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Williams: Recapping the Final Draft of the Neal Huntington Era

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I’ve been recapping the Pittsburgh Pirates’ last five drafts over the last week. If you’ve missed the earlier parts of this series, check out the recaps by year: 2023, 2022, 2021, 2020.

The 2019 MLB draft class has to be one of the most unfortunate groups in the history of the sport.

Some players who were drafted and signed in 2019 ended up making their debuts that same season. The rest were delayed due to the global pandemic that caused the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season. As a result, many of the players from this draft didn’t get to make their professional debuts until nearly two years after they were drafted.

For players in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, there was an added challenge. The Pirates changed to a new front office after the 2019 season. This draft was the final one under former General Manager Neal Huntington.

Current General Manager Ben Cherington largely maintained the same scouting department, led by Joe DelliCarri as the scouting director. His assistant General Manager Steve Sanders oversaw the 2020-2023 drafts. The scouting group has largely remained intact through the 2023 draft, and recently had a change in leadership this offseason. DelliCarri was moved to the Vice President of Scouting, while Justin Horowitz was hired from the Red Sox to take over as the Director of Amateur Scouting.

With each adjustment, whether the addition of Sanders at the top, or the addition of Horowitz as the scouting director, there is a shift in preference. The 2019 group was drafted on the preferences of a group led by former assistant General Manager Greg Smith, under the leadership of Huntington. Not only did these players have their careers delayed, but the Pirates draftees were favored by the old front office.

A few of these players have emerged as prospects, but five years later, this draft class is looking like it could lack a starter from the Pirates.

Head of the Class

Jared Triolo was taken in Competitive Balance Round B with the 72nd overall pick. The third baseman out of Houston made his debut that year in short-season ball, before moving to High-A in 2021. He’s hit well at every level of the minors, and arrived in the majors last season batting .298/.388/.398.

A lot of the early offensive results at the MLB level for Triolo were inflated by an unsustainable BABIP. He may have gone to the other extreme this year, with a sub-.300 BABIP leading to a .209/.288/.275. The Pirates gave Triolo a chance at the starting second base job at the beginning of the season. He’s since been replaced by 2020 first rounder Nick Gonzales.

Triolo excels defensively all around the field. He’s won Gold Glove awards in the minors at third base, and gives the Pirates luxury depth at the position behind Ke’Bryan Hayes. He also excelled defensively at second base this year. If his bat adjusts to the majors, he could emerge as a starter. He doesn’t hit for a lot of power, relying on contact, so the ceiling shouldn’t be set for more than an average starter upside.

The Standouts

Quinn Priester, RHP – Priester was drafted 18th overall by the Pirates out of high school. He was advanced enough to teach himself without a pitching coach, developing himself into a first rounder. He began his career with a few innings in 2019, before a push to the minor league workout roster in 2020 at the Double-A level. He then had his first full season in High-A in 2021. Priester has since emerged as an MLB rotation option, though he has a 6.61 ERA in 81.2 innings. He hasn’t shown the ability for strikeouts at the MLB level, and looks like his confidence wanes during starts. He’s got the stuff to be a long-term starter in the majors, but has yet to step into that role. He’s in his age 23 season, so there is still time for him to develop into a Major League starter.

Matt Gorski, CF –

The rest of this post is for Pirates Prospects subscribers!

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Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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