Last week, we held an email Roundtable, discussing the first overall pick in the 2023 Draft, and the strategy the Pittsburgh Pirates could take. If you missed the first three parts, you can check out our breakdowns of Dylan Crews, Paul Skenes, and the rest of the first overall candidates.
Tim Williams – Moderator
John Dreker – Site Draft Expert
Anthony Murphy – System Depth View
Wilbur Miller – System Needs View
Jeff Reed – Resident Fan Expert
In the final part, everyone makes their picks and explains their strategy.
TIM WILLIAMS: It’s July 9th. [NOTE: It was actually July 2nd, and this was published July 7th.] You get to make the pick and direct the middle round strategy. Who is your first overall pick, and are you focused on just the quality of the first pick or overall strategy?
JOHN DREKER: My strategy would be similar to what we are hearing for the Pirates. If I can get Max Clark or Wyatt Langford for a lot less ($1M+) than someone else from the top five group, then I’m taking them. You need to get impact talent from the draft. Clark and Langford are both elite high impact talent, and then I’m going high upside on the next 3-4 picks too, whoever fits best in the budget among the top players. I’d rather throw away rounds 5-20 on low bonus guys than spread the remaining pool out among all of the picks after the first round. One high upside prospect is better than a large group of potential depth options. You’ll still get those guys for $50K-$100K if your scouts do a good job. Trust the scouts and go big early.
TIM: Anthony, same question.
ANTHONY MURPHY: For me I always want to maximize my investment as much as possible. Having the first overall pick comes with a certain caveat of wanting to get the ‘best player’, which is fair, one player isn’t going to make the ultimate difference at the major league level, it takes a team. It really comes down to what it will take to get each player signed. If there really isn’t as much of a difference between a Langford compared to Crews, and you can save even $500 K, it’s worth looking into. Michael Kennedy was signed for right at $500 K over slot. So, if Langford or even Max Clark can create that much of a savings, or more, it’d interest me.
Jeff does make a good point about how the Pirates are working with an incredibly big bonus pool, so it may not be necessary to take that kind of strategy in this draft, because even an overslot deal with Crews could leave you with enough to sign a big prep pitcher.
So my answer would be Crews, as I believe he is still the best player in the draft, just not as much as some people think. It would come with the stipulation that if Langford would truly create enough space to go big with another prep player, I’d go there. Going the prep route has worked too well for them to go away from it, and this is a deep draft there, so if the opportunity is there to maximize on it, that’s where I want to go.
TIM: Wilbur, who do you have?
WILBUR MILLER: I can’t see any other approach here apart from best-player-available. That’s either Crews or Skenes. I’m seeing Skenes referred to these days, pretty consistently, as a generational talent. Despite my usual aversion to first-round pitchers, I’d go with him.
I can’t buy into the idea that there are five impact talents, so it doesn’t matter which and go for the savings. The Pirates don’t need a guy who checks the box labeled “impact talent.” They need an impact player at the major league level. The chances of all five of these guys becoming impact major leaguers are zero. The Pirates’ job is to figure out which one has the best chance.
Jim Callis made a good point in a recent podcast. He noted there are 41 picks between the Pirates’ first two. A bunch of teams with large bonus pools have two, or even three, picks in that range. It won’t really be possible to “target” a particular player for an above-slot signing. In the end, instead of getting your player, you’ll get the guy the monetary maneuvering gives you. Of course, that’s unavoidable in the draft to some extent, except it’s totally avoidable when you’re picking 1-1. That’s the one pick in the draft that you can base entirely on baseball considerations.
The Pirates’ 2021 draft is hardly an argument for saving money at 1-1. If that draft turns out well, it’ll be due primarily to Henry Davis, but the Pirates have insisted that they had him as the best available. Of all the above-slot guys, the only one who’s made any mark at all so far is Anthony Solometo. Right now, the return from that draft doesn’t look any better than what the Pirates could have done without bothering with the “Davis strategy.” Pointing to Marcelo Mayer and Jordan Lawlar doesn’t accomplish much, either. Two years from now that could be Walker Jenkins and Max Clark.
After 1-1, there shouldn’t be any “strategy,” just BPA. The Pirates tried drafting for need in 2022 when they loaded up on college pitching to address the shortage of pitching depth in the system. So far, that hasn’t worked. Of course, there’s no way of knowing what sort of talent they passed over by drafting for need. When you start looking for something other than the best player you can get, your risk simply outsmarting yourself.
TIM: Jeff, I feel like you’ve already laid your pick out, but make it official for us. What’s your final strategy?
JEFF: To make it official, I’m going Dylan Crews with the first overall pick. Obviously the negotiating would be mostly done beforehand, and I’d max out at $9M. That clears Adley Rutschman’s record bonus by almost $600K. Paul Skenes or Wyatt Langford would likely still set records, but maybe closer to $8.6M, saving $400K.
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, the Pirates have the budget pool to go big, not having to focus too much on savings. Slot amounts to me are really just to calculate the pool total and for talking points. The number that matters is the near $17M. Pick Dylan Crews, and then they can still go “best player available” for the next two to three picks. I’d really like it if they got their hands on at least one prep pitcher and one prep position player, then started filling out with upside college picks like Tre Morgan (yes another LSU kid), Kevin Sim, or pitchers like Will Sanders and Sean Sullivan 2.0.
With the number one pick and a sizable bonus pool, they shouldn’t get cute with it, swing for the fences.
TIM: I just want to say that you guys did an incredible job with this. I loved the perspectives.
Check back later today at PiratesProspects.com for my column breaking down the first pick.