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Sound Buc-ing Smart: Pirate Draft Preview

It’s that time of year again: the MLB Draft.  Much like how I’d read Shakespeare in high school and my wife would read the Cliff Notes, the Pirates and I do exhaustive research on thousands of prospects (I stick to the BA Top 300 and Top 200) in preparation for the 40+ round magnus opus that is the MLB Draft.  Here’s the “Cliff Draft Notes” for you on the draft that starts Monday, June 4th.

Like years prior I try to lay out odds on who the Pirates will pick with their first pick as narrowing it down to one person for the MLB Draft is darn near impossible.  I use horse racing style odds.

First Round

The Pirates have over $10M for the entire draft, but their slot for their first round pick, #10 overall, is $4.6M.  The top 5 prospects (Mize, Singer, Bart, Bohm and Madrigal) will all be off the Board, so they aren’t predicted.  Also not listed is plus bat, high school OF Jared Kelenic, who is a popular mock draft choice for the Pirates.  Kelenic will be 19 shortly after the draft and the Pirates rarely draft a player old for his class.

Click on the player’s name for the videos of each player.  H/T to for the videos. rank Player Pos. School Odds
12 Nolan Gorman 3B O’Connor (Ariz.) HS 5-1
The front runner (assuming Top 5 are off board). Gorman has the plus tools, upside, position scarcity and age upside Pirates value. He may have the most power of any high school draftee and his power shows up in games. His character seems high and he’s performed at all levels and showcases. Gorman is an AZ commit which would follow a trend of Arizona influx into the system (Trevor Williams, Cole Tucker, Kevin Newman). He’s young enough that Pirates could take time with him and start him at short season with the hope of a Austin Meadows timeline. Also, bats are less risky so there is additional value to picking a 3B versus a pitcher.
9 Cole Winn RHP Orange Lutheran (Calif) HS 6-1
I listened to the MLB Pipeline podcast where Jim Callis and friend of TPOP Jonathan Mayo interviewed Cole Winn last week and Winn “won” me over. His intelligence, baseball intelligence and humility were evident. That combined with his pedigree, draft hype and projection allow for an easy Pirates’ pick. The only thing detrimental to this choice is him being a pitcher. Winn who grew up in Colorado, moved to California this year to get a full year of playing against lineups of all D1 talent. His fastball is among the tops in the class.
22 Grayson Rodriguez RHP Central Heights (Tex) HS 6-1
Of the elite HS arms, only Rodriguez and GA hurler Kumar Rocker can match Carter Stewart’s fastball. Rodriguez is a RH pitcher with a fastball that he can pound the strike zone with to both sides. He hasn’t developed a plus off speed pitch yet but has a few offerings that have promise. He hasn’t been hyped as long as some of the other picks so he could possibly sign underslot.
13 Ryan Weathers LHP Loretto (Tenn) HS 6-1
The 5th of 6 HS pitchers worthy of the Pirates #10 pick that was born in November of 1999 (Rodriguez, Winn, Liberatore, Stewart and Kumar Rocker). Weathers has the better control than the lot and like Liberatore is left handed, but he doesn’t have Stewart’s curve or Winn’s fastball. He does have a good feel for all his pitches, which is not surprising due to the fact that his dad is former major league starter David Weathers.
4 Matthew Liberatore P Mountain Ridge (Ariz.) HS 8-1
I feel like the top three Arizona HS draftees are all in play for the Pirates this year and Liberatore would be #1. Liberatore should be off the board when the Pirates are picking at #10 but there’s a chance he won’t be. Him falling to the Pirates would be because the Pirates have the draft budget to “buy him down” to the #10 slot. Liberatore has a commit to Arizona. The Pirates’s #10 slot is $4.6M (of $10M overall budget). They could promise him $6.5M which is more than the #4 pick. He’d then tell teams that he’d need $6.5M to sign or he’s honoring his commitment to Arizona. The Pirates would then pick him at #10 and pay the overslot deal. The Pirates are one of the few teams that have the draft budget to pull this off. Enough about how to get him and more about why… Liberatore has pitchability and intangibles in droves. He has above average…well…everything! Combined with being LH, and plus makeup, he’s a pitching coaches dream. That being said, he is a pitcher and $6M to a college pitcher is what Taillon got…and Baz…OK maybe we would do it.
5 Carter Stewart P Eau Galle (FL.) HS 8-1
If you said that Carter Stewart had a fastball that ranked as one of the best pitches in the draft and that his curve that was THE best in the draft you’d assume he’d be gone by #10. In actuality, Stewart’s curve might have the highest spin rate in ALL organized baseball including the pros recording consistent rpms of 3200+. Stewart has filled out his 6’6” frame his senior year and the fastball has followed suit. He might be a Tyler Glasnow with more control, not a bad thought to dream on. He doesn’t get the hype that Liberatore does, due to being RH, so there a chance he might fall to #10 organically and would probably take the $4.6M slot. There are some teams turned off by his motion, so he could be off the Pirates board for all I know.
11 Travis Swaggerty CF South Alabama University 8-1
If you thought like a football fan, drafting Swaggerty (whose profile is similar to Austin Meadows) wouldn’t make any sense, especially since he is a college player and could reach the majors quickly. But a common sensical Pirates’ fan knows that our cornerstone players change with the wind and drafting the BPA is the right plan of action. Swaggerty is a solid all-around CF with a 5 tool package that makes him a solid CF prospect and worthy of the 10th pick. Also, being a very young junior, versus the similarly aged “Red Shirt Sophomore” (see: Shane McClanahan) means he has the age upside the Pirates like without the leverage of a junior year.
16 Logan Gilbert RHP Stetson University 8-1
College starter with easy mid 90’s heat and a very repeatable delivery from his 6’6” frame. Different scouts like different off speed pitches but his curve, slider and change could all be at least average. Stetson alumna Corey Kluber or Jake DeGrom would be fun outcomes. Gilbert is a 4.0 student as well.
17 Ryan Rolison LHP Ole Miss University 8-1
Experienced LHP in the SEC who is average across with board (Fastball, change, command, etc) but has a plus curveball. Young for class and strong makeup. Draft eligible sophomore who loves competing for Ole Miss has some leverage.
21 Ethan Hankins P Forsyth Central (GA) HS 10-1
A possibility for a underslot deal for the #10 pick (or a “buy down” to the #31 pick) with tremendous upside, Hankins was a consensus top five guy with the best fastball in the class (command and movement) until he had a non surgical shoulder injury in February but is back pitching again. Mocking as a late first round pick now, a drafting at 10 could allow Bucs to sign him out of his Vandy commit but also save money for later picks, while maintaining the high ceiling upside of others available at #10.
28 Noah Naylor C St. Joan of Arc (Ont) HS 10-1
Noah, is a plus arm, plus power catcher with enough athletic ability to stick behind the plate but looks good at 3B too. Older brother Josh plays for the Padres. A possible Colin Moran who could backup at catcher? Did I mention he’s a catcher? Tempting underslot attempt. Young for class. Last Canadian catcher the Pirates had did pretty well.

Next Three Picks

The Pirates next three picks could all command $1M+

Pirates Pick Slot Value
36  $1,967,900
51  $1,382,400
86  $673,200

These picks could land additional top prospects, like 2017 2nd rounder Calvin Mitchell who is destroying Low A ball.  The picks could also be used as overslot signings to land a better prospect, or to use the money from for other picks.

Here are some of my notes on 30+ names the Pirates might like for the next three picks: rank Player Pos. College or High School
27 Trevor Larnach OF College
Oregon State OF reminds me of Travis Jankowski of the Padres who just tormented the Bucs during a recent series.   Plus bat and patient approach means he should play even if forced to LF.
31 Steele Walker OF College
Aptly named Steele, is an OK Sooner OF with a plus hit tool, plus instincts and plus makeup: three things the Pirates value.  Rest of skill set is average.   
33 Jameson Hannah OF College
Hannah has plus speed and defense.   His .392 average in the Cape show leadoff potential.   Young for class.
36 Tristan Beck RHP College
Stanford RH has the Fastball command the Pirates love and a plus changeup too.  Doesn’t currently have top end velocity but neither did Chad Kuhl at Delaware.
40 Jake McCarthy CF College
Prior Pirate draftee was climbing draft boards before a broken wrist subdued his junior year but is rebounding now.   Nate McClouth type CF.
42 Alek Thomas OF High School
Two sport star from Illinois.  Profile reads as a 5’11” Austin Meadows.
44 Adam Kloffenstein RHP High School
17 year old, 6’4” 225lb high school power pitcher.    Might be tough sign due to TCU commit.   Very young.
45 Sean Hjelle RHP College
6’11” college pitcher with a plus knuckle-curve, above average change and above average command.  Huge downward plane that could negate some launch angles. 
47 Lenny Torres Jr. High School
One of the youngest high school draftees Torres has a true plus fastball. He is athletic enough to make some of his other pitches plus in the six seasons before he turns 23.
50 Kris Bubic LHP College
LH starter who has plus command and a plus changeup.   Young for class.  Low floor, front end starter ceiling if curve improves and fastball increases.
51 Griffin Conine OF College
Son of Jeff Conine. Won Cape MVP.  LH home run swing.  Struggled badly in early season.   Young college junior.   RF profile.
53 Nico Hoerner SS College
Three year starter at Stanford.  Cape all-star. Strong offense for MIF.  Safe pick.
57 Luken Baker 1B College
Two way high school star who went to TCU instead.   Big lumbering LH masher who stock is lower due to two season ending broken bones.  1B only.  Could go higher if team think RF is option.
58 Jeremiah Jackson SS High School
High school SS with advanced bat but debatably a SS.   Good arm.  Athletic.  Higher on him if you think he could stay at SS.
61 Konnor Pilkington LHP College
Strike zone pounder.  If he found a couple mph or made his off speed pitches better he’d be a lock as a MLB starter.
62 Joe Gray Jr. OF High School
High school OF with upside of 30/30 CF.  More power than hit.  Marte caliber arm.   Becoming better defensive OF.
63 Tim Cate LHP College
Young college LHP with plus plus curve.  Short with 90-93 Fastball.   
66 Zach Watson CF College
LSU CF with plus-plus speed, which makes him a stud CF/base stealer.  Has pop in bat.  Needs to walk more.
69 Cadyn Grenier SS College
Plus glove SS, same high school as Nolan Gorman.  Same college as Mercer.
70 Steven Gingery LHP College
Would have been a front runner for Pirates pick but had TJ in February.  Best normal changeup in draft.
72 Josh Breaux C College
College catcher with plus power and plus arm.  Threw 100 mph as reliever.   
74 Tyler Frank SS/C College
Solid MIF that I think the Bucs would move to catcher, where he played adequately out of need as a freshman.
76 Kyle Isbel OF College
UNLV OF who used to play IF.  Cape All Star.  Pirates would probably move him back to IF.
81 Braydon Fisher RHP High School
High school who didn’t get seen on “showcase circuit” until October ‘18.   Surprised scouts.  Very young, very athletic and projectable.
87 Tanner Dodson RHP College
Good two way player that won batting crown on Cape.  Pitching as a reliever now but pitched as a starter first two seasons in college.
88 Jonathan Ornelas SS High School
#3 Arizona HS prospect after Liberatore and Gorman.  Gets Javy Baez comps for flashy skills at SS and with bat
89 Jonathan Stiever RHP College
Indiana U pitcher who has good control and advanced feel for pitching.  Athletic.  All state WR/CB in football.
98 Alex McKenna OF College
Cal Poly tweener OF who has a advanced bat.   If he sticks in CF could be a find in 2nd or 3rd round.
103 Josiah Gray RHP College
Very young DII pitcher who started as a SS, then turned reliever, then turned starter after strong Cape showing.
104 Osiris Johnson SS High School
Super toolsy, super young high school SS prospect.


Michael is a Pirates contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. Michael is former submarine officer and Naval Academy grad. He now runs a small consulting firm and does veteran related job fairs. He is a SABR member and regularly attends Altoona Curve games to scout the Pirate prospects.

5 Comments on Sound Buc-ing Smart: Pirate Draft Preview

  1. I’d personally love for the Pirates to go HS bat @ 1-10, but it seems all signs point to Prep Pitcher. According to 247, they’ve seen all of Stewart’s outings this year and FanGraphs says they’re all in on a Prep Pitcher. Do you have any insight that they may be going bat? Your logic is sound, but doesn’t mean theirs is!

    I’ve been resigned to the fact that it’s a prep arm based on the above references, so I’ve been hoping for Liberatore as my 1A) and Stewart as my 1B), then hoping they collect bats w/ the comp pick and the other early round picks.

    If it’s Gorman, Liberatore, or Stewart, this question is moot, but any indication that they’d reach on a guy to sign them underslot to bolster the pool for later picks?

    Lastly, thanks for this write up! I’ve been starved for draft content through a Pittsburgh lens. This was fantastic.

    • Michael Bradley // June 1, 2018 at 11:01 AM //

      Thanks for the compliment.

      I think age relative to class is SO important to the Pirates. High schoolers who are still 17 or barely 18 when drafted or college guys at 20/21 seem overshoot expectations. Trout, lindor, judge are MLB examples; while meadows, Glasnow and Kuhl are Bucs ones. November 1999 makes many of those guys old for their class while Hankins is May 2000. Gorman is May I think too. That means a lot to the Pirates, but Braves too. Braves are probably gonna pick who the Bucs really want. Checkout Shame Baz’s Bday when you get a chance.

      • I guess I never even thought to look at that! I love the analysis that goes in to the draft: MLB, NFL, or otherwise. I think it’s extremely interesting (and can be frustrating, if you were locked into Justin Reid for the Steelers, for example).

        I’ve honed in, as I said on the projectable, hard throwers in HS as that has been the team’s M.O. But considering a change in philosophy to RPMs I like that Stewart brings both sides of the coin. I like Liberatore for his baseball IQ and ability to pitch coupled with being a lefty.

        Your analysis has me intrigued by other, younger (for their stage) players and I’ll go back to the drawing board a bit!

  2. Circling back! Any thoughts on Hoglund? By FanGraph’s account, he appears to be the 25th youngest in the class. That fits the M.O. you had mentioned above.

    I think Ashcroft is above your threshold, but still 45th youngest in the class. Looks like a couple of projectable righies.

    Any players you’re looking at/hoping for on Day 2?

Comments are closed.