The 2019 MLB draft is not until June, but college baseball has started and the high school season will kick off soon. It’s time to look at early draft prospects, and who to follow as the spring progresses towards the big day in June.
This offseason, preparing for the draft that takes place from June 3rd through 5th, Nick has looked at players that are ranked 18th and 37th (the Pirates first pick and compensatory pick) via MLB Pipeline, an early mock draft from Baseball America, and Baseball America’s initial top 100 draft prospect list. In an effort to both expand from just players ranked at 18 and to narrow down the list of draft eligible players, I assigned points 50-1 (with 50 being the number one prospect) from the top 50 players on Baseball America, Fangraphs, and MLB Pipeline. This is a similar process I used over the weekend with the top 100 prospects from these three sites and Baseball Prospectus. The draft rankings are below:
The Pirates pick is a number 18 this year, isolating the above list down to +/- two from 18 leaves the numbers 16-20 prospects, the players the Pirates will likely be looking at come June 3rd. This list features two arms, two middle infielders, and a corner outfielder, with four of the five being college players:
|Draft Prospects 16-20|
|Matthew Allan||RHP||16||Seminal HS (Florida)|
|Braden Shewmake||SS||19||Texas A&M|
|Will Wilson||SS||20||NC State|
|*Rankings Based on Total Points From Baseball America, Fangraphs, MLB|
The Pirates have lost pitchers in trades recently, dealing Tyler Glasnow and Shane Baz for Chris Archer and Taylor Hearn for Keone Kela. Their top pitching prospect, Mitch Keller, is close to graduating, and Tahnaj Thomas comes with high upside but also at a high risk.
The starting pitching depth is thin, though the Pirates have Archer controlled 2021 along with Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams, Joe Musgrove, and Chad Kuhl through 2022. As of now, starting pitching isn’t a need in the system, and you don’t draft for need, but the pipeline is thinning, especially when it comes to impact arms.
The first name in this list is a high-schooler in Matthew Allan, a right-hander from Seminal High School in Florida. Allan holds a commitment to the Florida Gators, and per MLB Pipeline he has a 65 fastball and:
"“can touch 96-97 mph consistently and will sit comfortably in the 92- to 94-mph range, going right after hitters with his plus fastball. He can spin his curve for strikes with the chance to have a plus breaking ball in the future”"
Velocity reigns king in professional baseball, and Allan has that along with the 6’3″ and 210 pound frame the club likes. All three sites mention that Allan was inconsistent in his ability to control the ball and pitch in the zone on a consistent basis, and the Pirates did just trade two prospects with similar problems, with one being their 2017 draft pick. This video from 2080 Baseball at the Under Armour All-American game shows the issues that Allan was facing with control, but you can also see the nice 12-6 curveball that the high school right-hander throws.
At PiratesFest when I asked Neal Huntington about player distributions, he mentioned to me the risk involved with high school pitchers. He cited taking Jameson Taillon with the second overall pick as an example of the Pirates being willing to take a risk in the draft if they believe the upside is there and outweighs a safer option with less of a ceiling, even if they have the same average outcome (in this case future value grade).
The Pirates drafted Lodolo out of high school back in 2016, but after failing to sign with the Pirates, the left-hander has tossed a 4.34 ERA in two seasons in Fort Worth. He has struck out batters at a high clip, however, a rate of 9.54 per nine in his career and 10.87 per nine last season as a sophomore.
Lodolo has good size, 6’6″ and 185 pounds to grow into, and has swing and miss stuff despite not excelling in his first two seasons. Baseball America has high hopes on him breaking out this spring, saying:
"“Lodolo’s upside is significant, and with a strong spring he could be the top college pitcher off the board.”"
The delivery that the southpaw possesses is a faster tempo, especially compared to Allan, and he comes in from a three-quarters arm slot. As seen in the video, Lodolo doesn’t always stay at three-quarters and gets lower than desired at times. The Pirates usually don’t draft left-handed arms, but they did like Lodolo in the past.
In his first start of the season against number 18 Cal State Fullerton, Lodolo allowed two runs in five innings. The lefty struck out two, walked one, and got nine groundouts to two fly outs. Fangraphs prospects writers noted on his start,
"“He was mostly 92-94 on Friday after sitting 88-92 in each of Eric’s looks last year…. there’s a lot to like, and the lefty velo and spin combo is enticing, but there is more pitch development necessary here than is typical for a college arm.”"
The Pirates liked him before, and might still like him now given that size and velocity.
Michael Busch is a first baseman from UNC that’s a left-handed hitter and right-handed thrower. He stands at 6’0″ and 207 pounds, but MLB Pipeline notes that,
"“The only thing preventing Busch from going toward the top of the draft is uncertainty about his future home. He’s small for a first baseman and has fringy speed and arm strength… possibly could handle second base (where he played on the Cape) or left field.”"
In his time at UNC and the Cape, Busch has hit the ball well, and really tapped into some power last season:
|Michael Busch UNC and Cape League Stats|
There’s high contact given the low strikeout rate, one that dropped by almost 9.5 percentage points with a walk rate up over 17 percent. After his sophomore campaign in Chapel Hill, Busch continued his success on the Cape in both power (increasing his ISO from .204 to .245 with a wood bat) and the walk rate remained steady.
MLB Pipeline and Fangraphs project Busch for above average hit and power, and given today’s game of ambiguous positions (Max Muncy, Travis Shaw, and Mike Moustakas seeing time at second base in 2018 or projecting to start there in 2019, even Steve Pearce has 33 career games at the keystone) Busch can find a spot as long as the bat plays like projected. In his first 12 at bats of the season, the lefty has hit .333/.600/.583 with seven walks and a hit-by-pitch to one strikeout in four games.
Busch stands a bit open, but his swing is compact and easy, driving this ball off a left-handed pitcher out to left-field for the home run. Later in that game (and later that video), Busch takes a center cut pitch and hits it out dead center for the home run.
The first of two shortstops on the list, Shewmake might not actually fit at shortstop. MLB Pipeline and Fangraphs put a 50 on the field, or an average grade, with Baseball America noting,
"“He could profile as a third baseman with solid glovework if additional power comes. Evaluators also haven’t ruled out a move to the outfield… Most believe he’ll outgrow shortstop.”"
He currently stands at 6’4″ and 190 pounds, batting from the left-side, so as he grows into his body it’d make sense that he no longer could handle the position. But Baseball America also pointed out that he’s been lanky his entire career (was 180 as a freshman according to the Aggies website). After a solid freshman season, the Texas A&M Aggie struggled more in his sophomore year and with Team USA over the summer:
|Braden Shewmake A&M and Team USA Stats|
While the on-base increased and the strikeout rate decreased, the walk rate increased by about 2.60 percentage points, but even that gain made it a modest 7.72 percent. The power, which he produced a 11 homers and 18 doubles in his first year on campus, vanished and Shewmake hit only five home runs and seven doubles last season. The left-handed bat has hit .143/.455/.143 with three walks, a hit-by-pitch and no strikeouts through his first seven at bats and three games of the 2019 season.
Shewmake has a long and wide stance in the box, and this video really shows the lanky body that he possesses along with the flat swing that Fangraphs notes. He seems more of a “safer” prospect that has a high enough floor but not high enough of a ceiling, projecting as a slightly better than average bat (55) with a below-average (45) or average power (50) depending on the site.
The last player in this five player range around the 18th best prospect is NC State shortstop Will Wilson. Wilson stands at 6’0″ and 184 pounds according to the school’s website, and he bats from the right side.
MLB Pipeline and Baseball America note that Wilson might be best suited for second because of his fielding (MLB Pipeline and Fangraphs give a 50) and his speed (MLB Pipeline gives a 40 and Fangraphs a 50). Even a move over to second base should be fine given his average hit and power tools, and Baseball America writes,
"“great bat-to-ball skills and instincts… with a track record of hitting that dates back to his high school days… feel for hitting and above-average power potential are the main tools that will get him drafted.”"
Meanwhile, Fangraphs writes “hyper-productive medium-framed middle infielder with solid average tools and advanced feel for the game.” MLB Pipeline also notes that,
"“He was one of four players to hit 10 or more homers in Atlantic Coast Conference games in 2018… Wilson has quick hands and deceptive strength that give him at least above-average raw power… has a knack for putting the barrel on the ball. He shows the ability to hit for average and power.”"
Wilson showed some of that power last season, increasing his ISO and home run rates, though he did struggle with Team USA:
|Will Wilson NC State and Team USA Stats|
After hitting eight home runs and 21 doubles as a freshman, Wilson turned more of those doubles into homers, hitting 15 home runs and 16 doubles as a sophomore. He also cut his strikeout rate down by three percentage points, but the walk rate still remains below 10 percent. For Team USA, Wilson rarely played, and when he did he struggled, hitting for no extra base hits and not walking once. So far for the Wolf Pack, the shortstop has hit .333/.444/.867 with two home runs, three walks, and three strikeouts in 15 at bat and four games.
Wilson stands square in the box and features a leg kick, allowing him to drive the ball. There’s not a lot of moving parts, and the swing is compact. The Pirates have taken a share of college middle infielders early in drafts the last couple years, though Wilson’s bat first approach might conflict with what the Pirates value up the middle; defense.
The draft is still far out and the names can change between now and then. There’s also the chance for a player to be there that wasn’t expected, as the case with Travis Swaggerty this past draft. In the combined lists, the players surrounding the Pirates pick at 18 featured a high school arm, a college arm, and three college bats (two middle infielders). Each have their floors and ceilings, with different risks attached to each, but these are some names to watch for as of now for the upcoming draft in June.