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Pittsburgh Pirates 2018 MLB Draft Preview

David Slusser

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The Major League Baseball draft starts today and ends Wednesday.  The Pirates have the tenth overall pick, something they haven’t had since 2013.  The Pirates are looking to revamp the farm, and they have both the draft picks and draft pool to do so.

The MLB draft is today, and these are the players the Pirates could look to target with their first two picks.  Given the draft structure in the CBA, the Pirates only have a certain amount to spend in the draft.  Using the figures from MLB, this is what the Pirates have to spend:

Round Pick Pool
1 10 $4,560,200
Comp Balance A 36 $1,967,900
2 51 $1,382,400
3 86 $673,200
4 114 $488,200
5 144 $364,600
6 174 $275,600
7 204 $215,500
8 234 $171,800
9 264 $150,200
10 294 $140,800
Total $10,390,400

The Pirates can spend more or less on each pick, and in the back half of the top 10 rounds they’ll likely spend less and draft college seniors to save money for spots early in the draft or in rounds 11 and on, where anything greater than $125,000 goes against the team’s pool.  Given the structure, teams have to be more careful on who to draft in order to maximize talent within a budget, and failing to sign a player results in a loss in that pick’s dollar amount from the pool.

Pick One, Number 10:

Trevor Larnach, outfielder Oregon State:  Larnach ranks ninth on Fangraphs, 26th on MLB Pipeline, and 27th on Baseball America.  The left-handed bat is a Junior and has a quick swing and has developed power this spring, while also maintaining his ability to get on-base at a high clip.  He stands open in the box and has a calm stance that allows him to drive the ball with authority to the gaps, and Larnach hit 17 home runs this year.  He’s a corner outfielder now and in the future, and the Pirates would save on their pool by drafting him at 10.

Jonathan India, third baseman Florida:  Like Larnach, India is a Junior in college and would likely allow the Pirates to save some money on their draft pool, though India would likely take more than Larnach.  He ranks 10th on Fanrgaphs, eighth on MLB Pipeline, and sixth on Baseball America.  Given what the Pirates have invested in Moran and Hayes, perhaps the Pirates avoid a third baseman, but if they go this route they’ll be drafting a player with a .502 OBP and .723 SLG before any games played in the tournament.

Travis Swaggerty, outfielder South Alabama:  A left-handed hitting center fielder with speed and good defense.  Swaggerty ranks fourth on Fangraphs, 11th on MLB Pipeline, and 11th on MLB Pipeline.  He doesn’t much power, and stands at just 5’11” and 180 pounds.  After adding Bryan Reynolds and Jason Martin in trades, and Uselton and Mitchell last year, maybe the Pirates don’t go after either Swaggerty or Larnach, but if they do Swaggerty seems more likely.

Cole Winn, pitcher Orange Lutheran High School:  Winn comes from the same high school as Gerrit Cole and Jason Martin.  Ranks 12th on Fangraphs, ninth on MLB Pipeline, and 10th on Baseball America.  A high school right hander with a fastball that sits mid 90s with a curveball, that Fangraphs notes “snapdragon curveball which flashes plus and has a plus spin rate.”  The Pirates could continue to go after high school pitching, and Winn would take up almost all of the $4.56 million.

Jarred Kelenic, outfielder Waukesha West High School:  Left-handed outfielder from the midwest, though he is almost 19 years old (will turn so in July).  Ranks eighth on Fangraphs, 10th on MLB Pipeline, and 12th on Baseball America.  The Pirates took two high school outfielders last year, but Kelenic is a better prospect than both.  All three sites mention that he might not be able to stick in center as he matures, but given the Pirates past, if they draft Kelenic they’d give him every opportunity to do so.  Like Winn, would take up the Pirates draft pool.

Carter Stewart, pitcher Eau Gallie High School: Right-handed pitcher from Florida who fits the Pirates typical mold at 6’6″ and 200 pounds.  Ranks 10th on Fangraphs, fifth on MLB Pipeline, and ninth on Baseball America.  Stewart sits in the mid 90s and has a plus curveball according to all three sites.  This is the pitcher that screams Neal Huntington and the Pirates.

Matthew Liberatore, pitcher Mountain Ridge High School:  Left-handed pitcher from Arizona who stands at 6’5″ and 200 pounds, the ideal frame.  Pirates usually don’t target left-handed pitchers but he ranks sixth on Fangraphs, fourth on MLB Pipeline, and second on Baseball America, which makes him the top prep arm on each site.  Throws four pitches, similar to Baz last year, and he falls to 10 he would make sense for the Pirates.

Larnach is a likely extreme fallback and a player that the Pirates won’t take if any of the above are still on the board.  India could be in play if he falls, but as a college bat who has produced in 2018, that seems unlikely.  Swaggerty fits the athletic center field type the Pirates enjoy, and the same can be said for the high schooler Kelenic.

Baseball America recently projected Stewart at 10, Fangraphs mocked Liberatore, and MLB Pipeline has the Pirates taking Winn.  Seems likely the Pirates will take a high school arm for the second year in a row, and that will take a chunk from the $4.56 million draft slot value.  What it would do is give the Pirates another opportunity to add a young arm into the system as the Pirates have drafted their fair share the last few years.

Pick Two, Number 36:

Kumar Rocker, pitcher North Oconee High School:  Last year the Pirates drafted Shane Baz in the first round, and he stood at 6’3″ and 190 pounds.  Rocker has the height the Pirates like, but he’s almost physically maxed out as MLB Pipeline lists him at 6’5″ and 250 pounds.  Fangraphs has him ranked 29th, MLB Pipeline 23rd, and Baseball America 13th.  MLB Pipeline and Baseball America note his excellent fastball and curveball, with a promising changeup.  He certainly fits the mold of the Pirates.  Fangraphs mocked him to the Pirates in the competitive balance round A part of the draft, but there’s a chance he will be taken before.  If not, he would fit with the Pirates at nearly $2 million, especially if the Pirates save by taking a college bat in round one.

Grayson Rodriguez, pitcher Central Heights High School:  After taking Shane Baz and Steven Jennings with their first two picks, and the Pirates could look to do the same here.  Rodriguez is mocked to 16 by Baseball America, but 34th by Fangraphs.  Rodriguez also popped up as a name on MLB Pipeline’s mock for the Pirates, but given the other players likely still on the board Rodriguez seems unlikely.  He ranks 36th on Fangraphs, 22nd on MLB Pipeline, and 24th on Baseball America.  He stands at 6’5″ and 230 pounds, and throws in the low to mid 90s.  If he’s available at 36, it’s another arm that fits the Pirates.

Ethan Hankins, pitcher Forsyth Central High School:  Another high school arm who stands at 6’6″ and 200 pounds.  Hankins is ranked 40th on Fangraphs, 18th on Baseball America, and 21st on MLB Pipeline.  Has a plus fastball and throws a slider and curveball according to MLB Pipeline.  The sites discuss how his medical will come into play on where he will fall, but by drafting Hankins the Pirates could have another young high school arm with a power fastball.

Jeremiah Jackson, shortstop St. Luke’s High School:  High school shortstop who turned 18 in March and stands at 6’1″ and 170 pounds, so he should be able to stick at the position at that size, if not he could move over to his left and play second.  Swings from the right side and has some pop according to Baseball America.  Ranks 31st on Fangraphs, 44th on Baseball America, and 57th on MLB Pipeline.

Griffin Conine, outfielder Duke:  Left-handed hitting corner outfielder from Duke.  Has slugged .585 for the Blue Devils this year, but has also struck out 25.52 percent according to The Baseball Cube.  Would fit nicely in right-field at PNC, and the power should play with the short porch.  Would need to clean up some of the swing and miss, but Conine could provide the Pirates with a power bat option.  Ranks 50th on Fangraphs, 50th on Baseball America, and 50th on MLB Pipeline. Conine doesn’t turn 21 until July, so he’s still young.  Could also be in play with pick 51 in the second round.

It seems likely that the Pirates go high school arm at 36 along with at number 10.  The club is trying to add young hard throwers, and even in 2016 the club took Nick Lodolo, though he failed to sign.  Pittsburgh needs to revamp their system, and adding young, hard throwing arms is one way to do so, and is what the Atlanta Braves have recently done in their rebuild.

Rest of the draft

The Pirates will likely look and target a college position player in round two or three, and in the back half of the first round looking at college and senior arms as a way to save some of their draft pool for the high school players that they select.  The mid pack of the first ten rounds, and after the tenth round the Pirates will likely target players who are considered a hard sign, similar to drafting Cody Bolton in the sixth round last year.

It seems certain the Pirates go high school arms early, and like last year could follow that with high school bats.  The team certainly loves a certain build that they can tweak and mold, and drafting young does that.  Having a tad of $10 million gives the Pirates a lot room to try to get talent, especially draft prospects that are considered hard to sign.

Currently a student at Kent State University studying economics and computer information systems. Incorporating the game with video while using numbers in a traditional and analytical mix.

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