consider McClanahan to average control, along with an average slider for his secondary pitch. There is also some extra effort to his delivery. The fastball/changeup combo is so good that he could be a dominating reliever if he doesn’t make it as a starter. Any team that takes him this high thinks he can be a starting pitcher, but you at least have a pitcher with a fairly high floor if he doesn’t reach his maximum potential.
Here’s a video on McClanahan from February, posted by 2080 Baseball
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.