The Major League Baseball rule four draft takes place on June 3rd, and the Pittsburgh Pirates will have four of the first 75 picks this year. After the first round, who could the team look to draft?
Last season, the Pittsburgh Pirates took Travis Swaggerty with their first pick, a surprise pick as it was assumed the outfielder from South Alabama would have been taken earlier. The club also took Gunnar Hoglund, a high school pitcher at the time who was committed to Ole Miss. After failing to sign Hoglund, the Pirates have received a compensation pick at number 37 overall, giving the Pirates a chance to add a higher level prospect.
To start to get an understanding of where the Pirates are in the draft, it’s important to know their bonus pool and the limitations involved. For the 2019 draft, the Pirates pool is $9.9 million, 11th most in baseball, with the following slot amounts:
|2019 Draft Slot Values|
Looking at the compensation pick, the Pirates slot value is about $2 million. Looking at this route, the Pirates could either
- Take a rising high school player and go slot or over slot
- Take a college player and go under slot to spread money to picks 18 and 57
- Take a college player and go slot value
Under situation one, the Pirates could look at Kendall Williams, a right-handed pitcher from the IMG Academy. Williams fits the mold, standing at 6’6″ and 190 pounds, being able to add onto that frame to hold velocity as the game progresses. He currently ranks 82nd on Fangraphs, 41st on Baseball America, and 53rd on MLB Pipeline. His description from Baseball America is as followed:
"“Williams gets good angle against right-handed hitters with a high, three-quarter arm slot… worked mostly in the low 90s, but could easily see a jump in velocity… Williams’ low- to mid-70s breaking ball ranged from an 11-to-5 break to having more of a natural, three-quarter bend, depending on the event… the pitch showed plenty of horizontal and vertical movement… also worked in a 78-83 mph changeup with solid fading action at times.”"
Williams is committed to Vanderbilt, seemingly making him a slot to overslot bonus pick. Looking at him, it’s obvious that he could put on some muscle and fill into the frame and get that jump in velocity. He’s athletic and certainly fits the stereotypical mold of high-school pitchers taken by the Pirates.
Situations two and three would fit Ryne Nelson and Josh Smith the most, either player following under both potential picks. Nelson is a right-handed pitcher from Oregon, who was a two-way player entering the season. He ranks 52nd on Fangraphs, 43rd on Baseball America, and 84th on MLB Pipeline.
The 6’3″ and 175 pound right-hander has mostly pitched out of the bullpen this year, pitching 19 games with four starts. What stands out, despite his 4.12 ERA, is the 86 strikeouts in 54.2 innings. MLB Pipeline notes that:
"“He was touching the upper 90s at times over the summer and has been up to 99 mph more consistently this spring as he’s given up trying to hit. His power breaking ball has been buckling knees this spring and could give him a nasty two plus pitch combination in shorter stints, though he does have a changeup that he can use at times against left-handed hitters. While he has missed a ton of bats and continued to be tough to hit, command is still an issue, though his athleticism should allow him to find the strike zone more consistently the more he focuses on pitching.”"
An athletic pitcher with a plus fastball and an above average slider (MLB Pipeline gives the pitch a 55) with questions regarding a changeup and control has fit some Pirates prospects in the past, though the team hasn’t been the best at developing arms. Usually the Pirates shy away from arms already in the bullpen under Neal Huntington, but all public scouting sites say he has starter traits and plus stuff.
The Pirates took Jordan Lyles this year and put him in the rotation, and with starters not going as deep into games anymore, there could be a changing of draft strategy here. Nelson clearly has swing and miss stuff, having 86 strike outs in just north of 50 innings is impressive. Does the potential of being a starter outweigh the risk of staying in the bullpen is a question that will come up, same with any other pitcher, but Nelson seems to have the talent to draft him and develop him as a starter.
Josh Smith is a middle infielder at LSU, who certainly fits the Tampa Bay Rays model of “could play shortstop, but might be best off if moved to second or third.” Smith ranks 50th on Fangraphs, 70th on Baseball America, and 74th on MLB Pipeline. The left-handed hitter has some power, as he is hitting .352/.446/.531 with seven home runs in 179 at bats. Baseball America writes,
"“the lefthanded hitter has some deceptive power, but it isn’t a primary part of his game. He is a smooth defender with an above-average arm.”"
Smith has a small crouch in his setup, standing slightly open. He brings the front foot back before attacking forward to drive the baseball. He gets the most out of his 50 power, and could be an everyday starting middle infielder in the Majors at maturity.
*Numbers from D1 Baseball