Recapping the Progress of Ben Cherington’s First Draft Class With the Pirates

The 2020 MLB draft will always stand alone for how unique it was. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, high school and college baseball seasons were cut short, meaning less eyes on the draft eligible prospects.

To help with that, MLB cut the draft down to just five rounds, making it easier for teams to properly prepare.

Thanks to a compensation pick, the Pirates ended up with six overall picks in 2020, taking one position player and the rest pitchers. They were able to sign all six of the picks, with five making their professional debuts in 2021 when minor league baseball resumed.

Now in their second full season of baseball in 2022, all six of their draft picks have played in the Pirates system.

Here is a look back at how year two (for most) went for the 2020 draft class.

Top Pick: Nick Gonzales

The New Mexico State infielder was one of the highest rated hitters in the entire 2020 draft class, falling to the Pirates with the seventh overall pick. He signed for the recommended slot amount of $5,432,400 and played his first full season in Greensboro in 2021. 

After belting 18 home runs in 369 plate appearances in Greensboro, Gonzales wasn’t able to reach double digits in 2022.

The infielder dealt with more injuries in 2022, limiting him to less plate appearances than he had in Greensboro. Overall he finished with seven home runs in 316 plate appearances, 71 games overall.

Gonzales’ season was tough to gauge at times, as he had some swing and miss issues, especially against breaking pitches (29.5 K%), but at the same time was able to draw walks in 13.6% of his plate appearances. Overall, Gonzales slashed .263/.383/.429 with seven home runs, 33 RBI, five stolen bases and 47 runs scored with the Altoona Curve in 2022.

Gonzales finished strong, batting .302/.415/.566 with two home runs, six doubles and a triple while driving in nine runs in 14 September games.

After missing time due to an injury for the second straight season, Gonzales also elected to participate in the Arizona Fall League in back-to-back offseasons, trying to make up for lost time.

Playing for the Surprise Saguaros, Gonzales slashed .279/.351/.500 with three home runs, eight extra-base hits, and even added third base to his resume, playing the hot corner for the Saguaros. 

Comp Round A: Carmen Mlodzinski, 31st overall

Drafted out of The University of South Carolina, Mlodzinski had great stuff, but didn’t pitch much in college due to the pandemic and a foot injury early in his career.

The Pirates drafted him 31st overall, and signed him to an under slot deal of $2,050,000 (slot was worth $2,312,000). Mlodzinski pitched in Greensboro last year, putting up some solid numbers (30 K%, 3.93 ERA, 4.34 FIP) despite playing in a hitter friendly ballpark.

Moving up to Altoona in 2022, he took the mound on a consistent basis. Mlodzinski was one of a few players in the system to top the century mark in innings pitched, playing in 27 games, 22 of them starts. He was hit around a bit, posting a 4.78 ERA, but posted a FIP of under four (3.77). His strikeouts dipped to 24.1%, but he was also able to improve his walk rate as well.

The Pirates tested Mlodzinski a little bit out of the bullpen, or putting an opener in front of him, to try and find the best way to utilize the righty. He finished strong, picking up three of his six wins over his last five outings, posting a 2.90 FIP, 23.2 K% and 7.1 BB%.

The Prep Kid: Jared Jones, 44th Overall

Ben Cherington only drafted one high school player in 2020, Jared Jones, and the righty perhaps has the highest upside of any of those taken by the Pirates.

Jones was a two-way player in high school, but was drafted exclusively as a pitcher by the Pirates. He made his professional debut in 2021, pitching in 66 innings for the Bradenton Marauders as a 19-year-old. Despite the modest innings total, Jones still broke the century mark in strikeouts, showing his elite swing and miss stuff.

He made the jump to Greensboro in 2022, and while he was still hit around a bit, Jones was able to flash some of his elite stuff. This is despite him being one of the youngest pitchers in the league.

Jones doubled his innings pitched from 2021, throwing 122.2 frames, posted a 4.62 ERA and struck out a system high 142 batters in 2022. The strikeout rate dipped, but maintaining a 34.1 K% (his Bradenton total) into the upper levels didn’t seem likely. He still struck out 26.7% of the batters he faced, even decreasing his walk totals by nearly 2%, down to 9.6%.

Jones has some of the best stuff in the entire system, he will just need to continue to improve on his control, and progress with his secondary stuff.

The Upside Pick: Nick Garcia, 79th Overall

With their third round pick, the Pirates took Division III pitcher Nick Garcia out of Chapman. Garcia was originally a position player, switched to the mound, was the team’s closer when Chapman won the DIII championship, before moving to the rotation in 2020. 

Due to the pandemic he didn’t log a lot of time as a starter, so most of Garcia’s potential was projection. 

He started the year in the bullpen for Bradenton in 2021, before moving to the rotation to close things out, and where he stayed the entire 2022 season with Greensboro.

Garcia pitched the fifth most innings in the Pirates’ system in 2022, logging 113 frames. His 3.66 ERA was the third best mark among qualified pitchers in the South Atlantic League and was one of four players there to pitch a complete game shutout. 

The Pirates were obviously high on him, as they gave him an over slot deal of $1,200,00 (pick was worth $780,400), and in his first full season in the rotation he certainly showed some of that potential.

The Late Picks – Jack Hartman and Logan Hofmann

Giving over slot deals to both Jones and Garcia, the Pirates were going to need to save some money somewhere. They saved some with Mlodzinski but were able to get an extra $750,000 from signing both Jack Hartman and Logan Hofmann.

Hartman signed for $60,000 out of Appalachian State. He missed the 2021 season after Tommy John surgery, before making it to the mound this past season with the Marauders. He flashed a high velocity fastball and some spin on his breaking pitches, but was hit around hard (6.27 ERA in 18.2 innings) and struggled with his control (17.2 BB%). 

He was recently traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for first baseman Ji-Man Choi.

Hofmann put up some good strikeout numbers in Bradenton in 2021, but had a disastrous year in Greensboro. The righty walked more than a batter per inning (36 in 35.2 innings) while only striking out 25 and posting a 6.81 ERA.

Final Analysis

It’s hard enough to get multiple contributors from draft classes far bigger than the 2020 edition, so the pressure is going to be on this group — especially at the top.

Gonzales’ stock was hit pretty hard this past year, with him falling off quite a few Top 100 lists. Despite the drop in home runs, the power is starting to look a little more legit than originally thought. The only issue with that is it has come at the cost of the plus hit tool scouts were giving him coming into pro ball. 

Even looking beyond the Gonzales pick, the next three pitchers still seem to have a path to the majors, even if as relievers.

The 2020 draft was the first Pirates class picked by Cherington, so there will be a lot of pressure to hit on a couple of these picks. It is also a reminder on just how out of the ordinary Cherington’s tenure began, due to COVID. This offseason and start of the season will be his first ‘normal’ one he’s had since he’s taken over in Pittsburgh.

Check out our recaps of the 2021 and 2019 draft classes in the links below.

THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS

Pirates 2022 AFL Recap: Three First Round Picks Stand Out in Arizona

Recapping the First Full Professional Season From the Pirates 2021 Draft Class

Recapping the Progress of Ben Cherington’s First Draft Class With the Pirates – READING

How Have the 2019 Pirates Draft Picks Performed After a Crazy Three Years?

Pirates Prospects 2022 Award Winners

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.

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