Regardless of how the Pirates are doing at the major league level - and boy do I wish they were doing better - I will always get way too excited for the amateur draft. Luckily for me, it's coming up here in less than 3 weeks!
Finally, after a great season last year, the Pirates will no longer be drafting inside the top 5. Technically, that actually hasn't happened since 2011, with the Pirates drafting 8th overall in 2012 (and again 9th overall in 2013 for not signing Mark Appel) and 14th overall in 2013. In 2014, they won't get to take a player until 24th overall, near the end of the first round, a small reminder of the Buccos magical 2013 campaign.
Like any draft, this draft will be important. The Pirates future success, perhaps as early as 2015 if any trades occur, will be in part determined by how well the Pirates do in selecting non-professional players over the course of 3 days early next month. More than likely, the Pirates success or lackthereof anywhere from 5-10 years from now will be impacted strongly by who they add to the organization here in a few weeks. The first round pick, 24th overall, will be crucial.
Of course, unlike in years past, when it was fairly certain who the Pirates would be able to choose - or absolutely certain in the case of 2011 - this year, the pool is wide open. Below are a number of players I would like the Pirates to choose, based strongly on who I think the Pirates will be looking to choose, based on demographical history.
Many mock drafts have had the Pirates selecting a number of all bat, defensively limited, lower upside college players. Specifically, college first baseman such as Casey Gillaspie, Kyle Schwarber, or A.J. Reed have been mentioned. The idea is probably that the Pirates have a hole at first base and a college player that could move quickly could help fill that hole. To do that, the Pirates would have to skip on upside. I don't believe Neal Huntington will do that and if my belief is correct, I agree with that approach. Upside should be key for a team like the Pirates, especially at the end of the first round, where it's more of a crapshoot. So in no specific order, here are a few directions I hope the Pirates end up going come early June in the first round.
Braxton Davidson - 1B/OF
Davidson was considered a potential top 5 pick several months back, but an uneven spring season and poor performance in important showcases has made his stock drop. The Pirates could be beneficiaries as Davidson has a few major things going for him. First is his power potential. Davidson could legitimately end up with plus-plus power and even short of that, he should offer plenty of power as a professional. He is also a good hitter with a good eye for a prep player, which gives him a better than usual chance of actually unlocking that power. Finally, as a small perk, Davidson is extremely young. He'll be 17 on draft day and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that makes him more valuable. Even though he is defensively limited, Davidson is a left-handed bat with the potential to be an all-around masher, a worthy late first-round pick.
Jacob Gatewood - SS/3B
Another former potential top 5 pick, Gatewood's flaws have been exposed in recent months. That flow is a hitch in his swing that makes scouts wonder if he'll ever actually tap into his power. Again, the Pirates could be the lucky beneficiary, because in terms of power, Gatewood may have no equal in the 2014 draft. He's probably not going to be a shortstop, but third base is a potential landing spot defensively. That's super exciting considering a legitimate comp for Gatewood could be Giancarlo Stanton, a former elite power draft prospect with enough questions that he dropped to the second round. Gatewood is very risky, but the payoff if he's successful will be massive.
TiQuan Forbes - SS/3B
For the Pirates to get either Davidson or Gatewood, they would have to fall down the draft to a degree. For Forbes, the Pirates would actually have to reach a bit to get him. An elite athlete, Forbes could stick at shortstop long term. If he doesn't however, that will be due to his size - he's already 6'4. That size is also what offers Forbes plenty of offensive upside, including power potential. Very raw, Forbes will be a project. Like Davidson, Forbes is super young as he won't turn 18 until August.
Michael Chavis - 2B/3B
Chavis is an polarizing prospect. Some outlets see him as a firm first round talent while others see him as more of a second round talent. If the truth is closer to the latter, the Pirates could take him with some strategic maneuvering in mind. First, as a player, Chavis would not be a bad pick. He's not particularly athletic and his frame doesn't suggest massive power potential, but he possess impressive bat speed, controls the strike zone very well, and simply knows how to hit. He'll stick in the infield defensively and could into a good all-around hitter long term. In terms of strategic maneuvering, the Pirates pick will have a slot value of around 1.8-1.9 million dollars. Their second round pick and second round supplemental round pick will both be in the 800K-1.0 million dollar range. By "reaching" to get Chavis, the Pirates may be able to save 200-400K or so and then apply that to a guy who drops with their second round pick, able to offer him nearly 1.5 million, especially if they save elsewhere in the latter parts of the first 10 rounds. Potential candidates would include Dylan Cease, and mid-first round talent with an elbow injury and J.B. Bukauskas, a mid-first round who has asked teams not to draft him.
Jeff Hoffman - SP
Hoffman is this year's Sean Manaea. A college pitcher who was a lock to be a top 5 pick until needing Tommy John surgery. Obviously Hoffman has plenty of risk associated with him, but the Pirates could easily draft a guy with the 24th overall pick who could look like a top-of-the-draft talent 12 months from now. The Royals are probably very happy with getting Sean Manaea at this point:
26.2 IP, 34H, 10BB, 38K so far in High-A this year.
There are also plenty of prep arms the Pirates could take. I have no reason to think they will rate hitters higher than pitchers at 24 if the 23 picks ahead of the Pirates are fairly close to consensus, so they could just have a prep pitcher rated slightly ahead of the hitters available when they come to draft at 24. Of course, best case scenario may be if a talented prep pitch falls past where he should. Candidates would include: Touki Toussaint, Grant Holmes, or Sean Reid-Foley. Just as an interesting note, Keith Law had Tyler Beede dropping to us at 24 in his latest mock draft, a guy I consider to be a top 10 overall draft talent.
Ultimately, I would be thrilled with Gatewood or Davidson. Forbes would make me a bit uneasy because it would be "technically" a reach. Jeff Hoffman would excite me just because of the upside if he returns from injury healthy. When it comes down to it, my hope and my expectation is that a guy inside the Pirates top 15 or at least top 20 will make it to 24 and the Pirates will pounce. I just hope (stupidly) that it's not a lower ceiling college player or a prep outfielder. To expound, I understand and agree completely with BPA, but at some point you CAN have too many outfielders. The Pirates are getting there.