The Pittsburgh Pirates should pass on Jacob Berry in the first round of the MLB Draft and take a similar player in Ivan Melendez in the later rounds
Jacob Berry is one of the best college bats in this year’s draft. Berry is projected to go in the first eight picks. Jonathan Mayo’s most recent mock draft has him going no. 8 to the Minnesota Twins but also says there’s a possibility the Miami Marlins take him at no. 6. Joe Doyle of Prospects Live pins the Louisiana State slugger to the Marlins.
Because he’s projected to go so early in the draft, you can’t rule out the possibility that the Pittsburgh Pirates will take him at no. 4. Last year, an under-slot strategy worked out very well, and Berry would be the kind of guy that the Pirates would take to go under slot yet again. But I think the Pirates should pass on Berry.
Why? While I believe the Pirates should go with a high school player instead, a more significant reason is that I think they can get a very similar player to Berry in the third round. I’m talking about Texas Longhorns slugger Ivan Melendez.
Now, this is no knock on Berry. He’s an extremely talented hitter who posted a .370/.464/.630 line this year with LSU. He slugged 15 dingers while drawing 27 walks in 248 plate appearances. The more impressive part of his season stats? He only struck out 22 times. It was the second time in a row he put up an OPS above 1.000 in a college season.
But take a look at what Ivan Melendez did in 2022. Melendez batted .387/.508/.863 with a .560 wOBA. While Berry hit a total of 32 home runs in his college career, Melendez crushed 32 in 2022 alone. It’s not as if Melendez is like Joey Gallo when it comes to striking out. He only struck out 51 times in 315 plate appearances, leading to a 16.2% strikeout rate. Now, sure, that’s a lot worse than Jacob Berry’s strikeout rate of just 8.9%, but still very good nonetheless. The average strikeout rate for batters in the Big 12 Conference was 20.2%. Melendez also drew an spectacular 52 walks.
So why is Melendez projected to go in the late second round/early third round, and Jacob Berry is projected to go in the first ten selections? Berry does strike out less than Melendez, but the improvements Melendez has shown are incredibly notable. He struck out 26.1% of the time in 2021. Berry is also a switch-hitter, something teams love. But in the end, I don’t think their offensive ceilings are that far apart.
Nobody is drafting either Melendez or Berry for their gloves. Melendez is a 30-grade runner and limited to 1B/DH only. Berry is a 40-grade runner who can fake it at the hot corner and left field. Sure, that’s mostly where Berry has played in 2022, but he only saw time sparingly at the hot corner in 2021, mostly playing DH that year, and isn’t nearly fast enough to remain in the grass long term. Berry does have an arm that can play at third base but isn’t like Vlad Jr. with his cannon. Pretty much every evaluator sees him at first base in the long run.
Sure, the Pittsburgh Pirates would be taking a little more risk with the bat by passing on Berry and selecting Melendez, but we’re not talking about a massive risk either. Both are going to end up at first base and-or designated hitter in the long run as well.
The Pirates should use their 4th overall pick on the best player available, and that isn’t Jacob Berry. Not only should they pass on Berry for that reason, but also because they could very easily have Ivan Melendez available in the third round, a draft prospect who provides a similar profile but with slightly more risk.