Optimism is in the air. Fans are starting to regain hope. Analysts and baseball minds alike are praising the Pittsburgh Pirates 2021 draft as one of, if not the top class in all of baseball.
Not every review has been positive or sunshine and rainbows, but the national viewpoint on how the Bucs exploited their $14,394,000 bonus pool has been a tribute to Ben Cherington’s philosophy of obtaining as many talented players as possible.
Cherington still has to sign a large number of players before the August 1 deadline, but indications are pointing towards Georgia high school RHP/SS Bubba Chandler and Pennsylvania prep outfielder Lonnie White Jr. both signing, with the possibility Braylon Bishop could become the cherry on top and become a fifth top 100 draft prospect to enter the system.
One week later, let’s take a look at how draft experts and other media outlets graded the 2021 Pirates class.
MLB Pipeline draft experts Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo praised the Pirates for taking advantage of not only the No. 1 pick, but also their highest allotted bonus money. Callis called Henry Davis, “hands down the best college position player available,” but also described how Davis could have fallen out of the top six picks. Picking Davis presumably higher than his anticipated range helped the Bucs to sign him for less than the $8,415,300 value price at first overall.
Additionally, Callis believed that there was a strong chance the Pirates would select one of the two-star Clemson football commits with pick No. 37 — one being Chandler — or stay in the state and take the speedy White. The Pirates instead took New Jersey prep LHP Anthony Solometo… and still cashed in on both later on.
"It's impossible not to be impressed by what the @Pirates accomplished."@jimcallisMLB says Pittsburgh had one of the best 2021 Draft hauls: https://t.co/Bg4HYHZgnY pic.twitter.com/Sg1pIwobgU— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) July 16, 2021
Callis called Solometo the best high-school left-hander in the draft, Chandler the best two-way player available, and also was impressed with the selection of high school right-hander Owen Kellington from the Vermont ranks in the fourth round, one of the first-ever participants in the inaugural MLB Combine. Mayo expressed his admiration for the Pirates’ front office work on the MLB.com broadcast, labeling it a big day for the Bucs' future.
https://t.co/KzTB3usVzJ's Jonathan Mayo's reaction to the Pirates first 3 picks of the second round--LHP Anthony Solometo, OF Lonnie White, JR, RHP/SS-Bubba Chandler--"WOW"— 93.7 The Fan (@937theFan) July 12, 2021
Analysts on https://t.co/LjzXo7ksXG feed on the Pirates' Day 2 picks so far:— Alex Stumpf (@AlexJStumpf) July 12, 2021
"Wow, what a day."
Baseball America noted that it’s not a surprise that they like the Buccos largely in part to having the first pick and largest bonus pool, but also believed the team acquired three first-round talents as well to pair alongside Davis. Writer Carlos Collazo also mentioned that players selected from rounds 4-10 will be used to help pay for the four highly-regarded prospects, but noted Kellington, the second-ever player selected in the first four rounds from Vermont, is predictable and could develop a solid curveball.
Collazo detailed that the draft had no clear-cut No. 1 pick, and Davis’s combination of being the best college position player and strong bat-to-ball skills helped make the decision a little easier. Some scouts considered Chandler the most exciting prep pitching prospect in the draft with a potential 70-grade fastball and curveball, both in need of refining but having great ability and upside.
Four draft classes we're really excited about?— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) July 15, 2021
We explain why: https://t.co/GhrvSlbl7s pic.twitter.com/g9GHkAK25E
NOTE: BA also ranked 14th-round pick Braylon Bishop their 94th best prospect. The Arkansas commit was once thought of as a tough sign, but has reconsidered his decision and is now viewed as wanting to begin his pro career now instead of playing three years before being draft-eligible once again.
UPDATE: Braylon Bishop’s status with the Pirates.https://t.co/Gq83aBJRsJ— Jacob Davis (@JacobScottDavis) July 18, 2021
Spoke to @CoachKBo_HTP about 14th RD pick Braylon Bishop earlier today. Seems as though he’s leaning toward signing, but is looking for $500k with the Pirates offering $250k initially. It’s expected they’ll meet in the middle but very likely to sign if it works out financially— Jarrod Prugar (@jprugar26) July 19, 2021
Another site that assesses the Pirates pool of players selected as one of the best is Prospects Live. Joe Doyle begins right away saying, “this conversation can’t start with any other team than the Pittsburgh Pirates.” He believes that Cherington and his staff made a statement to the rest of MLB with their creativity handling the bonus pool and ranked Davis a top-three player in their estimation.
Four teams have really graded out well based on the @ProspectsLive Top 600 draft rankings thus far. Here are the teams that have really blown us away thus far. https://t.co/h3rGgJ4W7U— Joe Doyle (@JoeDoyleMiLB) July 13, 2021
Doyle continued his praise in saying how the Bucs brought in four top 35 prospects in the site’s rankings and nabbed the four “anchors” as organizational top 10 prospects in what they believe is a contender “in the not-too-distant future.”
The Pirates picked seven of Prospects Live’s top 300 players and view 9th-rounder Luke Brown as a potential sleeper and 10th-rounder Justin Meis as someone to watch for after a strong performance at Cape Cod.
TIM BENZ AND JON HEYMAN
The TRIB’s Tim Benz was a little more boastful regarding his assessment of the Pirates draft class. He felt the Pirates should have drafted Vanderbilt righty Jack Leiter but stated that Davis was the better pick as a strong-armed catcher with a good bat compared to high school shortstops Marcelo Mayer or Jordan Lawler.
His sarcasm in explaining draft analysts and Pirates fans’ excitement was expressed towards how rankings don’t mean anything unless you can develop the players. Benz doesn’t believe the Pirates have earned “benefit-of-the-doubt points “ for people to trust that they will do the right thing with these players after past failures with the likes of Zach Duke and Ryan Doumit followed by the old outfield of dreams consisting of Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco.
One point that Benz is right about is the Pirates need to develop these selections into quality players at the Major League level and retain a fair amount of them once producing at PNC Park. The negative and bubble-bursting tone directed at those optimistic about the draft didn’t help inspire hopeful Bucco fans to believe the message, but the true test will come in how the organization develops the likes of Davis, Solometo, White, and Chandler to be ready for the Pirates’ potential next winning team.
Now up on #BreakfastWithBenz--I'm happy that you're happy about the #Pirates draft. https://t.co/7njt6DWcom I'll be happy when the "prospects" become good MLB players...in Pittsburgh.@TribSports @TribLIVE— Tim Benz (@TimBenzPGH) July 13, 2021
Jon Heyman also chimed in with a list decided upon by some of his draft experts.
My draft expert’s picks (It’s not me so don’t at me)— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 12, 2021
Top 10 Best Drafts through 10 rounds:
7) Kansas City
9) San Francisco
Honorable Mentions: NYM, Texas, Tampa Bay
Finally, Fangraphs views Pittsburgh as one of the most successful teams coming out of Sunday and into Monday. The third-ranked farm system heading into the draft, Fangraphs believes the Bucs are now pushing Toronto for second place, with Davis leading the way as the site’s second-best prospect in the draft.
.@fangraphs thinks the Pirates may have overtaken Toronto for No. 2 in its farm system rankings. What an incredible turnaround the Pirates have enjoyed under Ben Cherington and his staff. pic.twitter.com/WQSFjx5zdq— Jason Mackey (@JMackeyPG) July 14, 2021
Writers Eric Longenhagen and Kevin Goldstein went deeper on Solometo, saying how he “has a long, low arm action, very advanced east/west command, and his slider projects to plus at peak.” He needs to improve his changeup but chances are high he will, they said, with the pitch mimicking his fastball.
They are also high on Kellington with a comparison to former Rockies, Indians, and Orioles pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez with his front side opening and tilting out, which can create backspin on the ball. Jackson Glenn is seen as a strong college senior pickup in the fifth round, hitting 20 home runs in 2021 at Dallas Baptist.
2021 Draft Odds & Ends https://t.co/SuHImU5a0p— FanGraphs Baseball (@fangraphs) July 14, 2021
The overall consensus is the Pirates did well in the 2021 draft, but the real test for Ben Cherington is already in progress. The Bucs GM has already agreed to deals with Henry Davis and other 4-10 picks, awaiting to see full numbers for Solometo, White, and Chandler with Bishop providing a potential surprise to an already loaded class. Now the Pirates must develop these high-upside players into successful players past AAA, with a high number of analysts and observers believing the players are talented enough to have bright futures.
The system should easily be in baseball’s top five and probably top three after the trade deadline, with the potential of catching the Rays once No. 1 overall prospect Wander Franco graduates from the list and the Pirates continue to fill the pipeline.
Phase 1 is in the books with the completion of the draft process, phase 2 of signing most if not all selected players is already going down the right path, with phase 3 of development the longest and most critical step in the process to bring the playoffs back to Pittsburgh.
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Lonnie White Jr.