Pittsburgh Pirates: Drafting Another Shortstop is Nothing to Worry About

May 11, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Ben Cherington observes batting practice before the Pirates host the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
May 11, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Ben Cherington observes batting practice before the Pirates host the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Pirates have a fair amount of middle infield prospects in their farmsystem, but drafting another one shouldn’t be a concern among fans.

The MLB draft is just under a month away. This is where teams can find potentially their next big superstar player. The Pittsburgh Pirates have the #1 overall selection in the draft and the two top available picks are shortstops by trade, that being Marcelo Mayer and Jordan Lawlar. While the team has a ton of young shortstop and second base capable players throughout the system, picking either Mayer or Lawlar it’s not something that fans should worry about.

First off, shortstops are usually the most athletic fielders on the diamond. Shortstops can make an easy transition to second base, third base, and can usually make a move to the outfield. This boosts their value as young players. That’s also why many of the top draft picks are shortstops to start their pro careers.

Some of the best players in the last two decades or so were originally drafted or signed as an amateur or international free agents started their pro careers out as shortstops. Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Alex Bregman, Manny Machado, Mike Moustakas, Justin Upton, Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, Mookie Betts, Ben Zobrist, Ryan Zimmerman, Ozzie Albies, Brandon Phillips, D.J. LeMahieu, Brian Dozier, and Kyle Seager are just some of the players who started their careers out as shortstop capable infielders yet made smooth transitions to other positions. Plus, they all have a career WAR of 20 or higher.

The Pirates’ most recognizable second baseman of all time, Bill Mazeroski, started his pro career out at shortstop. He played 93 games at the position in 1954 at their A-Ball affiliate. Many of the best MLB Players of all time started their pro careers out at shortstop. That’s the case with Jim Thome, Gary Sheffield, Jeff Kent, Ryne Sandberg, Paul Molitor, Minnie Minoso, and Chipper Jones as just a few of the best who were originally shortstops, but either never played much in the majors, or never played there at all and only received time at the position in the minor leagues, or unaffiliated MLB ball. The point is, players who start out at shortstop move around, a lot. They change positions much more often than many other positions

Another thing worth mentioning is that shortstops are usually among the best prospects in baseball. Dating back to when MLB.com started ranking prospects on MLB Pipeline, there have only ever been 2 instances where a shortstop prospect wasn’t in the top 3 prospects. That being in 2011 when Mike Trout, Matt Moore, and Bryce Harper were seen as the three best, and then in 2013 when the top 3 were Byron Buxton, Oscar Tavares, and Miguel Sano (though Sano started his career off as a shortstop prospect).

The Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t going to cheap out on the draft. They’ve been one of the most aggressive spending teams in recent MLB history when it comes to the draft. They are the reason why there are slot values. Using that pick on Mayer or Lawlar isn’t cheaping out. It’s picking the best player available. Right now, Mayer is considered the top pick by MLB Pipeline and FanGraphs.

Shortstops who go 1/1 also have a very good chance of being MLB players. 92.4% of 1/1 shortstops have appeared in the Major Leagues. Only one player who was selected 1/1 as a shortstop hasn’t gotten to the majors yet, but that’s Royce Lewis who will surely get a shot once he recovers from his injury. If and when he makes the major leagues, it’ll be the only position where at least 5 players have been taken 1/1, and all of the picks have appeared in at least 1 major league game.

Not only do almost all 1/1 shortstops make it to the majors, but they usually become productive players. The average 1/1 shortstop has produced a 27.2 bWAR, which is the highest average bWAR among positions where at least 5 players were picked 1/1. Just for reference of what 27.2 bWAR looks like, Manny Sanguillen, Hank Bauer, Mo Vaughn, Justin Morneau, Alex Rios, Grady Sizemore, Carlos Guillen, and Benito Santiago are all very close to the average 1/1 shortstop bWAR mark. Kris Bryant, Matt Carpenter, and Yu Darvish are also around that mark. It’s also the only position with at least 5 players picked 1/1 and no players with below replacement level bWAR. Plus 53.8% of 1/1 shortstops have achieved double-digit bWAR in their career. High school shorstops taken 1/1 have been especially productive. They have an average bWAR approaching 30 at 29.4.

Jack Leiter was once seen as the #1 pick for this upcoming draft. However in comparison, the average 1/1 pitcher has a 12.6 bWAR, which is on par with Mat Latos, Joe Blanton, Steve Avery, Jake Westbrook, and Don Larsen. 83.3% of pitchers drafted 1/1 have appeared in the major leagues, which is a total of 3 players not making it to the show. Though that could increase as Mark Appel is back and at the Phillies Triple-A affiliate. Plus, two of the players have a negative bWAR while no shortstop drafted 1/1 has ever been below replacement level throughout their career. In comparison to 1/1 shortstops, only 50% of 1/1 pitchers have reached double-digit bWAR. Meanwhile, college pitchers taken 1/1 have nearly half the average bWAR per player compared to high school shortstops at just 15.6. Now that doesn’t mean that I think Leiter will amount to just a Mat Latos type pitcher, but just to show that the trend of picking college pitchers 1/1 hasn’t produced as many good, productive player compared to 1/1 high school shortstops.

Now high school shortstops picked 1/1 on average produce a higher bWAR, but less 10+ bWAR players on average compared to college pitchers taken 1/1. 55.6% of high school shortstops at the 1/1 spot have produced a bWAR of at least 10 while 64.3% of college pitchers who have went 1/1 have produced a bWAR of at least 10. However, it’s the only reasonable argument to support picking a college pitcher over a high school shortstop with the #1 overall pick, but even then it can be countered to show that the 8.7% difference is miniscule.

There have been more college pitchers than high school shortstops taken 1/1 (13 pitchers, 9 shortstops), and most shortstops taken 1/1 have not reached college yet. The only college shortstops taken 1/1 have been Jeff King, Dansby Swanson, B.J. Surhoff, and Bill Almon. In comparrison, only three high school pitchers have ever been taken first overall with that being David Clyde, Brien Taylor, and Brady Aiken. The difference between high school shortstops producing 10+ bWAR and college pitchers producing 10+ bWAR is only one player. If Royce Lewis ends up producing 10+ bWAR, 66.7% of 1/1 high school shortstops will have reached that mark.

The comparison to the Pittsburgh Pirates most recent first round shortstop picks, Cole Tucker or Kevin Newman doesn’t make sense either. Aside from being shortstops drafted in the first round, there are no similarities in terms of the type of players Newman and Tucker are compared to Lawlar and Mayer. The only offensive value that either Tucker or Newman would ever bring is having a solid batting average. Neither were praised for their power output, or plate discipline (although Tucker has shown a good ability to draw walks and avoid K’s throughout his minor league career). Plus Newman was seen as a late first-round pick while Tucker was closer to an early third-round pick. Almost no mock draft in 2014 had Tucker going in the first round while many publications had Newman going between 1-10 picks later than where the Bucs selected them.

Both Lawlar and Mayer have well above average power with good hit tools. Plus they’re good defenders at shortstop. They’re seen as good choices for the #1 pick as well. They’re seen as 4-5 tool players and easily have that potential to surpass the average bWAR of 27.2 of a shortstop picked with the #1 selection in the draft.

Now ovbisously, Lawlar and Mayer could flame out, Leiter could flame out, or all three may never amount to much. But we can make reasonable assumptions based on histortic trends based on how 1/1 pitchers and shortstops have done in the past, and what 1/1 college pitchers and high school shortstops have done.

Next. Two Depth Additions Performing Well for the Pirates. dark

In the end, the Pittsburgh Pirates will always go with who they see as the best player available. Teams never select based on what the farm system lacks and if Mayer and Lawlar are seen as the two best prospects in the draft this year, the Pittsburgh Pirates will pick them and worry about position later. Sure, the Pirates have a lot of shortstop prospects already, but taking another one with the 1/1 overall pick would be a wise decision. Almost every single shortstop ever taken 1/1 has made the major leagues (aside from the aforementioned Lewis who will assuredly make his debut in the very near future). It produces the most productive MLB players on average, and many shortstops can make smooth transitions to other positions if the situation necessitates it.