Pirates Q&A: First Round and Late Round Draft Picks

On Thursday, we posted an article asking for questions about the Pittsburgh Pirates. Tim Williams answered some of those questions yesterday regarding the front office and the off-season, along with some other subjects. Today we expand on answers for two of the questions about the draft. We will also have one more article covering specific prospect questions.

joe s: To me it seems that the Pirates in the draft always seem to chose the player with their first pick that potentially will make the majors but might not have the highest ceiling. It is a safe strategy but does not appear to produce a super star caliber player. Is this an appropriate strategy to take when the team is in desperate need of such a player?

This is a great question because it gives me a chance to mention that our 2019 draft coverage will begin in two weeks with our draft preview. One of the things we do in the preview is take a closer look at two players who are projected to be selected right around the same spot where the Pirates make their first round pick. That changes as the season goes along, allowing us to cover many players.

The reason you can do something like that for the Pirates is because their first round picks are unpredictable. If you look at the current front office, they did go with a safe pick during their first draft in 2008, but Pedro Alvarez was also rated highly at the time and has played over 900 Major League games. He wasn’t an overdraft. The next year was Tony Sanchez in the first round and we soon found out that he was picked so they could stock up on high upside prep pitchers later in the draft, which they did. I’m not sure I’d call him safe because he was a late first round pick being selected fourth overall, so they definitely took a risk there. If they wanted safe instead of a strategical pick, they could have gone with a college player who was ranked ahead of him.

Jameson Taillon was the first pick in 2010 and selecting a right-handed prep pitcher that high is never considered safe. Gerrit Cole was a first overall pick in 2011 and Mark Appel was first in 2012. Those were the two top college pitchers for most people, so it was hard to argue with either pick. In 2013, they took Austin Meadows, who was a huge upside high school outfielder. That was followed by Cole Tucker in 2014. Two high school picks, which is always a risky group when you look at the success rate.

I think the first pick that really fits the safe pick mold for the Pirates and doesn’t look like a potential high upside pick is Kevin Newman in 2015. He was followed by Will Craig, who really doesn’t fit the safe/low upside pick because there was a clear split on his power potential in pro ball. If anything, he was a risky upside pick, despite being a college player. He offered no guarantee that he would reach the majors, but also had the ability to hit 25 homers a year if everything clicked.

Shane Baz followed in 2017 (see Taillon, Jameson), then Travis Swaggerty is again in the Kevin Newman mold as far as safety and not going for upside rated right below him. Many people liked the Swaggerty pick, but there were some higher upside players still on the draft board. So I wouldn’t say that two out of 11 first picks for the Pirates would be classified as them often going safe. Even if you wanted to throw marginal “safe” picks in there that I don’t feel quite fit, you would still be under 40% of the picks.

When you break down that group, you see why you can’t focus on certain players. You have two high school pitchers, two college pitchers, a high school outfielder and a college one. A high school shortstop and a college one. Two college third basemen and a catcher. They don’t go for one position, they don’t favor power over hitting or defense or speed. They take some risks, they go upside, they go safe. That leaves everyone as possible picks. There is no real pattern to their first overall strategy, which always makes the first day of the draft both exciting and nerve-wracking for fans.

Joe Nastasi: How much of a chance is it that Buccos might of struck gold with Jack Herman?

Jack Herman (pictured above) was definitely quite the surprise this past season in the GCL, but we are talking about just 37 games total at the lowest level, so there isn’t a lot to go on just yet. I talked to him right after the season ended, which you can read here. It answers a lot of questions about him prior to pro ball. I also talked to him again recently for our 2019 Prospect Guide to get some added off-season information.

What I got out of those talks is that he has a good head for baseball. He knows step one (first pro season) was just half of the step and the rest was preparing for a full season in 2019. We are talking about a kid who skipped on college because he had an injury junior season and that was enough to convince him not to pass on his chance at pro ball because you never know what can happen. That’s the type of player who is going to make the most of his opportunity.

The chances of striking gold with any high school pick is slim, especially once you get out of the first round. If you look for tools, he has both plate patience and a good feel for the strike zone, which leads to both walks and some power. He didn’t make any errors, which is impressive because he was 18 years old and learning right field on the fly. He’s a good athlete, who is looking to add both strength and quickness this off-season. So there are currently no red flags, which means the chances of striking gold, while mathematically small, is still possible. His 2019 season is going to answer some questions about his future potential.





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