The Pittsburgh Pirates will have another chance to bolster their farm system this year, but is there anything they should focus on this July?
The Pittsburgh Pirates will have an early-round selection past the first round. After the first round, where they have the no. 1 overall pick, the Pirates have the third pick in each round (plus a competitive balance pick after the second round). The Pirates’ primary focus with the first overall must be Dylan Crews, but after the first round, should they focus on a specific area?
Based on the farm system, I would say the two biggest needs are outfield and pitching depth throughout the minor leagues. Now that doesn’t mean they are completely devoid of any talent in the outfield or with pitching. I think Mike Burrows, Luis Ortiz, and Quinn Priester are very talented arms. In the outfield, they have some very young but very high-ceiling guys like Lonnie White Jr., Shalin Polanco, and Tony Blanco Jr. mixed in with some slightly older ones such as Matt Gorski and Travis Swaggerty.
Given their current window, I would think they would put a heavier emphasis on college-aged players. That’s not to completely rule out any high school picks. If the Pirates have a really good opportunity to take a good high school prospect, they should take it. But in most cases, I believe they’d go with the college player.
Drafting Crews will certainly help the minor-league outfield depth, but he’s still only one player. Still, they’ll have plenty of opportunities past the first round to find talent in the outfield and for pitching. Jack Hurley and Colton Ledbetter are two outfielders that I think are worth at least keeping tabs on right now.
Both Hurley and Ledbetter are considered top 50 draft prospects by Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, and Joe Doyle of Future Stars Series (formerly of Prospects Live). There’s a small chance they could fall to the Pirates in the second round. One or both may end up going late in the first round or in the competitive balance round A, which is in between rounds one and two.
Travis Honeyman is a player who could more realistically end up still being available when the Pirates are up in the second round. Honeyman consistently posts low strikeout rates and has some raw power. Overall, he’s a well-rounded prospect, as while there’s no elite tool here, there’s also nothing below average. The worst is his arm strength, which is fringy, but he could still play okay out of center field.
Another one worth mentioning is Cole Carrigg. Carrigg is one of the most interesting prospects in the draft, given his versatility. The only position he hasn’t lined up for once in his amateur career is first base. He could end up at shortstop, center field, or even catcher. His hit tool is his best weapon, and he is able to make contact at a high rate. Though he strikes out at a rate below 15%, he also walks at a rate of just over 8% at 8.2%. His potential will be limited based on how much raw power he can develop or tap into.
Those are some outfielders, but what about some arms to keep an eye on? Brandon Sproat would be one player that would be on my radar. Given that he is a college senior, there’s a chance he’ll sign for under-slot value. Given that Dylan Crews will cost so much to sign, they’re going to have to go under slot at some point or another. Sproat fills two needs in that case, adding a talented pitcher to the system (one that could move up through the minor leagues rapidly), and helping them sign Crews.
Vanderbilt left-hander Hunter Owen is a potential second-round pick. Standing at a sturdy 6’6”. 260-LBS, Owen is armed with a mid-90s fastball with a decent slider and curveball. He has performed admirably for the Commodores this season, striking out a ton of batters while keeping a relatively low walk rate.
This might be a stretch, but Juaron Watts-Brown could fall to the Pirates. Most sources rank him as a borderline top-30 draft prospect. Watts-Brown is more about projection than current performance. He comes in at 6’3”, 190-LBS, but has displayed decent athleticism on the mound. Like Hurley and Ledbetter, based on rankings, Watts-Brown could be a late-first-round/comp round A pick rather than an early second-round pick.
While you typically don’t want to draft to fix a weakness, the Pirates need to add another player aside from Crews to their top prospect outfield depth. Plus, there will likely be enough outfield talent that the Pirates don’t have to pass up on better talent just to fix a weak spot. Same thing with pitching; there will likely be a point sometime in the first five rounds where the Pirates’ best option available will be a pitcher.