Pirates seek impact players with 2 1st-round picks
MLB Network analyst John Hart suggests the Pirates should attempt to find another Andrew McCutchen in this year's major league draft, which begins at 7 p.m. Thursday on MLB Network with the opening two rounds.
The draft is short on the Pirates' biggest needs: quick-to-the-majors impact bats and college shortstops. But what should be available to the Pirates with the Nos. 9 and 14 picks are a number of high-upside, high-risk high school players, some fitting McCutchen's prospect profile back in the 2005 draft when he was selected 11th overall.
“Here's what I think they are going to be wrestling with when they pick: the upside high school guys that I think have a high ceiling (versus) the sure-bet college player,” Hart said. “What is going to come with high school players is more inherent risk. They are further away.”
But what also comes with high school options is more upside.
Risk rarely deterred Hart when he was the Cleveland Indians GM in the 1990s. His clubs selected high school prospects Manny Ramirez and CC Sabathia in the first round and unearthed all-stars.
Hart believes the draft is where small-market clubs have the best chance to find impact players, and it is high school players who often have the most all-star potential as top athletes typically bypass college.
There are two high-ceiling, five-tool prep outfielders: Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier — both hail from Loganville, Ga. — and both could be available at No. 9. The Pirates had a pre-draft deal with prep outfielder David Dahl in last year's draft, according to Baseball America, but scrapped the plan when Stanford pitcher Mark Appel slipped. The Pirates were awarded the ninth overall pick as compensation for failing to sign Appel.
The Pirates have been connected to the top catcher, Reese McGuire, a high school prospect, as well as left-handed pitcher Trey Ball, who touches 95 mph. ESPN's Keith Law has the Pirates taking McGuire at No. 9.
The only shortstop projected to go in the first round is prep standout J.P. Crawford. Shortstop is a need for the Pirates.
“I think (Crawford) is the one guy who profiles as a guy who can stay at shortstop,” Hart said. “But he's a four-to-five year guy.”
The Pirates also could select from the second tier of college talent.
While there are no college first basemen, second basemen, shortstops or catchers graded as first-round prospects by Baseball America, there is depth in college third basemen. San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant (31 home runs) is the top college bat and is projected to go third overall after Appel and Oklahoma ace Jonathan Gray, according to Baseball America.
“Bryant is the guy with a big power grade who has separated himself from other (hitters),” Hart said.
North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran (.357 average, 13 home runs) is perhaps the best pure college hitter in the draft. Baseball America has the Pirates selecting Moran ninth, but many analysts project him to go earlier. New Mexico's D.J. Peterson and Notre Dame's Eric Jagielo also have received first-round grades as third basemen.
With Pedro Alvarez about to get expensive — he's likely eligible for arbitration in 2014 — third base could become a future need for the Pirates.
Baseball America has the Pirates selecting Indiana State left-handed pitcher Sean Manaea, a Scott Boras client, 14th. Manaea's stock has dipped slightly because his stuff has ticked down this spring, though he still posted 1.47 ERA. Law has the Pirates selecting Hunter Renfroe, who has power and strikeouts, at No. 14.
Analysts rate this as a weak draft. There is no Bryce Harper- or Steven Strasburg-type talent for Astros at No. 1. This is also not the 2005 or '11 drafts, when there were a number of projected future stars at the top.
Still, there are future big leaguers to be found. Law said it's a critical year for the Pirates to add talent to a system that has to keep pace with the talent-rich Cardinals.
“They have to come away from the first round with at least one (future big leaguer),” Law said. “They can't afford to miss on both.”
Pirates GM Neal Huntington, who worked under Hart in Cleveland, said there is quality to be found.
“There's not the elite impact at the top of the board, but there are some players that are going to play in all-star games,” Huntington said. “We hope we're the team they play for when they play in the All-Star Game.”
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