Last week, we conducted a lengthy Roundtable to discuss the Pittsburgh Pirates’ number one overall pick in the upcoming MLB draft. We’ve already published the discussions about Dylan Crews and Paul Skenes. The lineup for this Roundtable discussion was as follows:
Tim Williams – Moderator
John Dreker – Site Draft Expert
Anthony Murphy – System Depth View
Wilbur Miller – System Needs View
Jeff Reed – Resident Fan Expert
The consensus for this draft is that there’s not a big gap in talent among the top five ranked players. Crews and Skenes are the consensus best prospects, but there’s not a big drop off in talent after them. Today, we talk about the other three players.
TIM WILLIAMS: John, I’m assuming the incentive to take anyone beyond Crews and Skenes would be to go with a 2021 style approach — saving money for the aggregate talent haul. Is this that type of draft, and which other first rounders could make that approach possible?
JOHN DREKER: The Pirates have been linked to high school outfielder Max Clark, who is part of the top five group this year. There’s also a chance to Wyatt Langford could be that pick. Both have been rated #1 overall at some point this year, and both had seasons that lived up to (possibly exceeded) expectations. If they are willing to sign for a savings that allowed the Pirates to pick up two more high profile over-slot signings, then I don’t see why doing it wouldn’t be an option.
The comparison wouldn’t be Crews vs Langford or Clark even up, which are close comparisons regardless of how you look at it, it would Crews vs Langford or Clark PLUS the ability to spend on two more high quality players. When numerous scouts say that any of the top five this year would be going first overall in an average year, you have the ability to maximize your draft class through wise spending. If you’re spending full slot on someone versus a seven-figure savings to put elsewhere, you better be sure that the full slot player is worth more than what you are potentially giving up.
In my opinion, the only wrong pick for the Pirates first overall this year is someone not named Crews, Skenes, Langford, Clark or Walker Jenkins. Once you get into other players, the gap in talent is large.
TIM:One thing that drives me crazy is talk about “the average draft year”. There is no such thing. There is the 2023 draft class. There is the Pittsburgh Pirates organization with the number one pick. There are both generational hitting and pitching talents. What we’re really saying with “the average draft year” is that this draft offers players who won’t make you regret passing on the generational guys for system depth.
Anthony, without getting into a decision, how is the depth right now in the system? Is it starved for potential impact guys like Crews and Skenes?
ANTHONY MURPHY: The depth feels a lot stronger on the pitching side as opposed to the hitting, but I don’t think — outside of Henry Davis who is at the major league level right now — that the system has the one signature elite front line prospect that is going to be a huge difference maker.
They may have a few guys who have a good amount of upside, but none to the level that Skenes or Crews would give them. So, while I don’t think they are starving for potential impact guys, they don’t have anything that is as close to a certainty that those two would provide.
TIM: Wilbur, as you noted, there’s a scale with going for savings. It seems if they don’t take the “generational guys”, they should go for maximum savings among the other “average year” first overall players. What does this organization need more? One impact prospect for 2024, or another 2021 style boost to the system?
WILBUR MILLER: The organization needs impact players, period. Right now, it’s not clear there’s a single one in the system. There are a few guys who have a chance of stepping forward, mainly Davis, Johnson, Jones and Chandler, but the evidence so far is that the Pirates are not good at development, especially not hitters. They’ve focused heavily on depth, which was the point behind drafting Davis, and here they are short on impact talent. They’re also woefully short on pitching depth, a deficiency that stands out dramatically when you go to FSL and FCL games regularly, or just check the Altoona and Greensboro box scores. It’s very hard to make an argument that focusing on depth over impact talent is working. What they need to do at the top of this draft is find an impact player. All other considerations should take a back seat.
TIM: Jeff, I was reading an article recently by Keith Law that pointed out the long-term impact from the shortened 2020 draft. Because that draft only had five rounds, the class is deeper this year. That seems obvious with the players we’re discussing at the top, but it also extends to the middle rounds, where the Pirates have picks 42, 67, 73, and 104. The Pirates have a lot of chances to add first round talents by not taking the best available from the top of a loaded draft class. You could easily argue their approach from 2021 has been better than taking the players ranked higher than Henry Davis on draft day. Marcelo Mayer and Jordan Lawlar are struggling to hit in Double-A, while Jack Leiter has serious control issues at the same level. Davis is hitting in the majors, and Anthony Solometo leads the group of prep players added with the savings — and he’s at the same level as Leiter now.
Based on recent scouting history, and the overall strength of this draft class, would the Pirates be justified in going for a similar signability approach this year?
JEFF REED: There has been a lot of discussion about how loaded the 2023 draft is by different publications. Way I see it is, the Pirates have almost $17M (breakdown by Ethan) to play with when factoring in the 5% overage, so they have the ability to get the best of both worlds.
Stepping back to the 2021 draft, Henry Davis signed for only $164K less than Marcelo Mayer. Braylon Bishop signed for $268,700, or $143,700 over the post-11th round $125K limit before counting against bonus pool. I liked the Davis pick at the time, and wouldn’t go back to change it. That being said, in theory, they could’ve taken Mayer with the only difference being they probably don’t sign Bishop. Anthony Solometo, Lonnie White Jr., Bubba Chandler, and even throwing in Owen Kellington signed for a collective $7.9M.
The number with the 5% overage is $16,994,985. The Pirates could draft Dylan Crews, hand him $9M; Draft three or four high end prep players and hand them $7.5M-$7.9M collectively; and then have plenty to draft a bunch of senior signs or signable juniors. I personally think the $5K and like signing bonuses are trash, but I’m speaking in terms or strategy.
Watching the MLB Combine, there are going to be a lot of REALLY gifted kids available. With the Pirates available bonus pool, I don’t think there’s really an argument for the big splash versus quantity of first round talents spread out. They should be able to get AT LEAST three “first round talents” just based off pool size alone. Even if they handed Crews $10M, as has been rumored.
Check back tomorrow morning at PiratesProspects.com for the fourth and final part, as we make our own mock picks with our strategies, two days ahead of the draft.