After spending a number of weeks looking in the rearview mirror at various aspects of franchise history, this week’s offering will have more of a forward spin, with the MLB draft approaching and all.
If you have any interest in the draft – and I can’t say I’m a fanatic about it, but I have paid attention to it over the past 50 years or so – you can find plenty of information about this year’s crop of draft prospects, and it’s interesting to see who might be available when the Pirates make their pick at No. 7.
This year’s draft will be nothing like the maiden voyage that took place in June of 1965, when the Kansas City Athletics selected Rick Monday with the first overall pick. That year, the Pirates – picking 10th – selected an outfielder named Wayne Dickerson, who never advanced beyond A ball before being released in 1970. They passed on a few players who made their mark in the big leagues, including a catcher out of Oklahoma who might be the best player ever to put on the so-called “tools of ignorance” in Johnny Bench, and one of the nastiest pitchers of all time, Nolan Ryan, who lasted until the 12th round.
A total of 824 players were selected in that ’65 draft, which featured 72 rounds and was capped by Houston’s selection of outfielder Reginald Thomas. Recent years saw the draft limited to 40 rounds, but the parameters of this year’s event remain up in the air.
There seemed to be an agreement reached in March that would drastically reduce the number of rounds – perhaps to as few as five – but an MLB proposal to settle on a 10-round approach was rejected by the MLBPA, according to several reports. So the blueprint remains unsettled.
Still, it’s fun to dream on possible targets for the Pirates, who – by virtue of their horrific second-half collapse – will have the seventh pick whenever the draft ultimately takes place.
Two well-known entities have their rankings and mock drafts in place. Subscription-based Baseball America has the Pirates opting for pitching and selecting Max Meyer, a 6-foot, 185-pound right-hander out of the University of Minnesota. According to BA, Meyer could have the “best pure stuff” in the entire draft class. Their scouting report has Meyer reaching 98 mph with his fastball and it raves about his slider, calling it one of the best that scouts have seen in years.
Meyer would seem a bit of an unlikely choice based on the Pirates’ predilection for choosing tall, “projectable” right-handed pitchers. As recently as last year, the Bucs tabbed Quinn Priester, a high school right-hander out of Illinois who fit the size mold at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds. But there have been pitchers who haven’t fit that mold who’ve gone on to success in the big leagues. One of the first who comes to mind of recent vintage would be Tim Lincecum, the slight right-hander who won who won back-to-back Cy Young Awards for the Giants in 2008-2009. Lincecum didn’t have the longest career, but he was spectacular for a stretch.
Baseball America ranks Meyer the 10th-best prospect overall in this year’s draft, and MLB Pipeline has him ranked No. 9. MLB.com’s latest mock draft has the Pirates focusing on the outfield rather than the pitcher’s mound and selecting Zac Veen, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound left-handed hitter from the Daytona Beach, Fla., area. MLB.com’s draft capsule says that Veen reminds some of the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger and ultimately could end up in right field. Veen appears to be a fast-riser and was off to a good start in the spring before everything came to a halt.
Of course there’s no telling who the new Pirates regime will select when it’s their turn to make the call. One highly ranked prospect who might be attractive to the franchise has local ties that harken back to the club’s top pick in 2004 – Neil Walker. That would be Austin Hendrick, the 6-foot, 195-pound left-handed hitting outfielder from West Allegheny High School.
MLB.com has Hendrick ranked as the 13th-best prospect while Baseball America has him pegged as the ninth-best. MLB.com notes that Hendrick has plenty of raw power, “incredibly quick hands and bat speed” and while he’s capable of playing center, he most likely would end up in right. The site notes that while Hendrick does have some swing-and-miss issues, “there isn’t a high school hitter in the country with more upside.” MLB.com has San Francisco taking Hendrick at No. 13 and Baseball America has Cincinnati choosing him at No. 12.
I’m not necessarily one of those who automatically gives the edge to the local player, but it would be hard to watch Hendrick smashing the ball all over Great American Ballpark and beating up on the Pirates 18 times a year in a Reds uniform. One recent post on the Prospects Live website gave credence to the idea that Hendrick could end up in PNC Park. A group of draft analysts from multiple sites conducted a live mock draft on May 1 and Brian Sakowski, national scouting supervisor for Perfect Game USA, chose Hendrick for the Pirates at No. 7. “Love the offensive upside,” Sakowski tweeted after the selection. “Think there’s tremendous power potential with on base skills and a quality RF defensive profile.”
Sign me up.