In mock draft news, there are two just out. On Friday, Jim Callis at MLB Pipeline had the Pirates selecting Texas prep right-hander Shane Baz. Today, Baseball America has them going with “one of the draft’s risers,” University of Kentucky first baseman Evan White. On Baz, Callis notes that, while many teams shy away from selecting prep righties in the first round, the Pirates don’t. I’m not sure it’s the Pittsburgh Pirates he’s talking about, as under their current front office they’ve selected a prep pitcher of any sort in round one only once. That was Jameson Taillon, who was universally regarded as one of the top three talents in the draft. Baz has a high ceiling, but he also has a strong college commitment and isn’t considered a lock to sign. Being limited to 1-12 slot money won’t make it any easier, so I can’t see this.
Oddly, Callis adds that the Pirates have heavily scouted college hitters, specifically Jeren Kendall, Jake Burger, White and Keston Hiura. White seems to me a more plausible pick. He’s an outstanding defensive first baseman who has the speed to play in the outfield, as well as the arm for right. His hit tool is very highly regarded, but his power is not and he’s a right-handed hitter, which for the Pirates in particular, due to PNC Park’s dimensions, isn’t a plus. Questions about Will Craig’s power apparently didn’t bother them, though.
On to the 2014 draft . . . .
The Pirates had some extra picks in 2014 thanks to MLB’s competitive balance rules. They traded Bryan Morris for the Marlins’ competitive round A pick and had one of their own in competitive round B. That left them with four picks in the first two rounds, which they used in part to return to an earlier focus of theirs: prep pitchers. Otherwise, apart from the top pick, they went heavily for college hitters in a draft that was considered weak in college hitters. The draft also in part saw the emergence, or maybe just increased visibility, of a conviction on the Pirates’ part that it’s easier to teach a player to field a new position than it is to teach him to hit.
Cole Tucker, 1st (24th overall), SS (HS): Tucker was a surprise pick. Younger than most prep draftees, he was generally considered something like a 3rd round talent, but was reportedly moving rapidly up some draft boards as the draft approached. One report that got some attention after the Pirates selected Tucker said that Oakland was set to take Tucker right after the Pirates’ pick. Of course, given Oakland’s draft record, that’s not necessarily encouraging. Anyway, Tucker had a solid season in 2015, but it ended with labrum surgery that may or may not have affected him in 2016, as he didn’t hit much once he got to Bradenton. The issue has always been whether he’d start hitting the ball with authority as he got older and filled out a little. That seems to be happening over the last month or so, as he’s hitting very well, even for power. He’s improved defensively to the point where it seems pretty clear that he’ll stick at short. He’s also suddenly become a prolific base stealer.
Connor Joe, 1st supp. (39th overall), OF (College): The Pirates drafted Joe with the intention of trying him behind the plate, but a back injury shortly after the draft scuttled that plan permanently. Joe missed 2014 and played only semi-regularly in 2015. His bat didn’t really start coming around until the second half of 2016 and, after a slow start this year, he’s hitting very well for Altoona. The Pirates have tried him at third and in the outfield, but he seems to be sticking at first, where he’s looked solid at worst defensively.
Mitch Keller, 2nd (64th overall), RHP (HS): Keller signed for a little above slot, as the Pirates’ strategy for drafting prep pitchers seems to have shifted as a result of the bonus pool rules. Instead of going heavily for them in roughly rounds 4-10, they’ve tried, in 2014 and 2016, drafting them just after the 1st round, which gives them a better chance of signing the player. Keller pitched very little in 2015 due to some arm problems, but he had a major breakout in 2016 and now rates as the team’s best pitching prospect. He had some problems at the beginning of this year at Bradenton, but appeared to be back to his 2016 self when he went on the disabled list with a back strain. The injury isn’t considered serious.
Jordan Luplow, 3rd (100th overall), OF (College): Luplow has advanced more slowly than ideal for a college hitter, although he was young for a college draftee. He’s always shown good plate discipline, but he showed mostly gap power until this year. Despite Altoona being a difficult place for right-handed power, Luplow is two-thirds of the way to his previous high in HRs less than a third of the way into the season. The Pirates tried him at third in 2015, but he appears to have settled in as an outfielder now.
Tyler Eppler, 6th (191st overall), RHP (College): The Pirates have pushed Eppler aggressively, despite some arm problems that cost him about half of the 2015 season. He didn’t have an impressive season in AA in 2016, but the team nevertheless moved him up to Indianapolis this year and he’s pitching much better. That may in part be a result of a new breaking ball. He’s also seen increased velocity.
Alex McRae, 10th (311th overall), RHP (College): McRae has been very hittable at times, but the Pirates have pushed him aggressively and he’s mostly pitched well this year in the Altoona rotation. His velocity has increased to the point where it’s about average for a RHP. He turned 24 at the start of the season.
Gage Hinsz, 11th (341st overall), RHP (HS): Hinsz comes from Montana, where his high school didn’t have a baseball team. He signed for an above-slot bonus and had a promising season at West Virginia last year. He was starting to pitch well at Bradenton when he missed a start with shoulder soreness. Since he came back he’s struggled badly, which makes you wonder about the possibility of an injury.
Still With the Organization
Michael Suchy, 5th (161st overall), OF (College): A big guy, Suchy was thought to have good power potential coming out of college, but he hit for very little power last year at Bradenton and isn’t hitting for much this year at Altoona. He’s currently on the minor league disabled list.
Nelson Jorge, 7th (221st overall), SS (HS): Jorge has mostly struggled and hasn’t gotten past the Gulf Coast League in three years. He appears to be a low-level utility player now.
Austin Coley, 8th (251st overall), RHP (College): Coley is a finesse righty who’s mostly been very hittable. He has, however, pitched much better in a swing role this year with Altoona than he did at lower levels. He’ll be 25 in July.
Kevin Krause, 9th (281st overall), C (College): Krause showed good power in his debut in 2014, then missed all of 2015 due to Tommy John surgery and, still playing only in short season ball, didn’t show the same power in 2016. So far in 2017, he’s put up big numbers at Bradenton, but his playing time has been limited by a DL stint and by the Pirates, for some reason, not playing him regularly. He’s not good defensively behind the plate and is mostly an outfielder now, but he’s caught a few games this year. Even though he’s already 24, it seems like the Pirates would be interested in seeing as much as possible of him, but I can’t tell whether they regard him as a prospect or not. It’s not as if power is a common commodity in their system.
Chase Simpson, 14th (431st overall), 3B (College): Simpson has generally hit fairly well, although less so as he’s moved up, especially this year at Altoona. He appears to be settled in as a corner utility player.
Sam Street, 16th, (491st overall), RHP (College): Street put up good numbers in the low minors, but he’s had more of a challenge since he got to Bradenton. He throws sidearm, with his fastball mostly in the mid-80s.
Jerrick Suiter, 26th (791st overall), OF (College): Suiter is a big guy who doesn’t hit for much power. He’s mostly played first, where he’s good defensively, but this year he’s moved back to the outfield due to other prospects being at first. He didn’t hit much last year at Bradenton and recently got to Altoona this year after missing the early part of the season with a wrist injury.
Jess Amedee, 27th (821st overall), RHP (College): Pitching as a reliever, Amedee has had very high strikeout rates until this year due to a good slider, but he hasn’t been more than moderately effective beyond the strikeouts. He’s at Bradenton this year.
Montana DuRapau, 32nd (971st overall), RHP (College): DuRapau has been utilized mainly as a closer in the minors, which often isn’t a sign that a team regards a pitcher as a good prospect. He got to AA quickly despite not having overwhelming stuff. He struggled late in the 2016 season but is repeating the level and is pitching very wel this year.
Trey Supak, 2nd (73rd overall), RHP (HS): Like Keller and Hinsz, Supak didn’t do anything impressive in his first couple years, then he was traded to Milwaukee in the deal for Jason Rogers. He made a decent but brief showing last year in low A. This year he’s having a huge season at that same level, much like Keller did last year. Some of the scouts don’t seem to be sold on his stuff, though. Still, it’s looking like an awful trade.
Taylor Gushue, 4th (131st overall), C (College): Gushue struggled through three years with the Pirates, then got traded for Chris Bostick. Like Bostick, he’s having a big season so far this year, but he’s doing it while repeating high A. By contrast, all the other college hitters signed by the Pirates out of this draft are in AA.
Frank Duncan, 13th (401st overall), RHP (College): At the start of the 2016 season, Duncan looked like a guy who would just take up some innings at the upper levels of the minors. Then, despite unimpressive stuff, he had a huge season at both AA and AAA. In the off-season, the Pirates traded him to Arizona for Phil Gosselin. Unfortunately, Duncan is struggling badly this year in AAA.
It’s getting increasingly hard to grade these drafts, due to recency. This one looks much better than it did a month ago, as Tucker, Joe, and Luplow have all had big months. The fact that a month should make a lot of difference in perception says something. Still, Keller is one of the top pitching prospects in the minors, Eppler looks increasingly like he should end up as a major league starter, and the top hitters from the draft are also looking like future major leaguers. Also, players like Hinsz, Krause and McRae could still turn into useful players. So the grade is tentative, but this is looking like a good draft.