The MLB draft is coming up on June 12-14, so it’s a good time to review the Pirates’ recent drafts. The last five, specifically, so we’ll start with 2012.
This was the Mark Appel draft. It was also the first year under new rules limiting draft spending to keep teams like the Pirates from signing players like Josh Bell. The Pirates had gone 72-90 in 2011 and had the eighth overall pick in the draft. Appel was considered the top talent in the draft, but the Astros had the top pick and they were determined to hoard their pool money so they could sign several over-slot picks. So in one of the best decisions in the history of the draft, they picked Carlos Correa instead of Scott Boras client Appel, who figured to demand a very large bonus.
The Pirates supposedly had a pre-draft deal with outfielder David Dahl, but Appel’s perceived bonus demands caused him to fall to the eighth pick. Maybe figuring they could repeat their surprise signing of Bell, the Pirates went for Appel. To save up pool money, they also took college seniors with their 7th, 9th and 10th round picks. In the end, they couldn’t sign Appel. They also failed to sign 4th round pick Brandon Thomas, a college outfielder who agreed pre-draft on a bonus amount and then changed his mind. (Thomas went to the Yankees the next year and washed out without getting past class A.)
Barrett Barnes, 1st Supp. (45th overall), OF (College): Barnes has spent much of his career injured and never hit quite up to his reputation until the last two months of 2016, when he put up huge numbers at Altoona. After missing the first month of this season due to another injury, Barnes finally made it to Indianapolis, where he’s off to a slow start. He’ll be 26 in two months.
Wyatt Mathisen, 2nd (69th overall), C (HS): Mathisen moved to third after two years due to shoulder problems and the presence of Reese McGuire. He’s had his own injury problems, missing most of 2013 and 2016. He hasn’t hit for much power, but his plate discipline is good and he hit well after returning from injury late in 2016. This year he’s at Altoona and batting well over .300, although still without a lot of power. He won’t turn 24 until after the season.
Eric Wood, 6th (196th overall), 3B (JC): Wood was attractive due to power potential, which for most of his career showed up only in practice. In repeating AA last year, he finally made significant progress both on offense and defense, hitting 16 HRs, which doubled his career total. He got off to a slow start this year, but is hitting well in May, particularly for power. He’ll turn 25 after the season.
Jacob Stallings, 7th (226th overall), C (College): Stallings was drafted as a college senior and signed for a well-below-slot bonus. He’s pretty much reached his ceiling. Stallings is a strong defensive catcher with a very limited offensive ceiling. He filled in for the Pirates last year, was outrighted and is back at Indianapolis, serving as catching depth.
Chris Diaz, 11th (346th overall), SS (College): Diaz is a good defensive shortstop but hasn’t hit much. He’s settled in as an upper-level utility player.
Max Moroff, 16th (496th overall), SS (HS): Moroff is probably the most promising player left from this draft. He’s a very patient hitter who’s generally had high, often extremely high, walk rates and strikeout rates. He hasn’t always hit for average and has shown some gap power, but this year he’s suddenly started hitting HRs. He’s battling for the International League lead even though he spent a week and a half on the bench in Pittsburgh. Whether that will last remains to be seen. He’s not a strong defensive shortstop and is better suited to second.
Adrian Sampson, 5th (166th overall), RHP (JC): Sampson developed quickly for a junior college draftee, breaking out when he got to AA in 2014. The Pirates traded him to Seattle the following year for J.A. Happ. He made on appearance for the Mariners in 2016 and went on waivers to Texas. The Rangers outrighted him and he’s been hurt all year.
Taylor Hearn, 22nd (676th overall), LHP (HS): Hearn didn’t sign, but the Pirates ended up with him anyway as part of the return from the Nationals for Mark Melancon. He’s struggling a little in high A this year, but is one of the team’s best pitching prospects.
This wasn’t a good draft. The failure to sign Appel was a blessing in disguise, as he’s now looking like one of the biggest draft flops in many years. Other factors have hindered the outcome as well: the failure to sign Thomas (which also was just as well), Barnes’ and Mathisen’s injury problems, and the decision to save pool money for the Appel effort by using several early picks on college seniors. The Pirates also made two prep picks in the first eight rounds — RHP Jon Sandfort (3rd) and SS Kevin Ross (8th) — that went very badly.
Given how long ago the draft was, there are a surprising number of draftees whose prospect status is still up in the air. That would include Barnes, Mathisen and Wood, none of whom is firmly established as a prospect but all of whom could still become major league players. Realistically, though, their projected ceilings are probably limited.