There are some amateur players Pittsburgh Pirates fans should follow up until this year's draft
The MLB draft is where the Pittsburgh Pirates will find their long-term talent. Over the last few years, many of their best prospects, such as Termarr Johnson, Bubba Chandler, Henry Davis, Anthony Solometo, and Nick Gonzales, came from the amateur draft's first few rounds.
Many Pirate fans, and baseball fans in general, are following players in the amateur circuit, but there are a few players I want to highlight that you should be following right now (don't take this as the Pirates should draft these guys, or that they'll be there when the Pirates are on the clock, but these are still some fun players to watch).
The first player is Cameron Johnson. I have been following Johnson as often as Dylan Crews. The LSU commit is an intimidating figure on the mound. He stands at 6'5", 230 pounds, and backs that up with powerful stuff. He hits the mid-90s and tops out at 99 MPH, with above average. His slider is a plus offering that has shown some improved spin. He also throws with a low three-quarters arm slot, adding deception to his stuff.
There is some question as to if he can be a starting pitcher in the long run. He previously struggled with longevity, and his changeup is a below-average pitch right now. His command can also get out of whack. Although he has a deceptive delivery, he also has a whippy arm motion, so much so his hat moves when he throws. MLB Pipeline ranks him as their 50th-best prospect. Meanwhile, Prospects Live puts him at no. 39. He's a pitcher that the Pirates should heavily consider for the second round if he is available.
If the Pirates were to take Johnson, they'd be committing a ton of money in the first few rounds, assuming they'd also draft Crews. Both are going to be overslot signees, and the latter may even break the all-time signing bonus record. So if the Pirates decide to go under slot in the second round, Brandon Sproat is another player fans should keep an eye on up until the draft.
The New York Mets picked the University of Florida right-hander in the third round of last year's draft but did not sign. He's gone back to college, where he currently owns a poor 5.45 ERA but some quality peripherals. His WHIP clocks in at just 1.18 while having a strong 32.5% strikeout rate and 0.74 HR/9. However, walks have come back to bite him on more than one occasion, indicated by his 11.9% walk rate.
Sproat looks even better this year than last season. He's topping out at triple-digits while averaging at 95-96 MPH with arm-side movement. His change-up is top-notch and sharper than ever, sitting in the upper-80s with fall-off-the-table action. He also throws a slider and curveball, two pitches that have distinct movement and velocity. His slider is definitely an above-average offering, though his curveball is more of a get-me-over type pitch, as described by MLB Pipeline. Given that he is a senior, he'll likely have to sign for under slot. But some teams might see him as a late first-round bargain and take him before he falls to the second round.
After taking a look at two pitchers, let's take a look at a position player in Jack Hurley. The Virginia Tech outfielder has been nothing short of outstanding in his college career, batting .328/.414/.600 with 31 home runs in 600 plate appearances. He's walked 10% of his plate appearances, though he has struck out 23.1# of the time. He has cut his K% down to just 19.8% this season and has hit 11 home runs in 121 trips to the dish. Hurley currently has a 1.203 OPS. He's also swiped 17 bags in 23 attempts.
Hurley has speed and power, hits the ball, and can field his position. Right now, he's manned center field, like most top draft prospects, but with a below-average arm, there's a good chance his long-term home will eventually be left field. Currently, Prospects Live, and MLB Pipeline rank him at #37, which would make him go in the first round as a competitive balance pick. Right now, he'd likely go in the late first round.
LuJames Groover III has a very high offensive ceiling. He is currently batting .286/.402/.420 through 137 plate appearances for North Carolina State. He's walked more often than he's struck out, with an 18:11 BB:K ratio. The only downside is Groover hasn't hit for much power this season with a .134 ISO. But last season, he had 27 extra-base hits (10 homers, a triple, and 16 doubles) and a .204 isolated slugging percentage.
Groover is sort of a positionless defender. He's listed as a third baseman by Pipeline but has played plenty of first base, second base, and left field. He's not known for his defensive chops, and more so known for his offensive upside, but he has shown some improvement with the leather. He is a below average runner, so left field likely isn't the most ideal spot for him, even if he has an arm for the outfield.
This year's MLB draft may have the most talent since the Pirates' rebuild started. They'll surely find a player they could potentially consider a long term cog for the future.