The Pittsburgh Pirates swung big for the fences in the 2021 draft, deciding to invest heavily in multiple high upside prep players, after selecting college catcher Henry Davis with the first overall pick.
While some of the 19 players drafted and signed by the Pirates made their professional debuts last year, the 2022 season was their first full season in the minors.
Two of the draft picks made it all the way to Altoona. One was expected, another was a little bit of a surprise. The majority of 2021 picks were scattered across the lower levels of the minors
The Top Pick – Henry Davis
Ben Cherington and company made the headlines immediately, taking Davis with the first pick of the draft. While the Louisville catcher was seen as one of the top college players in the draft, there was a small group of prep shortstops that seemed to have overall a higher upside.
Davis did give the Pirates something they needed, a high-end catching prospect (of course, the Pirates have gotten more depth there since), with his bat having the ability to play at any number of positions if need be.
The catcher was one of the handful of players to make his debut in 2021, playing in eight total games before going down with an injury.
— Anthony Murphy (@__Murphy88) May 10, 2022
Davis started the 2022 season in Greensboro, taking full advantage of the hitter-friendly ballpark (1.035 OPS in High-A), and after 22 games was promoted to Double-A Altoona.
From there, Davis dealt with a lingering wrist injury he sustained from getting hit by a pitch, which limited him to just 31 games with Altoona. At the Double-A level, he also struggled at the plate (.207/.324/.379). Davis made up some of those at-bats he’s missed in the Arizona Fall League.
The Prep Kids
This was the reason that the Pirates decided to go with Davis, as he was willing to take less of a signing bonus to free up funds to draft some of the high-upside prep kids with signability issues.
Two of the more notables, Anthony Solometo and Bubba Chandler, both finished the season with the Bradenton Marauders. Solometo was the team’s second round pick and immediately grabbed attention for his unconventional delivery.
At 19-years-old he turned in one of the more impressive seasons in the system, posting a 2.64 ERA to go along with a 27.1% strikeout rate. He held opponents to a .188 average, and didn’t allow a home run across 47.2 innings.
Chandler was hyped for his ability to both pitch and hit, with the Pirates getting him to sign in the third round by giving him the opportunity to do both at the professional level. The young prospect had a scholarship to Clemson to not only play baseball but also quarterback.
— Anthony Murphy (@__Murphy88) August 23, 2022
Chandler showed the promise, but also the rawness that comes with playing multiple positions, and sports. Chandler’s fastball overpowered hitters at the lower levels, striking out 34.6% of the batters he faced. He also struggled with his command, walking 16.1% of hitters. At the plate, he saw 88 plate appearances for Bradenton, hitting .184/.284/.289 with a 39.8% strikeout rate.
Multi-sport stars weren’t uncommon in the Pirates class, as Comp B pick Lonnie White Jr. also had a scholarship to play football at college, except at Penn State. Injuries limited the outfielder to two games this year, but he has six extra base hits in 40 plate appearances dating back to last season.
Owen Kellington was the wildcard when drafted, as not much was known about the right-handed pitcher when he was selected out of Vermont in the fourth round. He put up some video game numbers in high school there. Injuries also hampered his first season, pitching just 10 innings in the FCL, striking out 15 but also walking nine.
While he was among the team’s top draft picks, the Pirates rolled the dice on selecting Braylon Bishop in the 14th round, signing him to an over slot deal. He played in the FCL this past year and slashed .220/.358/.294 with a wRC+ of 96. He picked up five extra base hits, 10 stolen bases and 18 runs in 134 plate appearances (36 games). Bishop posted a very impressive 16.4% walk rate, striking out 26.9% of the time as well.
The College Kids
After taking Solometo, White, Chandler, and Kellington, the Pirates needed to carefully spread their draft allotment out since the prep kids were going to need over slot deals to get signed.
Rounds 5-10 saw the Pirates go exclusively the college route, handing out some under slot deals in order to save money.
Jackson Glenn (5th round) was a celebrated college hitter, and after hitting well in Bradenton last year, batted just .216/.297/.328 (74 wRC+) with just four home runs in Greensboro. Mike Jarvis (6th) moved around wherever a body was needed, playing at three of the four full season affiliates. He was one of a handful in the system to reach double digits in home runs (11) and stolen bases (24).
Davis was the only catcher the Pirates took, as Wyatt Hendrie was selected in the 7th round and spent the entire season in Bradenton, catching one of the better rotations in the system. Hendrie was an above average hitter when it comes wRC+ (107) but it was defense that he really made his mark within his 81 games played.
Justin Meis put in another great outing on Saturday. 5 innings of shutout baseball, striking out six. He's allowed just one earned run in his last 5 outings (allowed 5 unearned runs in a previous start). Here's some highlights of the game. #LetsGoBucs pic.twitter.com/KvIxAcjcN1
— Anthony Murphy (@__Murphy88) May 8, 2022
Sean Sullivan (8th) was an interesting name at the time of the draft, having a very advanced pitch-mix. He struggled in Greensboro, but it will be interesting to see what he can do going forward based off his home/road splits (5.52 ERA in Greensboro, 3.38 on the road). Luke Brown (9th) was a teammate of Davis, hit well in Bradenton (105 wRC+) but really struggled once getting to Greensboro (30 wRC+).
Justin Meis, a native of Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, worked out of the bullpen last year after being drafted in the tenth round. He returned to Bradenton to start the year, this time out of the rotation. Meis earned a promotion to Greensboro and after originally struggling, finished strong. He ended up among the system leaders in wins (7), innings pitched (114), and strikeouts (116).
The Pirates went pitcher heavy in the late rounds of the draft, with Brenden Dixon, AJ Graham, and Braylon Bishop the only hitters they signed in rounds 11-20.
Dixon played all year in Bradenton, and hit eight home runs while slashing .202/.337/.346. The 20th rounder also walked 15% of his plate appearances, sporting a 102 wRC+.
Jack Carey was drafted out of Duke in the 11th round, and suffered from an extreme home/away ERA split (9.55/2.67) pitching out of the bullpen. Carlos Lomeli (17th) saved six games for the Bradenton Marauders while posting a 6-4 record with a 5.40 ERA in 50 innings.
Drew Irvine (19th) split time between the FCL and Bradenton, posting a 3.18 ERA and walking seven with 11 strikeouts in 11.1 Single-A innings. Owen Sharts (13th) walked 27 batters in 11 FCL innings for an unreal 40.9 BB%.
— Anthony Murphy (@__Murphy88) August 12, 2022
AJ Graham (18th) picked up just 19 at-bats in the FCL, picking up just a single hit and striking out nine times.
Out of the later picks, no one had a better season than Tyler Samaniego (15th), a left-handed reliever from South Alabama. He went an entire month without giving up a hit, and between Greensboro and Altoona posted a 2.45 ERA — holding opponents to a .111 average and a 25.5% strikeout rate.
The Ones That Got Away
Pittsburgh was only unable to come to deals with two of their draft picks, Chazz Martinez (12th) and Daniel Corona (16th).
Martinez was drafted out of a junior college, and transferred to Oklahoma after not signing. He pitched out of the bullpen for the Sooners, posting a 4-3 record with a 1.52 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 64.1 innings pitched.
He was selected in the 17th round in 2022 by the Kansas City Royals and signed.
For Corona, after not signing he went on to have a very successful freshman year at Wake Forest. He started 48-of-the-55 games he played in, picking up 48 hits and slashed .267/.355/.400. Corona also picked up five home runs and 13 overall extra-base hits.
While Lonnie White losing basically an entire year hurts, it was an overall good first step forward for the Pirates’ heralded 2021 draft class. Instead of swinging big for one big name at the top of the class, they are hoping to get several impact players.
We won’t be able to get a final word on the success of the class for almost a decade, but when just looking at the first year, it was a good start.
Check out our recaps of the 2020 and 2019 draft classes in the links below.
THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.