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What we learned about the Pirates’ future after the 2021 MLB Draft

It’s time to believe in Ben Cherington.

2021 Major Leauge Baseball Draft Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The future can be a tricky subject in any sense of life. Uncertainty. Unpredictability. Fear of the unknown. But if there is one thing we do know, or can continue to form an opinion on, the Pittsburgh Pirates are in great hands under General Manager Ben Cherington, and the future is indeed bright.

It’s bright enough to peer into even the always doubting, negative, and “it doesn’t matter, they will trade him anyway” fans’ minds, all because of the work done by Cherington in the 2021 MLB Draft. The MLB team may not currently look the part, but a natural glow is forming off in the distance from Indianapolis, Altoona, Greensboro, and Bradenton, with PNC Park the final destination.

After Sunday’s first round and the conclusion of the draft on Tuesday, the Pirates are set up well to form a strong team in the coming years due to Cherington’s craftiness with his first four picks.

Four things stood out most with the Pirates’ strategy and decision making process this past week.

The team DID select the best player on their board

Heading into draft night, no one was quite sure what the Pirates’ strategy was going to be with the first pick. Marcelo Mayer was viewed as the likely selection and, to some, the best player available and would not require full slot money to complete a deal. The Pirates flipped the script on the player but retained the strategy, picking Louisville catcher Henry Davis, the top high school or college player on their board.

Davis was rated as the fifth-best prospect available by MLB Pipeline, fourth by Baseball America, and second by Fangraphs. Seeing that the Pirates selected who they believe to be the draft’s best is comforting and solidified the players going forward. The top pick does not come around often for any team, with Gerrit Cole the last Pirates number one selection in 2011 and Davis becoming the fifth ever.

The Pirates seemed to have secured the best of both worlds in their eyes, a hit-first catcher with great bat speed, projectable power, and an electric arm behind the dish who also is expected to sign well under slot. The Bucs filled a position of need with the best college bat in the draft and will immediately become the organization’s top prospect. With no catchers solidified in the team’s top 30 (Endy Rodriguez has seen time at first and DH), Davis could advance quickly through the system due to his advanced offensive approach and ability to hit for average.

The Pirates believe they are closer to contention than others think

The selection of Davis sent a shockwave throughout all of baseball for two reasons: the surprise of picking Davis after many thinking the consensus was Mayer, and the Pirates making a statement on when they believe their next window of contention is to begin.

In selecting Davis, the Pirates front office is telling everyone that they believe the team will be ready to win in a few years and the rebuild is right on track for a contending team in 2023 and beyond.

Taking Mayer would have signaled a more cautious approach, but with second baseman Nick Gonzales last year from New Mexico State and Davis this year as both high-profile college bats with his first selection, Cherington believes the team is rounding the corner on a potential winner. Despite taking three highly thought-of prep players with the next three picks, Davis sets the tone for the entire class. The move signals the Pirates’ belief in the core of top prospects forming in both Altoona and Greensboro shaping up to be reliable and dependable players at the major league level, with only more consistent innings and at bats holding them back.

Quicker to the majors due to maturity in college, Gonzales and Davis could provide a spark for the Major League club sooner than expected.

Selecting Davis 1-1 leads way for potential monster draft class

Picking Davis was just the beginning of the Pirates’ successful draft process. Before the draft, Cherington hinted at signing the top pick for less money than allotted in an effort to lure top players falling due to signability concerns, and that’s exactly what they did. The Bucs selected left-handed pitcher Anthony Solometo at 37, outfielder Lonnie White Jr. at 64, and right-handed pitcher/shortstop Bubba Chandler at 72. All four players ranked in Baseball America’s top 32 prospects, with Chandler the icing on the cake to begin the third round and each first-round talent expected to sign.

Solometo (17th ranked) hails from Bishop Eustace High School in New Jersey and has a funky delivery from his 6’3’’ frame. The 18-year-old has a 55 grade fastball, 55 slider, 50 changeup, and 55 control on MLB Pipeline’s 20-80 scale, with the fastball ranging between 90-94 mph. Repeating his delivery will help his consistency as scouts describe his slider as somewhat slurvy at times.

Solometo draws comparisons to three-time World Series Champion Madison Bumgarner with similar deliveries, as well as MacKenzie Gore’s high leg kick. He is also a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers and wasn’t shy about it, looking like a true yinzer more and more as time goes by.

White (64th), a Penn State football and baseball commit, possesses incredible speed and quickness in the outfield and on the basepath from Malvern Prep outside of Philadelphia. The 6’3’’ 212-pound center fielder has strong power, rated 50, but needs to develop a better skill set at the plate for average, weighing in at a 45 rating. His running ability is high at a 70 grade, with his fielding at a 60 because of his ability to cover a lot of ground as the quarterback of the outfield.

Focusing specifically on baseball will help White to blossom into a toolsy player for the Bucs and advance his offensive abilities. The 18-year-old was rated 72nd by MLB Pipeline, with Baseball America believing White is a first-round talent ready for a breakthrough in the minor leagues.

Chandler may be the most surprising pick of the draft for the Pirates, even more so than Davis due to his commitment to play quarterback for Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers. The 18-year-old hails from the same high school as Vanderbilt star and 10th overall pick Kumar Rocker, North Oconee, displaying high athleticism as both a shortstop and right-handed pitcher. Also 6’3’’ and gifted enough to play high-level college football, the switch hitting Chandler does both elements of the game well with a good feel for pitching and solid ability at the plate, hoping to potentially be a two-way player after the rise of Shohei Ohtani.

Chandler’s fastball played at 88-93 mph last year but can now touch 97 and sits around 92-95. His breaking pitches are developing nicely too, part of the reason why the Pirates announced him as a pitcher. Chandler is graded with a 60 fastball, 55 curveball, 50 slider, 50 changeup, and 50 control with his future most likely on the mound, despite 45 hit, 50 power, and 55, run, and 55 field rankings as a position player. Chandler will take up a large amount of the money saved on Davis to secure his deal as a Pirate, with the highly-regarded athlete slipping to the third round thanks to signability, and the Bucs ultimate strategy paying off.

Ben Cherington knows exactly what he’s doing

Haters and doubters of Ben Cherington were found speechless after his magician-like work on Monday afternoon, only clambering to the idea of “let’s see if the Pirates can actually develop them now” or “they’ll be traded in five years” instead of living in the moment and appreciating the second-year GM’s universally viewed accomplishment. Add the 2020 draft, trades of Marte, Bell, and Taillon, and major overhauls to almost every department in the organization mixed in with the excitement of this year’s draft, and Cherington has done a fantastic job in less than two years to reshape the franchise.

Pirates Twitter was in shock and pure amazement in the front office selecting four first-round talents in the first 72 picks, stacking up an already top-five-regarded farm system in the sport. Include what the Pirates could receive in potential Adam Frazier, Richard Rodriguez, and Tyler Anderson deals, and the franchise could possess MLB’s best system after being middle of the pack before Cherington’s arrival.

It’s ok to feel good about the Pittsburgh Pirates and the future of the big league club. Despite consistent struggles at the major league level, confidence should continue to grow around the state of the Minor Leagues with each level competitive in their own leagues. Pirates fans, trust the process.

In the spirit of not copying the Philadelphia 76ers and their rollercoaster of a rebuild to one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, but latching on to a collective team mantra, I propose: Believe in the Bucs and In Cherington We Trust.