The MLB draft is upon us again, and one day removed from the first two rounds’ worth of picks, there doesn’t appear to be any consensus as to which player will be the Pirates’ top choice. The matter isn’t entirely up to them, of course - the Bucs are picking from the #10 slot this year, so their available options will be determined by the teams in line in front of them. MLB.com’s list of the top available players is available here if you would like to familiarize yourself with some of the candidates, though do be sure to take their numerical rankings with a grain of salt. Player evaluation is extremely subjective, particularly once you get outside of the top handful of players, so it isn’t inherently wrong or dumb for a team to pick a guy five or ten slots before he “should” have gone. Maybe they just saw something that the other teams didn’t, or maybe the opinions of the public-facing prospect writers didn’t accurately reflect those of the professional scouts, for whatever reason.
While the identity of the Pirates’ first-round pick isn’t known, there have been some suggestions in the media that in this year’s class, they might lean toward a high school player rather than a college one, and also that they are likely to end up with either a pitcher or an outfielder with that #10 overall pick. Below, I’ll mention the specific players assigned to them in the reputable mock drafts I’ve seen, and also provide a brief description of those players’ strengths and weaknesses.
Three mock drafts have tabbed high school pitcher Cole Winn as the likely selection: 5/18 and 5/31 drafts from MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo and a 5/24 draft from Brian Sakowski, a writer at Perfect Game USA. Winn was also specifically mentioned as a viable candidate in four other mock drafts where he didn’t end up as the pick. A right-hander listed at 6’2’’ and 195 lbs, Winn has long been on the radar as a potential top pick, and after moving from Colorado to California for his senior year, he cemented that status with an extremely strong season in a tough peer group. Winn’s fastball sits around 93 and can touch the mid-90s, and he supplements it with a curveball and a slider that could both end up as plus pitches. He’s regarded as a high-character kid with a good work ethic, and as a TCU commit he should be signable. The only real downside with Winn is that he doesn’t seem to have much physical projection remaining, so what you see is likely to be what you get.
Two mock drafts have assigned the Pirates high school outfielder Jarred Kelenic: a 4/30 draft from Mayo and a 5/11 draft from MLB.com’s Jim Callis. He was also mentioned as a likely possibility in four other mock drafts. Kelenic is the top high school position player in this year’s draft class, a left-handed outfielder with average-or-better tools across the board, and if I’m honest, he’s one of my two favorites among the players the Pirates are likely to consider. He is an excellent contact hitter with quick wrists and a good feel for the barrel of the bat, and can make hard contact to all parts of the field. Kelenic is currently a center fielder and an above-average runner, but some believe that he might need to move to right field as he ages, since he has a solid and muscular build (constructed through long and diligent work in the weight room). If so, his bat should still play well in right field, and he has an excellent throwing arm. Kelenic’s main areas of concern are his age and the level of competition he has faced. He will turn 19 on 7/16, making him one of the older high school players in this year’s draft, and Wisconsin isn’t exactly a baseball hotbed, though with regard to the latter point it is also worth noting that Kelenic has also performed well in showcases and with the national 18-and-under team.
Two mock drafts also predicted that the Pirates will pick my other favorite option, high school right-handed pitcher Carter Stewart: a collaborative 5/15 Fangraphs draft by Eric Longenhagen and former Pirates scout Kiley McDaniel and the 6/1 version of the Baseball America draft (the only one available as of this writing, since they have taken to overwriting past versions with the current one following their recent site redesign). Five other mock drafts that didn’t choose Stewart mentioned him as a possibility for the Pirates’ pick, and it’s easy to see why. Probably the top high school right-hander in this year’s draft, the Florida native seems to match a lot of the criteria the Pirates use in assessing pitching prospects. He is tall and projectable at 6’6’’ and 200 lbs, he has already reached 98 MPH with his fastball on several occasions this spring, and his main secondary offering is a deep curveball with an extremely high spin rate. Stewart does still need some work on his changeup, and there are a few writers who have expressed concerns about his mechanics, but on the whole he seems like a very promising option.
The final player mentioned in two or more mock drafts as a possible pick for the Pirates is a lefty, high school pitcher Matthew Liberatore from Arizona, who was the choice in a 5/31 draft from ESPN’s Keith Law and a 6/1 draft by Longenhagen and McDaniel. Liberatore was only mentioned as a possibility for the Pirates in one draft that didn’t name him as the pick, reflecting a general (and in my opinion, accurate) belief that he will be taken before the Pirates are on the clock. Still, if he happens to be there, he would certainly be a viable possibility, and you never exactly know how these sorts of things are going to turn out until they actually happen. Liberatore could be the top overall high school arm in this year’s draft (BA’s current rankings list him as the #2 prospect overall), and he seems like a relatively safe selection as high school pitchers go. His arm strength is good but not at the very top of his class, with a fastball that has touched 96 but more often sits in the low 90s. That’s still quite respectable for a lefty, though, and Liberatore is also extremely polished, with very good command and three above-average secondary pitches (a curve, a slider, and a change). His mechanics are clean, and at 6’5’’ and 200 lbs, he might have some more projection remaining. The only significant downside with Liberatore is the baseline level of risk associated with any high school pitcher.
Other players assigned to the Pirates in one or more mock drafts:
- Grayson Rodriguez, high school RHP, in a 5/25 draft by Callis.
- Shane McClanahan, college LHP, in a 5/10 draft by David Rawnsley at Perfect Game USA
- Travis Swaggerty, college CF, in a collaborative 4/20 draft by Perfect Game USA
- Ryan Rolison, college LHP, in a 4/19 draft from Logenhagen and McDaniel
I think that Rodriguez might be a viable possibility. The stock of the other three has dropped since those drafts were written, and I would be surprised if any of them were the pick.
Other players mentioned as possible picks in one or more of the drafts mentioned above, but not chosen in any:
- Jordyn Adams, high school OF, mentioned twice
- Joey Bart, college C, mentioned once (this was an early draft, and almost certainly isn’t happening)
- Logan Gilbert, college RHP, mentioned once
- Ethan Hankins, high school RHP, mentioned once
- Trevor Larnach, college OF, mentioned twice
- Kumar Rocker, high school RHP, mentioned once
- Connor Scott, high school OF/LHP, mentioned once
- Ryan Weathers, high school LHP (and the son of David), mentioned three times
The draft will start at 7 p.m. on Monday. Which players in this year’s draft class do you like the best? Who would you prefer that the Pirates take with their first pick tomorrow?