Ranking or grading drafts immediately after they conclude is risky business in any sport, and baseball might be the riskiest when compared with football and basketball.
But several so-called experts believe the Pirates made out quite well in their first foray into the draft under new general manager Ben Cherington’s regime. Jim Bowden, a former MLB exec now working as an analyst for CBS Sports, is high on top pick Nick Gonzales, the middle infielder from New Mexico State taken with the No. 7 overall pick.
“The Pirates just got their long-term second baseman,” Bowden said of Gonzales, who was drafted as a shortstop but may not have the defensive skills to stick there. “His hit tool is just ridiculous.”
CBS Sports gave the Pirates’ overall draft class an A. Baseball America (subscription) chose five draft classes they were excited about, and the Pirates’ group was among the five. The publication noted that Gonzales was a top-three bat and a good value pick, and the Bucs followed with “plenty of exciting arms.”
The most exciting of those arms, in order, are Carmen Mlodzinski, taken 31st with the competitive balance “A” pick out of South Carolina; Jared Jones, a high school pitcher from Southern California taken in the second round (41st overall); and Nick Garcia, from Division III Chapman University in Southern California taken in the third round (79th overall).
The club closed out the draft by taking two more right-handed pitchers: Jack (J.C.) Hartman of Appalachian State and Logan Hofman from Northwestern State in Louisiana.
But it was the trio of Mlodzinski, Jones and Garcia that had people singing the Pirates’ praises. Mlodzinski, 21, was a second-team preseason All-American selection as a redshirt sophomore and made four starts for the Gamecocks, striking out 22 in 25 1/3 innings and posting a 2.84 ERA.
The 6-foot-2, 232-pound Mlodzinski (pronounced ma-GIN-ski) saw limited action the previous season at South Carolina due to a foot injury, but he rebounded to have a strong showing in the Cape Cod League last summer. There, he pitched 29 1/3 innings and struck out 40 in six starts.
Mlodzinski, who was more of a position player before getting to South Carolina, said in an interview with reporters after the first day of the draft that he “couldn’t be happier” to hear his name called by the Pirates. He said Jameson Taillon texted him after the draft and had great things to say about the organization.
“It’s an organization that has high praise for me – that’s something that I really appreciate, and I’m really excited to get with them,” he said of the Pirates.
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Jones, who pitched at La Mirada High School in Los Angeles County, was described by MLB.com as being “raw but highly projectable, with big-time arm strength” that enables him to get as high as 97 mph. One knock on him has been his inconsistent command, but he won’t turn 19 until August, and it’s not unusual for prep pitchers to have difficulties in that area.
Garcia, meanwhile, earned high marks from Kyle Glaser of Baseball America. In an interview that aired Saturday morning on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh, Glaser said Garcia has shown “jaw-dropping stuff” and added that if Garcia had pitched for UCLA or Vanderbilt, he’d have been taken in the first round.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder, who grew up in the Bay Area, attended Division III Chapman and originally played the infield. He moved to the mound as a sophomore and helped his team win the Division III national championship while pitching in relief. He also worked out of the bullpen in the Cape Cod League last summer but moved to the rotation for the start of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Glaser said the Garcia was “holding 94 (mph) and touching 97 with a nasty slider and cutter.” The only reason he didn’t go higher in the draft, Glaser said, was because of the level of competition he was facing at Chapman. “On stuff alone,” Glaser said, “he’s a first-round talent.”
Pirates amateur scouting director Joe DelliCarri characterized Garcia as a “classic coming-into-his-own position player getting a chance to pitch.”
Glaser said Garcia displays all the attributes needed to be a successful pitcher at the big league level. “You have to be cerebral and understand the finer points of the game,” he said. “He does that – he’s really adaptable and a very smart kid. And he has great stuff. Still, we’re talking about a pitcher and pitching is always risky.”
That’s why you can never have enough of it. Yet Cherington said after the draft that the Pirates didn’t plan to take five pitchers after selecting Gonzales in the first round. “That’s just the way it played out,” he said in an interview with reporters. “As we got into each round, it just happened to be that, as we got closer, the top guy left on the board in some of those rounds was a right-handed pitcher. We weren’t thinking about anything other than just taking the best player available at our pick.
“We feel really good about where we ended up.”
MLB teams now have until Aug. 1 to sign their drafted players. The Pirates’ bonus pool is a little over $11 million, which is the fifth highest among all MLB teams. Some believe the Pirates opted for Hartman and Hofmann in the fourth and fifth rounds, respectively, because they were willing to sign for less than their slot values, thus giving the club more monetary ammunition to sign their earlier picks.
Although the draft is over, the action isn’t. The rules in place for this year called for the draft to be shortened from 40 rounds to five, but as of Sunday morning, teams were permitted to sign any undrafted player they want, with the maximum signing bonus being $20,000. Certainly some good players remain available; 75 players from MLB’s top 200 list were not chosen in the five-round draft. It’s highly unlikely any of the top-rated undrafted players on that list will be willing to sign for $20,000, though, and they figure to be heading off to college as freshmen or returning to campus.
While some clubs made their undrafted free agent signings known, the Pirates had no information on their website as of Monday morning, and Baseball America had not reported any signings as well.