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Pirates draft review: Part three

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Moving on to 2013-15, we're getting to highly speculative territory.  Although the Pirates' top three picks in 2013 were high school players, their focus shifted to college players, especially in 2014-15.  The shift almost certainly was triggered by the bonus pool rules, which took effect in 2012.  Another factor, though, may have been a personnel change, as Joe DelliCarri took over running the team's drafts from Greg Smith.  DelliCarri's first draft was the "Mark Appel draft" in 2012.  That was a unique situation, so any trends in DelliCarri's approach probably wouldn't start to become visible until 2013.

The shift to college players does make it a little easier to reach some tentative conclusions about the 2014-15 drafts than it would if they were still emphasizing high school pitchers.  But don't forget Matt Curry -- college hitters from major programs should dominate in low A, and possibly high A as well.  The numbers at that stage can be misleading.  The Pirates didn't just focus more on college players in the last few drafts, though.  They also focused more on hitters.  That means they went from a heavy investment in the draft's riskiest demographic to the safest one.  More on that below.

2013 -- Grade:  A-

1.  Austin Meadows, OF:  Viewed by most sources as a top 50 prospect, Meadows has hit well at every level, including a brief introduction last year to AA.  Over-the-fence power is still a question mark, but Meadows hasn't turned 21 yet.  He may or may not be able to stay in center, but that's not exactly a position of need for the Pirates.  The prospect of a Gregory Polanco extension will leave the Pirates with some interesting decisions.

1.  Reese McGuire, C:  A premium defender, McGuire's bat is a question mark.  He seldom strikes out, but his .294 slugging average at Bradenton in 2015 wasn't inspiring.  On the other hand, he's been moved up quickly -- he played all of 2015 at age 20 -- due to his glove, making it harder for his bat to keep pace.  Also, catchers often develop more slowly, especially at the plate.  Elias Diaz struggled at least as badly as McGuire through his age 23 season, then started to hit.

2.  Blake Taylor, LHP:  A high school lefty with good stuff, Taylor went to the Mets for Ike Davis.  He hasn't seen much action since then, logging only 53 innings in two years, including just a dozen in 2015.  He also hasn't made it out of short season ball.

3.  JaCoby Jones, OF:  OK, seriously now . . .  The Pirates sent Jones to Detroit for Joakim Soria.  They had moved him to shortstop and it appears likely that he'll be able to stay there, or at least cover the position in a utility role.  He's shown good power, but also strikes out in 30% of his ABs.

4.  Cody Dickson, LHP:  A college lefty with good stuff and command issues when drafted, Dickson has continued in the same vein as a pro.  He's had a lot of ups and downs, with mediocre numbers, but the stuff is there.  He'll probably make it to AA to open 2016.

5.  Trae Arbet, SS:  Arbet was considered raw, even for a HS player, when the Pirates drafted him, and he had a very rough time his first two years on both sides of the ball.  In 2015, he moved to second and put up a big slash line in advanced rookie ball, but with very poor plate discipline.  He's probably an extreme long shot at this stage.

6.  Adam Frazier, SS:  The Pirates skipped Frazier over low A and then promoted him to AA in 2015 despite a mediocre 2014 season.  He had a strong year in AA, contending for the Eastern League batting title.  The Pirates started employing him in center, evidently in preparation for a utility job, but Brian Cartwright's numbers show him to be a good defensive shortstop.  He could reach the majors in 2016, although he has the disadvantage of not being on the 40-man roster, while Alen Hanson, Max Moroff and Gift Ngoepe are.

7.  Buddy Borden, RHP:  Borden had a good season for the Pirates in low A and then they traded him to Tampa Bay for Sean Rodriguez.  He didn't pitch well for the Rays in the Florida State League in 2015.

8.  Neil Kozikowski, RHP:  A HS pitcher who got an above-slot amount, Kozikowski has mostly struggled and has yet to get past advanced rookie ball after three seasons.

9.  Chad Kuhl, RHP:  Kuhl made it to AA quickly and had a big year in 2015, especially in the second half.  He has surprising velocity and very good control, but needs to improve his secondary stuff.  He could be a back-end starter or possibly a late-inning reliever, given that he hits 96-97 fairly often.  Kuhl could be ready as a depth option some time in 2016.

10.  Shane Carle, RHP:  Similar to Kuhl, Carle went to Colorado for Rob Scahill.  Carle had a solid season in AA in 2015, but he's pretty hittable.

11.  Erich Weiss, 3B:  Weiss moved to 2B for his second season.  He's shown the ability to hit for average, but doesn't have much power.  He reached AA late in the 2015 season.

14.  Nick Buckner, OF:  A toolsy HS outfielder who signed for a little over slot, Buckner made some strides in advanced rookie ball in 2014, but had roughly the same season at the same level in 2015.  He's still striking out in about a third of his ABs and isn't hitting for very much power.

16.  Billy Roth, RHP:  A HS righty, Roth had severe control problems in 2014 in advanced rookie ball.  He returned to that level in 2015 and made progress while showing mid-90s velocity.  He could be a dark horse if he continues to step it up

19.  Brett McKinney, RHP:  Strictly a reliever, McKinney reaches the mid-90s and has generally struck out around a batter an inning.  He had a 7.50 ERA after a mid-season promotion to Altoona in 2015, but a lot of that was due to three disastrous games in which he "took one for the team" and allowed 18 earned runs total in 2.2 IP.

22.  Henry Hirsch, RHP:  Another college draftee with a mid-90s fastball, and also a reliever, Hirsch pitched well in 2015 at Bradenton after a weak season the year before in low A.  As a rule, it's a good idea to be very skeptical of pitchers who are strictly relievers in the minors.

25.  Justin Maffei, OF:  Maffei appeared to be headed for organizational status when drafted and he keeps getting stuck on teams on which the outfield is supposed to be Meadows, Harold Ramirez and Barrett Barnes.  Or maybe that's not so bad, because injuries have gotten him semi-regular playing time.  In a year and a half in the pitching-dominated Florida State League, he's hit 291/376/394, and he runs well enough to play center.  I don't know whether the Pirates consider him a possible prospect or not, but I'd like to see him get a shot at AA in 2016, where the outfield of course should be Meadows, Ramirez and Barnes.

Others:  Beau Wallace, 3B (12); Danny Collins, 1B (13); Max Rossiter, C (15); Justin Topa*, RHP (17); Jeff Roy*, OF (18); Adam Landecker, 2B (21); Cameron Griffin, LHP (23); Michael Fransoso*, SS (27); Jerry Mulderig, RHP (28); Will Kendall, LHP (30); Andrew Dennis, C (37).

Meadows and McGuire by themselves could make this a good draft.  Frazier and Kuhl also appear to have a very good chance of contributing in the majors.  Dickson and Weiss should both be in AA in 2016 and could still step forward.  Several others still have an outside chance as well.

One of the more interesting aspects of this draft is the fact that the Pirates have already traded four of their top eleven picks.  Of the four, Jones is the most interesting by far, as he could conceivably be a major league shortstop.  Obviously, the trades reflect the team's transition from accumulating talent to building contenders.  Three of the four were college draftees, which reflects the change in the team's draft approach.  Back when Billy Beane was drafting college players almost exclusively, one reported explanation -- I'm not sure whether Beane ever acknowledged it was a conscious part of his reasoning -- was that the college players stood a good chance of reaching AA quickly and serving as trade bait for a team that, at the time, was usually a contender.

Similarly, I don't know whether this is a conscious strategy on the Pirates' part, but drafting a college player, especially a hitter, in, say, round five stands a much better chance of netting you a trade piece than drafting a HS pitcher.  The HS pitchers from the 2009-11 drafts who didn't work out mostly dropped by the wayside before they even reached AA.  Obviously, you can trade a player in the low minors, Blake Taylor being an example, but a guy who could help out in the majors within a year or less has more value.  That's especially true with, say, a deadline trade for a reliever to shore up the bullpen, where you're going to be trading a prospective role player rather than a prospective star.

The Pirates aren't drafting with the basket cases any more.  They're drafting, and competing, with the big boys.  That means no Coles and Taillons falling into their lap, but it also means they need to have the resources to shore up the roster in July or August, or in March or April when they don't have a first baseman.  The key is to have an Adam Frazier and a Max Moroff in the pipeline even after you've traded JaCoby Jones.

2014 -- Grade:  B

1.  Cole Tucker, SS:  A lot of fans, including me, weren't pleased when the Pirates used their top pick on a guy who appeared to be more of a second or third round talent.  Tucker, though, had a lot of helium, as Baseball America puts it, among scouts shortly before the draft.  He's a very athletic guy with very good speed, and he had a good season as a very young player in low A in 2015, with a strong second half.  That is, until a shoulder injury knocked him out of action, culminating in labrum surgery, which will cost him most or all of 2016.  Tucker has real upside, but labrum surgery isn't all that much less concerning for hitters than pitchers.  There's a realistic chance Tucker will have to move off shortstop.

1S.  Connor Joe, OF:  The Pirates' original plan was to try Joe behind the plate.  A back injury shortly before he was set to report to short season ball scuttled that plan and, for now, he's a first baseman.  He drew a lot of walks and didn't strike out much, but college hitters will do that in low A.  Joe didn't hit the ball with much authority.  The two questions left are whether the back problem accounts for the weak hitting and whether he can recover from it.

2.  Mitch Keller, RHP:  A bit of a throwback for the Pirates, Keller was an above-slot HS righty.  He already had better stuff than the standard, projectible HS pitcher, with a 94-mph fastball and a potentially good breaking ball.  He was able to pitch only briefly in 2015 due to "mild" forearm tightness and struggled to throw strikes, but he still has considerable promise.

2S.  Trey Supak, RHP:  Another above-slot HS righty, Supak is very similar to Keller.  The Pirates traded him for Jason Rogers.

3.  Jordan Luplow, OF:  Luplow made a successful transition to 3B in 2015, although he's hardly a budding Gold Glove candidate.  He also had a big second half at the plate, but the standard caveat for college hitters in low A applies.

4.  Taylor Gushue, C:  The Pirates drafted Gushue as an offense-oriented catcher, but he managed only a .629 OPS in low A.

5.  Michael Suchy, OF:  Suchy had swing-and-miss problems when the Pirates drafted him, but he made progress in low A, with a strong last four months and decent plate discipline.  Again, he was a college hitter in low A, but he's probably more of a work in progress than Luplow.

6.  Tyler Eppler, RHP:  Eppler is a tall pitcher with good velocity who nevertheless doesn't miss a lot of bats.  Oddly, he's not a groundball pitcher.  He missed nearly half of his first full season with a sore elbow, but the Pirates still jumped him up to high A and, when he pitched well there, promoted him to AA for two starts.  He probably profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter.  Given how quickly he reached AA, he has a good likelihood of reaching the majors if he's healthy.

7.  Nelson Jorge, SS:  This pick just didn't work out, as Jorge has struggled through two seasons in the GCL.

8.  Austin Coley, RHP:  Coley is a finesse pitcher drafted out of college.  He went 16-6, leading the South Atlantic League in wins by a wide margin (the next most was 12), but he was pretty hittable.

9.  Kevin Krause, C:  Krause may have the most power in this draft class, and he put up a 276/363/560 line in his debut, but he missed all of 2015 due to Tommy John surgery.  He could end up seeing a lot of time at first or in the outfield corners, as defense behind the plate isn't supposed to be his strong suit.

10.  Alex McRae, RHP:  McRae is another finesse righty drafted out of college.  He got hit fairly hard in low A.

11.  Gage Hinsz, RHP:  Somehow, the Pirates managed to sign three above-slot HS pitchers in this draft in spite of Bud Selig's best efforts.  Hinsz was the third, although he's not quite as promising as Keller or Supak.  Hinsz threw only eight innings in the GCL after signing, then pitched just OK at Bristol, but with HS pitchers development isn't always a steady process.

13.  Frank Duncan, RHP:  Another finesse righty drafted out of college, Duncan jumped to high A because Bradenton was short of starters due to injuries.  Duncan walked almost nobody, but opponents hit .311 against him.

14.  Chase Simpson, 3B:  Out of the college hitters the Pirates drafted, Simpson had the best debut aside from Krause.  He hit just OK in low A in 2015.  He appears likely to settle in as a corner backup.

16.  Sam Street, RHP:  An Australian who throws sidearm, Street has put up good numbers in short season ball and low A, albeit with a low K rate.  But . . . relief prospect.

18.  Erik Lunde, 2B:  Lunde struggled in the NYPL in his debut, then the Pirates moved him behind the plate and dropped him a level to Bristol.  He posted an OPS of .832 and played well enough on defense.  Considering that he'd moved down a level, he can't be considered a prospect at this point, but a catcher with a decent bat is always nice.

20.  John Sever, LHP:  Sever had a spectacular debut in advanced rookie ball (13.9 K/9), then just a good season in low A in 2015.  He's started and relieved so far.  Sever gets into the low-90s, so his velocity is decent for a lefty, and his control isn't consistent.  At worst, he's an interesting dark horse.

26.  Jerrick Suiter, OF:  Another college hitter, Suiter hits for average, draws walks, and doesn't swing and miss much.  He doesn't have much power, though, and he's strictly a corner player.

32.  Montana DuRapau, RHP:  DuRapau made it all the way to AA at the end of his first full season.  He hasn't had spectacular K rates, but he doesn't walk anybody and he had a .117 opponents' average, fueled by a .145 BABIP.  He also presents a serious challenge to Tito Polo for the organization's best name.  Of course . . . relief prospect.

Others:  Tyler Filliben*, SS (12); Eric Dorsch*, RHP (15); Michael Clemens, RHP (17); Carl Anderson*, OF (19); Eric Thomas, Jr.*, OF (21); Eric Karch*, RHP (22); Erik Forgione*, SS (25); Jess Amedee*, RHP (27); Nick Neumann*, RHP (28); David Andriese, OF (30); Luis Paula*, RHP (31); Palmer Betts*, RHP (36).

The success of this draft could depend heavily on health issues.  The top three picks have had injury problems that could significantly impact them.  Sixth rounder Tyler Eppler also missed time with a sore elbow.  And possibly the best power hitter in the group is coming off Tommy John surgery, although as a position player his odds of recovery should be especially good.

Apart from health issues, we should know a lot more about this draft after the 2016 season.  The Pirates selected five college hitters in the first nine rounds, and picked up two other interesting ones (Simpson and Suiter) later.  With the exception of Krause, all of them spent their first full season in low A, where you'd expect them to put up good numbers (although not all of them did).  Most or all of them should be in high A in 2016, in a tough environment for hitters.  That'll be a more meaningful test.  It's also possible that Keller or Hinsz could reach low A, which would be a positive development.

2015 -- Grade:  B

1.  Kevin Newman, SS:  Newman created some consternation when he got off to a very slow start, but after about a month he hit well, including a stint in low A for the season's last month.  He may move very quickly, especially if Jordy Mercer doesn't start hitting again.

1S.  Ke'Bryan Hayes, 3B:  Hayes had a strong debut, playing very well defensively, hitting for average and controlling the strike zone.  He didn't hit for power, but the conventional wisdom is that power often comes later.

2.  Kevin Kramer, SS:  Like Newman, Kramer started off very slowly and then got hot.  Also, like both Newman and Hayes, he's a gap-to-gap hitter who controls the strike zone well, but doesn't have over-the-fence power (although Hayes may develop some).  Listed as a shortstop when drafted, Kramer played second almost exclusively in his first year, sometimes even when Newman was out of the lineup.

3.  Casey Hughston, OF:  Like Michael Suchy the year before, the Pirates knew Hughston had contact issues.  He struggled a lot more than Suchy, striking out in a third of his ABs and suffering through a 1-for-43 stretch to begin his career.

4.  Jacob Taylor, RHP:  A junior college pitcher with a fastball that reaches 97, Taylor was considered raw when drafted.  He pitched just once afterward and then had Tommy John surgery.  He'll probably miss all of 2016.

5.  Brandon Waddell, LHP:  The Pirates may have been hoping to channel Justin Wilson.  Like Wilson, Waddell is a college lefty who starred in a College World Series championship run.  He's a finesse guy who should move up quickly.

6.  J.T. Brubaker, RHP:  A groundball pitcher who doesn't miss a lot of bats, Brubaker recovered from a rough start to lead the NYPL in WHIP.  He had the help, though, of a .250 BABIP.  He and Waddell both should be candidates to skip low A.

7.  Mitchell Tolman, 3B:  Like most of the Pirates' other early picks, Tolman is a line drive hitter who controls the strike zone and doesn't have much over-the-fence power.  And like Newman and Kramer, he recovered from a very slow start to hit well in his debut.  Tolman spent some time at second and may have to move there full time due to Hayes.  Both are likely to be in Morgantown in 2016.

8.  Seth McGarry, RHP:  A college righty whose fastball has reached 97, McGarry has had some injury issues and is probably more of a project than the typical college pitcher.  He had some control issues in the NYPL.

9.  Bret Helton, RHP:  A finesse righty, Helton got hit hard in his NYPL debut.

10.  Logan Seldelbach, RHP:  Sendelbach is a finesse righty from Division II Tiffin University.  He got hit hard at Bristol.

11.  Christian Kelley, C:  Despite being a college draftee, Kelley didn't have a lot of experience.  He was the regular catcher in the NYPL and struggled, both at the plate and behind it.

12.  Ty Moore, OF:  Moore is a corner outfielder, but doesn't have much power.  He hit for average with solid plate discipline in his debut.

14.  Chris Plitt, RHP:  A 6'4" righty from JC ball who doesn't throw hard, Plitt went to the GCL and allowed very few baserunners.  That probably wasn't much of a test.

15.  Scooter Hightower, RHP:  Hightower has a fitting name, since he's 6'6".  He put up terrific BB and K rates at Bristol, pitching as a starter and reliever.  If the Pirates really think he's a prospect, they could put him in the rotation at Morgantown in 2016.

16.  Nick Hibbing, RHP:  Drafted out of college, Hibbing is another tall (6'6") righty who doesn't throw especially hard.  He pitched in relief in the NYPL and got good results with a low K rate.

25.  Logan Hill, OF:  Hill may have been a good late-round find.  He was Morgantown's best hitter, although he tailed off late in the season, possibly due to some injury problems.

35.  Jordan George, 1B:  George put up a .967 OPS in his debut, but he was playing in advanced rookie ball at age 23.

39.  Tate Scioneaux, RHP:  Drafted out of Southeastern Louisiana University, Scioneaux reportedly reached the mid-90s.  Pitching in relief in the NYPL, he fanned over eleven batters per nine innings and walked very few.  If the Pirates think highly enough of him, they could jump him up to Bradenton.

Others (all are still in the organization):  Logan Ratledge, SS (13); Stephan Meyer, RHP (18); Ike Schlabach, LHP (19); Tanner Anderson, RHP (20); Nick Economos, RHP (21); Nathan Trevillian, RHP (22); John Bormann, C (24); Shane Kemp, RHP (26); Ryan Nagle, OF (27); Albert Baur, 1B (28); Mike Wallace, RHP (30); Sean Keselica, LHP (33); Daniel Zamora, LHP (40).

The grade for this draft is pretty close to being a default grade, as it's obviously very early.  I think Hayes was a good pick, Hill might be a late-round sleeper, and the early-round hitters, other than Hughston, came around well after slow starts.  Although it's early to judge the talent haul, some trends did emerge.

With pitchers, the Pirates went heavily for tall, non-bat-missing, mostly but not entirely groundball types.  This obviously isn't going to produce any #2 or even #3 starters, but it might be a realistic approach to drafting in round five and later.  They did come up with a couple relievers who had very good debuts, but . . . relief prospects.  The main exceptions were Taylor and McGarry, both hard throwers who are pretty raw and came with potential health issues.  That's the sort of gamble you have to take on day two of the draft if you want pitchers who throw in the mid-90s.  Sure enough, Taylor's already had TJ.  So it'll be a while before those picks can be assessed.

With the hitters, I got the feeling of the other shoe dropping.  The increasing acknowledgement of the success of the Pirates' approach to shifts and sinkers, I've been wondering whether there was a flip side with the offensive game.  Then this draft happened, with contact-oriented, all fields hitters going in the first three picks and half of the first eight.  Of course, the Pirates aren't talking.  They'll always just say they took the best players available, but that begs the question of how you determine who's best.  It's certainly possible I'm reading in a strategy that isn't there, but that became even harder for me to believe after I read Jeff Sullivan's article showing that hitters are getting increasingly better results when they go up the middle or to the opposite field.  I also don't think it's any coincidence that Pedro Alvarez' departure left the Pirates with none of MLB's 30 most-shifted hitters.

I don't know whether this approach will work or not.  I've always believed that a hitter needs to be able to drive the ball to keep major league pitchers honest.  But at least it shows (assuming it's not all just a coincidence) that the team has an approach that's intended to breed success.  It beats acquiring Randall Simon twice on purpose.

There's also the question of trade bait.  Newman, Kramer, Tolman, Waddell and Brubaker all strike me as players who'll advance quickly.  I'd lay even odds that at least one of them will be gone within the next year.