The Pirates pick at No. 8 in next week's MLB Draft, and if you haven't followed the draft closely and you wonder who the Bucs might take, this article is for you. First, the basics:
June 4, 7 p.m. First round and compensation round
June 5, noon. Rounds 2-15
June 6, noon. Rounds 16-40
The entire draft will be broadcast on MLB.com; the events on June 4 will also be shown on the MLB Network
We'll stop there, because those are the only picks that will be relevant to the Pirates' first selection, but you can find the entire order here. Note that the Pirates also have the No. 45 overall pick as compensation for losing Ryan Doumit.
Lots Of Uncertainty
It's unusually difficult to predict who the Pirates will pick in the first round this year. There are two reasons for that.
1. There are more teams than usual ahead of the Pirates. In recent years, the Pirates have usually picked somewhere in the first four picks, and there is less uncertainty when there's one team ahead of them, or three, than when there are seven.
2. This is a rather weak draft class, and there isn't a lot of consensus about who the top talents are.
Who Can Be Ruled Out?
There are four players who I don't think I've ever seen fall to No. 8 in any mock draft:
1. Stanford RHP Mark Appel
2. Georgia HS OF Byron Buxton
3. LSU RHP Kevin Gausman
4. Puerto Rico HS SS Carlos Correa
I'm going to proceed with the assumption that none of these players will be available to the Pirates. In most mock drafts, Appel goes to the Astros with the top pick, and then it's Buxton to the Twins at No. 2, although a lot of experts think Buxton is the best talent in the draft. Gausman frequently goes to the Orioles at No. 4 or the Royals at No. 5. Correa goes anywhere from No. 4 to No. 7. Of the four, Correa probably has the best chance of falling to the Pirates, and it would be great if the Bucs could draft a shortstop with outstanding hitting tools, but I think it's still very unlikely he'll fall to them.
Let's look, then, at some of the top remaining players and the likelihood of the Pirates selecting them. They are in order from most likely to least likely, not in order of their talent.
I should note here that I've never seen these players in person and that my impressions of them are based on internet videos and on reports published online, mostly from Baseball America, Jonathan Mayo and Keith Law. These experts know far more about this stuff than I do, and teams clearly do too, so this is an area where all concerned deserve a little bit of insulation from criticism from folks like me.
That said, based on what I know, if the Pirates pick Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero, I'll be upset. It seemed like every mock draft last week had the Bucs taking him, but there are now indications that they'll probably look elsewhere, which just compounds the confusion. Read on:
Max Fried, LHP, California HS. Not only is Fried a lefty, but he's one of those "projectable" pitchers (6-foot-4, thin) who the Pirates seem to love drafting. (They haven't had much success with those kinds of picks so far, which you'd think might slow them down at some point.) There were recent reports that his velocity had declined, although Jonathan Mayo gave a glowing report of one of Fried's recent starts. Fried's fastball, apparently, was at between 90-95 MPH, which typically really means he sat at 90-91 MPH and occasionally threw a bit harder than that. That's not great velocity, but it's perfectly good for a lefty, especially one who's still in high school. Odds of Pirates picking Fried: moderate. Odds of Fried being available: moderate.
Albert Almora, OF, Florida HS. Almora isn't generally regarded as being as toolsy as Buxton or Correa, but he still has good tools and a well-rounded skill set (he's strong defensively in center, and he stands a good chance of hitting), and he has plus makeup as well. He looks like a potentially terrific pick, but the question is whether he'll be available -- the Cubs at No. 6 and the Padres at No. 7 are possible destinations. If he's available, I would hope the Bucs would give him a close look. If the Pirates were to pass on him, the Marlins would probably seize him at No. 9. Odds of Pirates picking Almora: moderate. Odds of Almora being available: low to moderate.
Chris Stratton, RHP, Mississippi State. Mayo and Keith Law have both suggested the Pirates could consider Stratton, a tall pitcher with a prototypical starter's repertoire. As Law recently pointed out, though, Stratton will turn 22 shortly after being drafted, so he'll probably peak earlier than most draftees, and he'll have less time to develop. Odds of Pirates picking Stratton: low to moderate. Odds of Stratton being available: very high.
Deven Marrero, SS, Arizona State. Pirates fans really, really don't want the Bucs picking Marrero, a strong defensive shortstop with a questionable bat. But so many experts have predicted a Marrero selection that it's hard to ignore. Still, doubt has recently started to creep in, with Dejan Kovacevic, a local writer who's closer to the Bucs than any of the national experts, saying flat-out that the Pirates won't select Marrero. I'm coming around to the idea that the Pirates won't pick him. In any case, a player who can play good shortstop defense certainly has lots of value, but whether or not Marrero is, in a vacuum, worth the No. 8 overall pick doesn't matter to me. This is a player who has struggled to hit in college, and if he can't hit in the pros, he doesn't have much chance of becoming a star. You can insert a Clint Barmes joke about the Pirates not being able to find average players on the free agent market, but the fact remains that a team like the Pirates should be able to find average players outside the draft. It must try to find stars in the first round of the draft. Who knows what any of these players will become, but I don't think Marrero is the right player given what they should be looking for. Overall odds of Pirates picking Marrero: low. Odds of Marrero being available: very high.
Mike Zunino, C, University of Florida. Conventional wisdom has the Mariners grabbing Zunino at No. 3, but recent troubles for Zunino in SEC play have led to speculation that he might slip. I think it's pretty unlikely that he'd fall all the way to No. 8, but if he did, the Pirates would be very likely to take him; the fact that they recently used a No. 4 overall pick on Tony Sanchez wouldn't matter. Zunino has the potential to be above-average both at the plate and behind it. Odds of Pirates picking Zunino: low. Odds of Zunino being available: low.
Lucas Giolito, RHP, California HS. Giolito is a teammate of Fried's. He's the most confusing player in the entire draft, in that he might be the most talented player overall if he's healthy. Unfortunately, he sprained his elbow in late March. A video recently surfaced of Giolito throwing 220 feet in his rehab, but it's still unclear exactly how healthy he is. He also has big-time bonus demands, which could pose problems, given Major League Baseball's restrictive new draft pool system. He's committed to UCLA. If he's healthy, he's a potentially dominating ground-ball pitcher. No one knows where he'll be selected. Odds of Pirates picking Giolito: low. Odds of Giolito being available: high.
Kyle Zimmer, RHP, University of San Francisco. I've never heard the Pirates connected to Zimmer, who's almost always off the board in the first seven picks, but I'm listing him here because, first, there's no real consensus as to where he'll be taken and, second, I wonder if the Pirates would consider him if he fell to No. 8. He has a good curve and good command, but his real calling card is his mid- to upper-90s velocity. Odds of Pirates picking Zimmer: low. Odds of Zimmer being available: low.
If the Pirates picked anyone from outside this group, I'd be surprised, but perhaps only moderately so, since this is a tough draft to project. Other players worth watching for Pirates fans include Texas high school outfielder Courtney Hawkins, Oklahoma State lefty Andrew Heaney, and Clemson third baseman Richie Shaffer.
My hope in this draft is that one of the players projected to go before the Pirates pick -- Almora, Zunino, or perhaps Zimmer or even Correa -- falls to the Bucs. That's certainly not impossible, due to the amount of unpredictability this year. Of that group, Almora is the most likely to fall. After that, Giolito would certainly be an interesting pick, although if the Pirates picked him it would mean they had good information about his health, and that's just not the kind of information I have access to. If no one unexpectedly falls and the Pirates don't feel comfortable with Giolito, Fried would make sense.