Pittsburgh Pirates Draft: Early Look at Potential Strategy

New York Mets v Pittsburgh Pirates
New York Mets v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin Berl/GettyImages

Holding the no. 1 overall pick, how might the Pittsburgh Pirates approach this summer's MLB Draft?

With the Pittsburgh Pirates landing the no. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft, the team will have another opportunity to have free reign over who they select. It’s the second time they have had the no. 1 selection in three years.

The last time they had this pick, they got three first-round talents: Henry Davis, Bubba Chandler, and Anthony Solometo. Davis was an under-slot pick, while Chandler and Solometo were still available because college commitments made their signability questionable. While the draft is still ways away, how will the Pirates utilize the no. 1 pick and set their draft strategy?

Let’s first look at the organization's most recent drafts.

In 2022, the Pittsburgh Pirates went with a fairly conventional strategy early in the draft. Their first-round pick was Termarr Johnson, who had a strong argument for being the best player available. Johnson was an over-slot pick, so they had to go under-slot later on in the draft. For the first few rounds, the Pirates made do with their first-round over-slot pick, selecting guys like Thomas Harrington, Hunter Barco, Jack Brannigan, another over-slot player in Michael Kennedy, and Tres Gonzalez. However, of their 20 picks, 16 were pitchers.

The year prior, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Henry Davis no. 1 overall. This was an interesting selection, as he was an under-slot pick. But under-slot does not mean less talented. Davis was still considered a top five, maybe even top three talent in the draft, but most did not have him going no. 1 to the Pirates.

Regardless, the money they saved on Davis went toward their second-round pick Anthony Solometo, their competitive balance pick, Lonnie White Jr., their third-round pick, Bubba Chandler, their fourth-rounder Owen Kellington, and finally, their 14th-round pick, Braylon Bishop. Not only did most take over slot deals to pry them away from their college commitment, but both Solometo and Chandler were projected to go within the first 15-20 picks of the draft, while Bishop was ranked as a top 100 draft prospect by MLB Pipeline. Heck, Chandler made more than Solometo and White Jr.

However, unlike when the Pittsburgh Pirates had the no. 1 pick in 2021, two players are far and away the best talents this year; that’s Chase Dollander and Dylan Crews. While Kumar Rocker’s stock had dropped, his teammate Jack Leiter could have made a good case to go #1 and ended up going at no. 2. A lot of evaluators thought that Marcelo Mayer was the best overall prospect in the draft, but Jordan Lawlar also made a compelling case. The Pirates ended up going with Henry Davis, who was still projected to go within the first three-to-five picks, but a good argument could have been made he was also highly worthy of the no. 1 selection, under slot or not.

In 2022, the draft was very high schooler heavy. Jackson Holliday ended up going no. 1 overall, and he was considered a potential player to go first overall. Then Druw Jones came off the board at no. 2, another player who many saw going no. 1 overall. The Texas Rangers went with the extremely bold decision of Kumar Rocker with the third pick, but then the Pirates selected Johnson. The Nationals then went with Elijah Green at no. 5. Four of the first five picks also had a strong case to go no. 1 overall when going into the draft.

Fast forward to 2023, and it’s a much narrower no. 1 selection. Dollander and Crews are, far and away, the most talented players right now. Leiter didn’t draw comparisons to Gerrit Cole (who broke the highest signing bonus record in 2011) and Stephen Strasburg (one of the most hyped draft prospects of all time) like Dollander is, and Marcelo Mayer wasn’t getting Adley Rustchman (broke Gerrit Cole’s signing bonus record) comparisons like Crews is.

While it’s still way too early, I feel the Pirates will go a more conventional route with Dollander, Crews, or whoever is considered the best prospect at the time (if that happens to be someone else). Both are so far out and away the best pitcher and position player, not only in this draft but in recent baseball history. They might go under slot later in the draft if they pick a high school-level player in another round, but I doubt the Pirates will go with another player.

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