The Pittsburgh Pirates wrapped up another draft class last week, adding Termarr Johnson with the fourth overall pick, and 20 more players after him.
You can follow all of the new picks and all of the latest draft updates on our new Draft Tracker page.
As John Dreker wrote over the weekend, we probably won’t see many of these picks in 2022. We will get our first real look at this class in 2023, which means we’re going to spend a lot of time projecting out futures based on scouting reports and limited information.
This week on First Pitch, I wanted to give a few thoughts on some of the draft pick projection methods over the years that I’ve come to find worthless in the prospect evaluation process.
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DRAFT POSITION BECOMES MEANINGLESS
After the draft is finished, I don’t care about draft position.
The Pirates and every other team are going to prioritize certain picks above others. For example, they’re going to give Johnson more opportunities to work through failure than they will any other pick in the draft. That’s a big reason why first rounders make it at a significantly higher rate than others, shown well in this chart.
Orioles didn't appear to cut a deal. Took their BPA in Jackson Holliday. That's the right approach with most draft classes, imo. pic.twitter.com/ziy2xYrUkx
— Travis Sawchik (@Travis_Sawchik) July 17, 2022
That chart is an average of a lot of drafts. On average, we can expect things to play out in this form. Johnson has the best chance to make the majors from the 2022 draft. There’s a drop off after 36th and 44th overall picks Thomas Harrington and Hunter Barco. From there, the odds are low for everyone.
That said, anything can happen in any draft. Let’s look at the 2018 draft as an example.
Travis Swaggerty was a much different first round pick than Johnson. He came with lower upside and a higher floor at the time as the tenth overall pick. The chart above would still apply, and Swaggerty would have always been seen with a better chance of making the majors — which he did.
Four years later, Swaggerty made the majors, though his future outlook is uncertain. He’s got starter upside, but hasn’t emerged in a group of outfielders who aren’t just a bunch of former first rounders. It doesn’t matter at this point that Swaggerty was a first rounder. He needs to be better than that group.
The best player from this draft looks like 11th rounder Mike Burrows. The right-handed pitcher was drafted out of the prep ranks and given a $500,000 bonus to sign. Burrows wasn’t the highest rated prep pitcher that year — Braxton Ashcraft signed for three times as much in the second round, and the Pirates couldn’t sign 36th overall pick Gunnar Hoglund, who didn’t sign.
Burrows is currently in Triple-A, along with Swaggerty. He’s one level ahead of 2019 first rounder Quinn Priester, and you could debate which pitcher has the better outlook at this point. It doesn’t matter where Burrows was drafted. It matters who he is now.
If I were ranking prospects from that 2018 draft four years later, Burrows would be in a tier of his own as a potential impact guy on a playoff team. Swaggerty joins him as a bench guy who could start for a contender. There are some interesting depth options in the upper levels. We’ve already seen Cam Alldred, drafted in the 24th round. Aaron Shortrige (4th round), Colin Selby (16th), and Brad Case (17th) could all make the majors in similar form.
It doesn’t matter where any of the 2022 picks were drafted, other than to establish a starting point. The only thing that matters is what each player does from here. Four years from now, we still will be talking about Termarr Johnson. We just have no clue which other picks will emerge to make themselves relevant in the long-term.
WHAT IS PROJECTABILITY?
I have to teach every new phone of mine the word “Projectability”, which isn’t a thing outside of baseball scouting.
If a team drafts a pitcher who is 6′ 4″ and 190 pounds, the “Projectability” alarms start to go off. In the past, the idea was that if you get a tall, scrappy kid into a professional program, he will start eating and training properly for the first time — adding strength and subsequent velocity.
The reality today is that most players know what they need to know about fitness and training before pro ball. There are camps and facilities all around the country which offer things that pro teams didn’t even have a decade ago. The pro teams have stepped up their games in a big way, tracking the natural movement of a player and every other metric a player produces to fine tune these better prepared athletes.
At this point, hoping that a guy can add weight magically resulting velocity is only a hope. Sure, there are still those classic projectable frames. I just don’t think that’s where projection truly lies at this point.
The Pirates took fourth rounder Michael Kennedy out of the prep ranks. Kennedy is a left-handed pitcher who doesn’t turn 18 until the end of November. He’s 5′ 11″ and 208 pounds, throwing 88-92 and touching 94. That doesn’t have a projectable profile.
As a lefty with the potential for average or better secondary stuff, that fastball could work with his plus command and advanced feel for pitching.
As for projectability, are we saying that a 17-year-old knows how to fully maximize the movement of his body?
The same question applies for any other player in the 18-22 range who has yet to enter a pro system. Height, weight, and velocity are stats. They correlate, but there’s no real causation to say that a shorter pitcher like Kennedy who is filled out can’t find a way for more velocity.
We’re in a time where so many pitchers are learning how to throw mid-to-upper 90s. In this era, the ability to command the ball and mix in quality secondary stuff has become more important. I’m not actually concerned with the velocity from Kennedy, due to his ability to do all of that other stuff at a young age. He just stood out to me as a guy who gets limited from the start by the classic scouting look — based on a time of archaic fitness methods.
FORGET THOSE LOFTY CEILINGS
Draft day is a fun day to dream.
Termarr Johnson could be Wade Boggs, Vlad Sr., and Joe Mauer at second base, all rolled into one.
Or, something like that.
The reality is that Termarr Johnson will be Termarr Johnson.
The reality of that is Termarr Johnson has enough tools coming out of high school that the future MLB version of Termarr Johnson becomes exciting to envision. Also, indescribable.
That’s where player comps come in, though they’re often lost in translation. Each of the above names was used to describe Johnson’s ability to make contact. Without stats, we need a way to envision exactly why the industry sees Johnson as the best pure hitter in this draft, and the best pure hitter out of the prep ranks in decades.
Of course, it takes a lot more than just good contact skills to get to the majors. Boggs, Vlad, and Mauer were more than just good pure hitters. The pure hitting was their highlight.
Those comps inevitably set up lofty ceilings. Every pick in the draft has a lofty ceiling. Very few will get close to that ceiling. Prospects break your heart because we start off dreaming about the ceiling, and then watch everyone try to find their way up from the floor. It’s a long journey for anyone.
We’re all going to follow Johnson to see if he can emerge as a future generational hitter in the majors. From there, I say pick a player you want to believe in, because literally any of the players drafted can make the majors.
**Jack Suwinski is still crushing the ball. The outfielder was sent down to Indianapolis and has a double and two homers in his first four games. My concern is that Suwinski is only crushing the ball. Those are his only three hits in 18 plate appearances, with one walk. Suwinski had a .198/.288/.428 line with 14 homers in the majors this year. He’s clearly got the ability to hit home runs at the highest level. He hasn’t shown the ability to hit or get on base at that level. That’s what I’ll be watching for from Suwinski down in Indianapolis, more than the power.
**Endy Rodriguez has been on a tear in Greensboro lately. That’s great to see, but not a huge surprise, as the bat from Rodriguez is a big reason he’s a top ten prospect in the system. What I like seeing is the bat from Abrahan Gutierrez heating up. The Pirates have Rodriguez and Gutierrez splitting time behind the plate in Greensboro, giving the best alternatives to 2021 first overall pick Henry Davis. Gutierrez has a lot of raw power potential, and has been showing that more in the summer months. Gutierrez has seen his OPS go up three months in a row — from .693 to .762 to .836 so far in July. His ISO has increased each month as well. His defense rates well, and it’s good to see the bat starting to show up in games.
**Sticking with that catching duo, Rodriguez has gotten significantly more time behind the plate lately. He has played 11 of his 15 games in July at catcher. That includes three starts in a row from July 14th-16th. He returned after the break to start at catcher on Friday and Saturday, and moved behind the plate on Sunday. He’s seen this type of usage this year. There was a similar cluster of games started at the end of May, after Henry Davis was promoted. Rodriguez is spending much less time at other positions these days. He made eight starts between second base and left field in the month of June. He hasn’t started in left field since July 1st, and his start at second base on Sunday was the first one in a month. It seems the Pirates are putting more of a focus on catching with Rodriguez. It’s great to see this focus hasn’t impacted his offense.
**Javier Rivas has been crushing the ball in the FCL this year. The infielder has a .300/.372/.480 line in 113 plate appearances, along with solid defense at three positions. After a slow first few weeks, he’s caught fire, with a 1.029 OPS and four homers in 88 plate appearances. He’s in his age 19 season, but only his second pro season and his first in the United States. I wonder if Rivas might get a chance to go across town to Single-A, especially after going 6-for-6 with a homers on Friday, and 2-for-3 with a homer and a walk on Saturday. Let’s see if any FCL pitchers can get him out this week.
**Since June 1st, here are the top ten qualified pitchers in the system by ERA:
- Andres Silvera, RHP, DSL Pirates Gold – 1.03 ERA, 31:5 K/BB, 26.1 IP
- Bryse Wilson, RHP, Indianapolis – 2.37 ERA, 26:5 K/BB, 30.1 IP
- Quinn Priester, RHP, Altoona – 2.73 ERA, 33:8 K/BB, 33.0 IP
- Brad Case, RHP, Altoona – 2.87 ERA, 27:7 K/BB, 31.1 IP
- Nick Garcia, RHP, Greensboro – 3.03 ERA, 33:11 K/BB, 38.2 IP
LAST WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
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