Pirates should cross fingers and hope this MLB Draft target is available at No. 9

Will this slugging Wake Forest infielder be available when the Pirates are on the clock, and is he the right guy to select if he is still on the board?
Clemson v Wake Forest
Clemson v Wake Forest / Isaiah Vazquez/GettyImages

The Pittsburgh Pirates could have a chance to select a big college bat in this year’s draft. This year’s draft class has many great college hitters, but one of the best is Nick Kurtz. The Wake Forest first baseman will go early in this year’s draft, but is it possible he is still available when the Pirates are on the clock? Even if he is still available, is he the guy the Pirates take?

The Lancaster native has been a force to be reckoned with in the ACC. This year, he turned in a .306/.531/.763 triple-slash. Believe it or not, he had a higher batting average and OPS last year. Still, he went yard 24 times in 260 plate appearances and had an isolated slugging percentage of .457. Kurtz walked in nearly a third of his plate appearances with a 30% walk rate, but he also rarely went down on strike three. His K% clocked in at 16.2%. Kurtz ended his college career with 61 homers and a .333/.510/.725 line.

Power is the name of the game for Kurtz. It’s borderline plus-plus. On top of his 6’5”, 240-pound frame, Kurtz has elite bat speed, helping him generate 90th+ percentile exit velos, according to Baseball America. But his hit tool is just as good as his power. He’s had no trouble hitting off of lefties or righties. Kurtz’s eye at the dish is good, and his ability to cover the plate helps him make good contact on any pitch thrown his way. It doesn’t take much for him to load his swing up, and he’s got a smooth motion when he moves the bat.

Kurtz is a first baseman, but don’t get that confused with a non-athletic infielder whose only choice is first base. He’s displayed well above-average defense at the infield corner already in college. He’s someone who could compete for some Gold Gloves in the future. His arm is also better than what you typically see from a first baseman. On the flip side, he is a predictably below-average runner, which limits where he can play, as well as his baserunning value. Still, at first base, speed is one of your last concerns.

MLB Draft 2024: Nick Kurtz should be the Pirates' pick with the ninth overall selection

Kurtz will definitely be among the draft's top ten selections, but some mock drafts have him going in the second half of that top ten. Baseball America’s most recent mock draft was the most surprising, with Kurtz going 10th overall and West Virginia's JJ Wetherholt ending up as the first overall selection. MLB Pipeline, meanwhile, has Kurtz going to the Pirates at number nine. Pipeline and BA have him ranked as the 7th and 8th best prospect in the draft, respectively. Based on that alone, it seems like there’s a good chance Kurtz will still be available. Of course, it’s entirely possible another team ahead of the Pirates takes Kurtz with the hopes of signing him under slot, but he’s someone whose projected pedigree more accurately lines up with Pittsburgh's selection.

It's hard not to believe Kurtz is the guy the Pirates take if he’s available. The Pirates have only taken one high school player with their first pick during Ben Cherington’s reign, that being Termarr Johnson, who was by far the best overall player when the Pirates selected fourth overall in 2022. It makes sense, in this moment, for the Pirates to draft Kurtz. He’s an advanced college bat with a very high offensive ceiling. First base is a position the Pirates have struggled to fill for years, and while they shouldn’t draft based on position, Kurtz would be the best bat available and just so happens to fill a position of need.

There is only one potential reason the Pirates might go with another player than Kurtz, aside from the possibility of him already being selected. That’s if the Pirates decide to go with a pitcher early. Most of Ben Cherington’s drafts have been very pitcher-heavy. The Pirates have seemed to figure out pitching development well, and it’s easily been their strongest suit this year. The Pirates could also see the draft as an opportunity to restock the system with pitching if they decide to use the pitching prospects they already have in trades.

But Kurtz is definitely the guy the Pirates should pick, as long as he’s still available. Based on recent mock drafts and updated draft rankings, it seems like that’s very possible. The Pirates’ system needs a big bat, and he’d easily be the best player available, assuming nothing crazy happens, like Jac Cagliaone, Charlie Condon, or Travis Bazzana falling that far. On top of all that, Kurtz fills a position of need.