The Pittsburgh Pirates have the number one overall pick in the 2023 draft, but could Jack Hurley become the pick for the Bucs?
The Pittsburgh Pirates have the no. 1 pick in the draft. It would be hard to make a case for anyone but Chase Dollander or Dylan Crews to go to the Pirates. Some have said this is the best pitcher and position player the draft has seen since Adley Rustchman in 2019 and Stephen Strasburg in 2009. But there’s still a whole college season to play, and some believe that Virginia Tech's Jack Hurley could become a candidate to go within the first three picks.
In Prospects Live's Joe Doyle’s recent article looking at five super-sleeper draft prospects who could go number 1 overall, Hurley was ranked as Doyle’s no. 1 candidate to rise to the occasion. He’s a five-tool player who made massive strides in 2022.
Hurley’s sophomore season at VT was a good one. In 271 plate appearances, the outfielder slashed .375/.452/.664. Hurley had 14 home runs, but what was more impressive was his 23 doubles. Hurley had an 11.8% walk rate, albeit with an okay, but not great, 18.8% strikeout rate. While that’s not a great strikeout rate, it is an improvement from 2021. In his freshman year, Hurley struck out 64 times in 208 plate appearances, resulting in a 30.8% strikeout rate.
The outfielder spent the summer season in the Cape Cod League but didn’t impress. He batted a mediocre .286/.304/.381 with two extra-base hits. Both were doubles, and he didn’t hit a home run. He also had zero walks and five strikeouts. But it was only six games and 23 plate appearances. While the Cape Cod League is an important summer league, it was still a sample size of fewer than ten games and less than 50 plate appearances.
The major reasons most see him rising through the ranks is because he made massive strides in 2022, as well as his tools. Hurley cut his strikeout rate down by 12% while his walk rate went from 8.7% to 11.8%. In just 63 more plate appearances from 2021 to 2022, Hurley had nearly double the amount of hits and over double the number of extra-base hits. There’s still some work to be done, but based on his improvements from 2021-2022, he could take another step forward in 2023.
In terms of raw tools, the kind of power you want to see from a young player is there. According to Doyle, he was in the 95th percentile of college hitters in max exit velocity. His overall hard-hit rate was also above the 95th percentile of fellow college batters. He looked solid in left field last year and will get a chance to play center field full-time next season. This is another area that Hurley could improve his draft stock, if he displays good defense in center, he could rise up prospect boards even further.
If Hurley makes the improvements to his plate discipline and plate vision and displays good defense up the middle, you can’t rule out him going top three and possibly no. 1 overall. If he is ranked as a top-five draft prospect heading into the draft, the Pirates could go with a similar strategy they went with in 2021, drafting an under-slot guy and saving for high-end high schoolers in the second, third, and fourth rounds.
Still, it’s hard to imagine that both Dollander and Crews would fall far enough to where the Pirates would go with Hurley. Performing what they did in the 2021 draft is not a typical accomplishment. While the 2021 draft could pay dividends in the long run, there was also no prospect who was far and away the best overall player, like there is in this year’s upcoming draft based on things right now. But the chance is never zero.