Pittsburgh Pirates: Positions to Target in the 2018 Draft
The MLB Draft is less than two weeks away and the Pittsburgh Pirates will be on the board quickly with the 10th overall pick. What is a position of need?
In most sport drafts, teams normally take either the best talent available or the best talent overall at positions of need. However, baseball changed how their draft works back in 2012, and the draft has evolved into a much more strategic event. The MLB added draft limitations after the Pittsburgh Pirates paid Josh Bell a record breaking deal in 2011. With the new rules, teams do not always take the said top talent.
Nonetheless, with players coming out of high school. the prospects are not viewed as such sure fire picks like say in the NFL (even though that is not the case either). So now teams in the MLB get more creative in drafting players, and with such a big pool of players they can often fill organizational needs. With over 1000 players going to be drafted, there often is not a lot of discrepancy in the talent available. So what are the positional needs for the prospect depth chart for the Pittsburgh Pirates?
Infield has been a position that the team has really invested in over the last few years. This dates back to 2014 when they used their first round pick on prep shortstop Cole Tucker. Then the following year in 2015 they took shortstop Kevin Newman, third baseman Ke’Byran Hayes, and second baseman Kevin Kramer with their top three picks. Finally, in 2016 they drafted first baseman Will Craig in the first round and shortstop Stephen Alemais in the third round. Right there alone could make up the team’s future infield and some. So really, there is no obvious need for an infield prospect with their top pick.
At one time the Pittsburgh Pirates organization was known for the amount of outfield talent they had in the minors. The future of their offense relied on the many top outfield prospects. While the outfield position is not what ie once was, the team has quickly invested more talent into the positions. As of now, Austin Meadows is the team’s top outfield prospect. Meanwhile, there is not even a position for him to play when Starling Marte returns. Furthermore, there are outfield prospects like Jordan Luplow and Jose Osuna in both Triple-A and on the big league bench.
Also, they have made multiple moves to add legitimate outfield talent. First was in last year’s draft when they spent two of their top four picks on prep outfielders Cal Michell and Conner Uselton. They also added two outfield prospects via trade. The Pittsburgh Pirates added a top 25 outfield prospect who is currently crushing Double-A in Jason Martin from the Astros. Then they also brought in former second round pick Bryan Reynolds from the Giants in the Andrew McCutchen trade. Reynolds is considered a top 10 prospect.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are a team that really focuses on developing prep pitching prospects. They have invested in this area the most over the last few years. In 2014, they invested a second round pick in Mitch Keller, and he has become one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. Then in 2015 they drafted three college pitchers in a row in Jacob Taylor, Brandon Waddell, and JT Brubaker. The last two have quickly made it to the upper minors and look like they could make impacts at the big league level.
The Pittsburgh Pirates went back to the prep ranks in 2016, drafting Travis MacGregor in the second round, Braeden Ogle in the fourth round, and Max Kranick in the 11th round. Ogle and Kranick both were considered top 200 prospects in the draft. Last year they continued the trend taking Shane Baz with the 12th overall, Steve Jennings 42nd, and Cody Bolton in the sixth round. All three from last year represent more high upside prep arms.
However, the one common theme among all but one of those pitchers is that they are all right handed. The only three left-handed pitching prospect in the Pirates top 30 are Taylor Hearn, Brandon Waddell, and Ogle. The team often takes big righties because they are more projectable than lefties and have better “stuff.” Still, this is an area that the team could look to target in the draft this year. The Pirates will take many arms in the draft regardless as no team can ever have too much pitching. Although, the left-handed pitching is not particularly deep in this draft class compared to the right-handed class.
This is the one position that team really does not have any top prospects in the system for. The team currently employs Francisco Cervelli as the starter, and his contract goes through next season. Behind him is Elias Diaz who is locked up for multiple more years. The Bucs did add two catchers in last years draft taking Jason Delay in the fourth round and Deon Stafford in the fifth round. Stafford is currently ranked as the Bucs’ 30th best prospect. Still, they do not have any catchers that really represent a catcher of the future other than Diaz.
The top catching prospects are Joey Bart from Georgia Tech. He is ranked at number nine on MLB Pipeline’s top 100 draft prospect list. After Bart, Noah Naylor is the top ranked prep catcher, and he has been mocked from picks 11-15. Naylor’s brother is a big time power prospect in the San Diego Padres organization. Catchers are often hard to develop and project, as the team saw when they took Reese McGuire with the 14th overall pick. So unless they are really sold on one of those two options, they likely will aim for a different position.
So what position makes the most sense for the Pittsburgh Pirates to target? Really it is not clear. While the team’s farm system is not a top five one in baseball like it was for many years, they still have a lot of talent in all areas. So the team’s best approach is likely to take the best available prospect on the board. However, they also could draft strategically and invest money into later upside picks. Either way, the team has a lot of different directions they could go in this year.