The Pittsburgh Pirates picked in the top 10 of the MLB Draft for the first time since 2013 this past year. How did their top picks perform in their first professional baseball experience?
The last time the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted inside the top 10, the team was still searching for their first playoff birth. Back in 2013, the team drafted an outfielder by the name of Austin Meadows with the ninth overall pick. He was believed to be a future cornerstone of the organization. After having a strong professional début with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team dealt him for Chris Archer.
Now this year, the Pittsburgh Pirates had the number 10 overall pick in the MLB draft. They once again selected an outfielder who they hope will be a superstar for them one day in the near future. The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted many other players including a lot of projectable pitchers. So how did these new prospects perform in their first professional seasons?
With the tenth overall pick, the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted the top college outfielder on the board in Travis Swaggerty. Swaggerty came from the University of South Alabama and was one of the quickest players to sign after the draft. Because of this, he was able to appear in 52 career games.
Swaggerty started his career for the Short-Season A West Virginia Black Bears. He played in 36 games for the Black Bears and put up a really solid slash line. The Pittsburgh Pirates first round pick had a .288/.365/.453 with 14 extra base hits, including four home runs, nine doubles, and one triple. The biggest concern was that he struck out 40 times, but he did walk 15 times
Still, he was promoted to Low-A to play for the West Virginia Power. He appeared in 16 games for the Power and his strikeout issues continued. He struck out 18 times in his 16 games. Meanwhile, he only hit .129/.225/.226 with three extra base hits. Still, the most important thing for Swaggerty this year was to get into professional games and start adjusting to playing with a wooden bat.
The Pittsburgh Pirates did not sign their top prep pitcher in Gunnar Hoglund, but they did go over slot for second-round pick Braxton Ashcraft. The second round pick played for the Pittsburgh Pirates Gulf Coast League affiliate. The big righty from Texas appeared in five games all being starts. He pitched 17.2 innings and pitched well in four of his five starts.
On the year, Ashcraft finished 0-1 with 4.58 earned run average. He struck out 12 batters and only walked five in those innings. His WHIP was a solid 1.19 while giving up only 16 hits in his 17.2 innings. One of the best stats from Ashcraft was his 51 percent groundball rate. He likely will move to Short-Season ball next year and have his innings limited.
The Pittsburgh Pirates top infield pick came in the third round when they drafted projectable shortstop Connor Kaiser. Kaiser came out of the college ranks playing for the University of Vanderbilt. He was considered to be one of the more projectable picks standing at 6’4”. Like Swaggerty, Kaiser played at Short-Season West Virginia and then was moved to the Low-A Power.
Kaiser played in a total of 47 games this season across the two levels. The shortstop appeared in 31 games for the Short-Season squad. At that level, he hit for a slash line of .212/.303/.260 with a 25 percent strikeout rate. The biggest question about Kaiser coming out of the draft was his ability to make consistent contact, obviously, he did not show this at Short-Season ball. However, he recovered nicely after his promotion to Low-A. The Power had to place top prospect Oneil Cruz on the disabled list so they needed a shortstop to finish the year. Kaiser slashed .302/.338/.381 and dropped his K-rate down to 21 percent in 16 games.
Michael Burrows was the top projectable talent that the Pittsburgh Pirates took on day three of the draft. He was a player taken out of high school and passed up on his commitment to the University of Connecticut after the Bucs selected him in the 11th round. He joined Ashcraft at the Pittsburgh Pirates Gulf Coast League affiliate.
Burrows might have had the most impressive professional début out of all the Pittsburgh Pirates 2018 draft picks. He threw 14 innings in four appearances, including three starts. In those 14 innings, he did not give up a single run. Meanwhile, he struck out nine, walked four, and produced a 65 percent groundball rate. Obviously, it was a very small sample, but the fact that he did not give up a single run gives him the nod for the top 2018 draft performer.