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Pirates' draft retrospective: 2014

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A year ago, I didn't bother with 2013 or 2014 because the drafts were so recent I didn't think any useful conclusions could be drawn.  In the last two drafts, though, some noticeable patterns have emerged, both in the team's drafting and in the (early) outcomes, so I decided to go ahead with all the remaining drafts.

What's Left

Cole Tucker, SS (1): A surprise pick, but Tucker in his first full year did well as a very young player in low A.  He has a good shot to stay at short and his hitting picked up strongly late in the year.  He's still pretty skinny and needs to get stronger, but he's still only 19.  His recovery from labrum surgery appears to have been both very rapid and successful.  He just moved up to Bradenton in the wake of the injury to Kevin Newman.

Connor Joe, OF (1S): This pick started a surprising trend of taking college hitters from a draft pool that was regarded as being very weak in that demographic.  The Pirates initially intended to try Joe behind the plate, but a back injury scuttled that plan as well as his 2014 season.  He was still hampered in 2015 and didn't hit the ball with any authority, although he showed excellent plate discipline.  He's supposedly healthy now and playing regularly in high A, but not only is he not hitting, his plate discipline has collapsed.  The Pirates have moved him to third and he's struggled some, which isn't terribly surprising.  As a supposedly advanced college hitter drafted in the supplemental first round, Joe shouldn't be struggling in high A (albeit in the worst hitters league in the minors) and he'll be 24 in August.  This pick isn't looking good.

Mitch Keller, RHP (2): The Pirates went back to the prep pitcher well in round 2.  Keller didn't pitch much prior to this year due to a "mild forearm strain" that caused him to miss most of 2015.  This year, so far, has been a huge breakout for him.  And . . . I'm not going to say any more because I don't want to jinx anything.

Trey Supak, RHP (2S): Supak mostly struggled in brief action in 2014-15, but Keller's experience shows that doesn't necessarily mean a lot with a prep pitching draftee.  The Pirates sent Supak to the Brewers for Jason Rogers and Supak has yet to emerge from extended spring training.

Jordan Luplow, OF (3): Luplow was the cutting edge of the Pirates' try-all-the-outfielders-at-third experiment.  He eventually handled the move pretty well in low A last year, but with Joe trying third at Bradenton Luplow is back in the outfield.  Luplow had a strong second half in 2015, but he's not hitting at all in 2016.  He was younger than normal for a college draftee, but he's 22, which isn't especially young for high A.  He shouldn't be struggling at that level.  He's also another example of Matt Curry Syndrome, which establishes that good hitting numbers for college draftees in low A in their first full seasons aren't to be taken seriously.

Taylor Gushue, C (4): A theme seems to be emerging here.  Gushue was a college catcher whose strength was supposed to be his bat.  He struggled in low A in 2015 and he's struggling again this year.  He had a serious passed ball problem last year, but that's improved markedly this year.

Michael Suchy, RF (5): Another college hitter.  The Pirates knew when they drafted Suchy that he had contact issues as well as plenty of raw power.  He had a solid season in 2015 in low A, making good progress with his plate discipline.  In high A this year, he's doing little on offense other than drawing walks.

Tyler Eppler, RHP (6): Eppler is a tall (6'6") righty drafted out of college.  He's shown mid-90s velocity as a pro along with good control.  He's not, however, a groundball pitcher and his secondary stuff doesn't generate swings and misses, so he's had low K rates.  He's moved up quickly.  The Pirates sent him to high A in 2015, but he missed half the year with a sore elbow.  They promoted him to AA at the end of the year anyway and he's back there now.  He's mostly pitched well; his numbers took a big hit when he gave up nine runs in three innings in his last start.

Nelson Jorge, SS (7): Jorge was a puzzling pick, as there were several better-regarded shortstops in Puerto Rico alone still available, quite apart from the rest of the draft universe.  He's struggled severely for two seasons in the GCL.

Austin Coley, RHP (8): At 6'2", Coley is smaller than most of the righties the Pirates draft, especially among college pitchers.  He's had a knack for winning games, leading the South Atlantic League in wins by a wide margin in 2015 and running up a 6-3 record at Bradenton as I type this.  His numbers, especially his low K rate, haven't marked him as a prospect.  His ERA (3.33) is almost exactly average in the FSL and he's nearly 24.

Kevin Krause, C (9): Krause is an offense-oriented catcher with good power.  He had easily the best short-season debut of any of the college hitters in this draft in 2014, but he missed 2015 due to Tommy John surgery.  He has yet to leave extended spring training this year, although he was expected to be ready early in the year.

Alex McRae, RHP (10): Like Eppler and Coley, McRae is a college draftee who throws strikes but doesn't have dominant stuff or miss many bats.  He got hit hard in 2015 in the SAL, but is pitching much better in the offense-stifling FSL this year.  His K/9, though, is a microscopic 4.1.

Gage Hinsz, RHP (11): Hinsz was the Pirates' third above-slot prep pitcher in this draft.  He had a weak season last year in the Appalachian League.  He's still in extended spring training.

Tyler Filliben, SS (12): Filliben quickly moved into a utility role.  He's in his second year in low A.

Frank Duncan, RHP (13): Drafted as a college senior, Duncan was slated to open his first full year in low A, but got moved up to high A due to injuries.  He got hit hard; in fact, he led the FSL by a very wide margin in hits allowed.  The Pirates sent him to AA to pitch in relief this year and, after missing the start of the season, he pitched extremely well.  He moved up to AAA to fill in as a starter and continued to pitch fairly well.  I have no idea what he's doing that's so different.

Chase Simpson, 3B (14): Simpson has actually hit better much of the time than the other college hitters taken in this draft, but the Pirates have utilitzed him the last two years as a corner utility player.  He's been arguably Bradenton's best hitter this year apart from Kevin Newman, but the Pirates don't appear to view him as a prospect.

Sam Street, RHP (16): A sidearm thrower from Australia, Street has been very effective in relief despite not having much velocity.  He opened this season at Bradenton and was pitching well, but went on the temporarily inactive list, for unknown reasons, in late April.

Erik Lunde, 2B (18): Lunde didn't hit much his first season in the New York-Penn League.  In 2015, the Pirates moved him behind the plate and moved him down a level, where he hit very well.  He's currently with Bradenton as the third catcher.  He hasn't played at all, so it's evident the Pirates see him as an organizational player.

Carl Anderson, CF (19): Anderson is a speedy leadoff type who didn't hit well in his debut in the NYPL.  He was hurt all of 2015 and this year is still in extended spring training.

Eric Thomas, Jr., CF (21): A speedy outfielder, Thomas has spent two seasons in the GCL and hasn't hit.

Erik Forgione, SS (25): A glove-only infielder, Forgione quickly settled in as a lower-level utility infielder.  He's still in extended spring training this year and has played only a few games in full season ball.

Jerrick Suiter, OF (26): Suiter is a big guy whose best attribute is plate discipline.  The Pirates have shifted him to first base.  He had a pretty good year in low A in 2015, albeit with limited power, but he's not hitting this year in high A.

Jess Amedee, RHP (27): Amedee pitched in relief in the Appalachian League in 2014-15, getting bombed in 2014 and making just modest improvement in 2015.  He's spent most of this year in extended spring training, getting into two games in low A.

Nick Neumann, RHP (28): Neumann was the closer in low A last year and has done some closing this year for Bradenton.  He's pitched well, but with a low K rate.  Contrary to what you'd think, when the Pirates use a pitcher as a closer in the low minors, it generally doesn't mean they consider him a prospect.

Luis Paula, RHP (31): Paula pitched decently in short season ball in 2014-15, but he's still in extended spring training this year.  That's not a lot of progress for a pitcher from a major college program.

Montana DuRapau, RHP (32): DuRapau put up outstanding numbers in 2015 as he made it all the way to AA.  He's serving as Altoona's closer this year and has been effective without dominating.  He's small for a righty and doesn't have overpowering stuff, so the question will be how well his stuff will play higher up.

Other Signees

Eric Dorsch, RHP (15): Dorsch pitched in relief for two seasons, struggling in a brief trial in low A, and was released this spring.

Michael Clemens, RHP (17): Clemens pitched fairly well in relief in the Appalachian League in 2014, but was hit with a banned-substance suspension and was released.

John Sever, LHP (20): Sever put up outstanding numbers, especially his BB and K rates, as a reliever in the Appalachian League in 2014, and pitched fairly well in low A in 2015.  He looked like a dark horse prospect, but he retired this past March.

Eric Karch, RHP (22): Used in relief, Karch missed much of the 2015 season.  He opened 2016 in low A and, despite a poor ERA, had good peripheral stats, but the Pirates recently released him.  The Angels signed him a few days later, but he has yet to pitch for them.

David Andriese, OF (30): Andriese spent two years in the NYPL, mostly at first base, and didn't hit at all.  The Pirates released him this past off-season.

Palmer Betts, RHP (36): Betts mostly struggled in relief for two years in the Appalachian League and was released this spring.

It seems pretty early to be drawing a lot of conclusions about a draft, but this one is rapidly winding down to Tucker, Keller and maybe a couple other guys.  The college hitters are a story, and not a good one.  I generally think that a college hitter, at least one from a major program, should get to AA pretty easily.  All the significant college hitters from this draft, though (except Krause, who's still out), are in high A in their second full seasons and struggling.  Some of that is the Florida State League, where hitting numbers are terrible (with the caveat that Bradenton's home park is the league's best hitters park).  But these guys are corner players who are going to have to rely on their bats and none of them is young for the league.  Here are the slash lines as I type this:

FSL:  244/315/348
Connor Joe:  241/302/348
Jordan Luplow:  197/285/321
Taylor Gushue:  237/278/370
Michael Suchy:  250/370/338
Chase Simpson:  260/325/481
Jerrick Suiter:  253/314/300

The only hitters above league average are Simpson, whom the Pirates don't seem to regard as a prospect, and Suchy, who's doing it by drawing loads of walks.  That profile doesn't play well at higher levels, where pitchers won't walk hitters they don't think are a threat.  In fact, it's interesting that the two top hitters on the team, by far (except for Simpson) are college hitters who were drafted the following year.

So this draft is really left with Tucker and Keller, who are far from the majors, and a few other guys, most notably Eppler and Duncan, who are having some success in AA and even AAA this year.  There's also the possibility that Hinsz or Krause could emerge from extended spring training and take a step forward.  But I can't help thinking something went seriously wrong with the team's evaluation of college hitters in this draft.