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Pirates draft recap: 2017

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The Pirates signed 36 players out of this draft. Two are already gone, one through retirement and one through trade. The only real miss among the ones they didn’t sign was outfielder Brock Deatherage, because they lost out on what could have been the greatest cage match ever between him and Montana DuRapau. Anyway, some of the guys they did sign essentially, or literally, haven’t even played yet, so this is all incredibly tentative.

Top Picks

1-12. Shane Baz, RHP. Judging by the scouting reports, it’s surprising Baz was available at 1-12. The Pirates have a stated reluctance to take prep pitchers in the first round; Baz and Jameson Taillon are the only ones in a decade under Neal Huntington. That’s a good indication of their assessment of Baz. He came armed with a mid-90s fastball and two breaking balls considered by scouts to be potential plus pitches, although he’s focusing on just one for now. The primary issue he has at this point is pitching from the stretch, which should be addressable. He’s expected to join West Virginia at some point, hopefully soon.

2. Steven Jennings, RHP. Jennings is another prep pitcher whom some scouts like quite a bit. In part, it’s his athleticism; he was a star quarterback until he suffered an ACL injury. He’s currently recovering from a rib fracture, which can be more of an issue sometimes than you’d think. He’s expected to be ready once Bristol opens its season.

2. Cal Mitchell, OF. Mitchell fell out of the first round due to a mildly disappointing senior high school season, but he was considered to have a high upside, all due to his bat. He’s showing it now as one of the best hitters and youngest players in the South Atlantic League.

2. Conner Uselton, OF. Another high-upside prep bat, Uselton has the potential to hit for power and play center. Unfortunately, he suffered a hamstring injury in his second game last summer. Probably due to the lost time, he’s in extended spring training and should open with Morgantown or Bristol. He was older than most prep draftees.

3. Dylan Busby, 3B. Busby’s game in college was all about power. He struggled badly last year. This year, he’s hitting for some power at West Virginia, but still having trouble making contact.

4. Jason Delay, C. A glove-first catcher, Delay was drafted as a senior, probably to help the Pirates save bonus pool money that they could use for above-slot picks. That’s something they did with remarkable efficiency in this draft. Delay is currently the backup catcher at Bradenton, where he’s hitting pretty well. He’s thrown out 36% of base stealers as a pro.

5. Deon Stafford, C. Stafford had a monster year as a sophomore, then had trouble with being pitched around as a junior, which probably cost him an earlier draft slot. He’s currently hitting well at West Virginia, with some contact issues. A lot will depend on whether he can stay behind the plate, which isn’t a lock; he’s thrown out only 11% and has six errors.

Others of Note

6. Cody Bolton, RHP. Another prep pitcher, Bolton could be the a big steal. At least some scouts are very high on him and Pirates Prospects has reported that he’s been very impressive in extended spring training. He’ll go to Bristol.

7. Jared Oliva, OF. A legit center fielder who can steal bases, Oliva had just a decent debut last year. As a college hitter from a major program, the Pirates jumped him to Bradenton, where he’s been hot lately. That includes starting to show some power. He could be a candidate to move up to Altoona at some point.

8. Blake Weiman, LHP. Weiman has more of a starter’s repertoire, but arm problems have ticketed him for the bullpen. Currently with West Virginia, he’s pitched well so far. In particular, he’s been death on left-handed hitters. He should be a candidate for quick promotion.

9. Bligh Madris, OF. Madris put up playstation numbers at Colorado Mesa University, which has exactly the hitting profile you’d guess. That probably made scouting difficult. He had a good debut last year and got off to a good start this year at Bradenton, but he’s slumped lately and his numbers are pretty bad right now.

10. Beau Sulser, RHP. Another college senior (from Dartmouth), Sulser got just a $5,000 bonus, helping the Pirates go after above-slot prep players. Sulser’s pitching well at West Virginia and probably profiles as an organizational guy.

11. Alex Manasa, RHP. A JC pitcher, Manasa was a two-way player and has limited mound experience. The Pirates considered him very projectable and, so far, his stuff seems to be improving; he had a 5:1 K:BB ratio at Bristol last year. He figures to go to Morgantown this year.

13. Tristan Gray, 2B. Gray had a very good debut and then went to Tampa Bay in the Corey Dickerson trade, making this pick already a huge winner. Gray is playing short for Tampa in the Florida State League and is struggling at the plate.

14. Chris Sharpe, OF. A college outfielder, Sharpe can play center and has some power potential. He’s at West Virginia and is hitting pretty well.

15. Gavin Wallace, RHP. The Pirates seem to like Wallace quite a bit, as he’s in the rotation at West Virginia. He’s 6’5”, throws hard and throws strikes, but doesn’t miss bats.

16. Hunter Stratton, RHP. A JC pitcher, Stratton has some projectability and has shown an ability to miss bats. He’s had command issues, but seems to be a decent lottery ticket. Stratton opened in extended spring training, then went to West Virginia early in the season. He had a rough time in his first couple outings but has pitched well since, with a lot of strikeouts.

17. Mason Martin, OF. An above-slot prep signee, Martin had a huge debut in the Gulf Coast League. He’s now one of the youngest players in the SAL, showing some power and, not surprisingly, contact issues. The Pirates have moved him to first bas and, again not surprisingly, is having defensive problems. The key points are, obviously, “one of the youngest” and the fact that he’s at a new position.

18. Shea Murray, RHP. Murray was mainly an outfielder in college and is already 24, but he’s 6’6” and has reached 99 mph from the mound. This started off as a project, obviously and that was before Murray had elbow ligament surgery, which kept him from pitching after being drafted. He had the ligament reattached as a less-drastic alternative to Tommy John surgery, so he’s expected to make his pro debut this year, hopefully when short season ball gets started.

19. Jacob Webb, RHP. Another projectable prep pitcher, Webb didn’t get to pitch much in his debut. He had ulnar nerve transposition surgery in his elbow, but should be ready for 2018, hopefully at Bristol.

20. Will Reed, RHP. A JC pitcher, Reed has solid velocity and a good curve, which led to some high strikeout rates. He probably profiles as a reliever, but pitched only briefly last year due to an elbow injury. He didn’t require surgery as far as I know.

21. Robbie Glendinning, SS. Glendinning, who is now the system’s requisite Australian, was one of four straight college shortstops the Pirates drafted and signed. He’s in extended spring training and looks to be an organizational player.

22. Brett Pope, SS. Pope is a good defensive player and was the primary SS for Morgantown last year, but he didn’t hit much. He’s in extended now, too, so he probably also projects as an organizational player.

23. Ben Bengtson, SS. Bengtson filled out some and has gained some power. The Pirates shifted him to third and he’s at West Virginia, but he’s more of a backup and isn’t hitting well.

24. Nick Valaika, SS. Valaika is the brother of the Rockies’ Pat Valaika. Nick played very little in college due to injuries. He struggled last year at Bristol and is currently in extended spring training.

25. Eddie Muhl, RHP. A sidearm thrower, Muhl pitched in relief for Bristol last year and had a good ERA but very low strikeout rate. He’s in extended spring training.

26. Lucas Tancas, OF. Like most of the Pirates’ position player draftees, Tancas has some power potential. The Pirates have played him mostly at first. He hit decently last year at Morgantown but has hit very little with Bradenton this year.

27. David Lee, RHP. Lee had a limited track record coming out of college. He relies very heavily on a curve. He spent his debut season in the GCL and got hit hard.

28. Matt Seelinger, RHP. A small righty, Seelinger was drafted out of junior college. He’s pitched very well in relief so far, last year at Morgantown and this year at West Virginia. He’s had high strikeout rates, possibly due to a power curve.

30. Manny Bejerano, C. A JC catcher, Bejerano played in the GCL last year. He figures to be an organizational player.

31. Jesse Medrano, 3B. Same comment as Bejerano, except Medrano is an infielder.

33. Ryan Valdes, RHP. The Pirates signed Valdes as a fifth year college senior. He figures to be an organizational reliever.

34. Mason Ward, LHP. A college lefty, Ward pitched reasonably well in relief at Bristol last year. He’s currently in extended spring training.

35. Drew Fischer, RHP. The Pirates drafted Fischer out of Amherst. He can get into the mid-90s and may do better pitching strictly in relief. He had a double-digit strikeout rate last year at Bristol, with significant control problems. He was recently assigned to West Virginia and is pitching well so far.

37. Kyle Watson, SS. Watson was an odd draft pick. He didn’t play much in college and didn’t hit at all, but the Pirates played him regularly last year at Bristol. He’s playing regularly again this year at West Virginia, but not at short. He’s shown a little power but has had terrible problems making contact.

38. Ryan Peurifoy, OF. Peurifoy hit well at Bristol last year. He’s showing some power, but not hitting for average, as a fourth outfielder at West Virginia this year.

Overall

Any grade a year after a draft is pretty dubious, but I’m going here on the upside of this draft. This group appears to have by far the most upside of any of the current front office’s draft. Of course, I’m usually wrong about these things, but the Pirates managed to get several very promising prep pitchers, including one with top-of-the-rotation potential, along with a handful of hitters with significant upside, particularly the prep hitters. They also managed to get a number of interesting sleeper candidates, such as Madris and Manasa, among others.

The really interesting aspect of this draft, apart from the Pirates’ success in signing above-slot picks, is the fact that they went mostly for hitters with power potential. That’s definitely new for this front office and a complete departure from their prior preference for contact-oriented hitters. Of course, it may not work. Busby already doesn’t look so good, and it’s certainly possible that hitters like Stafford and Martin will simply swing and miss too much. But the potential to produce a couple of real power hitters is there.

Grade: A.