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2015 MLB Draft Reviews – Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 MLB Draft Picks

“If you like [Cornelius] Randolph, you’ll like Hayes.” That’s how 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes (49) was described to me in the days leading up to the draft. It was too late then to slip that head-to-head prospect comparison into any pre-draft post on the site, but there it is now. Despite some obvious issues (handedness for one), I can kind of see it. I prefer the bat of Randolph (ranked four spots ahead of Hayes pre-draft), but the defensive edge goes to Charlie’s son. Like his dad, a long, steady career without ever reaching the peaks of true stardom sounds about right as a prediction on his future. Here’s what I had on Hayes prior to the draft: quick bat; professional approach; average or better power upside; above-average to plus arm; strong; below-average speed, but improved; chance to be above-average defensively at 3B; arguably no carrying tool, but no glaring weaknesses either; 87-89 FB; R/R; 6-1, 210 pounds.

SS Kevin Newman (31), of all prospects, became a lightning rod player this past spring. Some loved him for his hit tool and dependable glove, others were concerned about his long-term defensive future, limited power ceiling, and how his age relative to his college peers (he turned 22 on August 4th) made his college production look more impressive taken out of context. Count me in as part of the latter group, unfortunately.

Newman’s feel for hitting is special, but, as a guy who will always believe the hit tool is king, it pains me to admit a hit tool alone is not enough to equate to future impact regular. Pro pitchers attack hitters with minimal power differently than amateurs. In no way should all hitters be expected to come into pro ball with 20+ HR/season ability, but the threat of extra base power is needed to get the pitches and favorable hitting counts that lead to good things. It’s considerably more difficult to hit .300 with minimal power at the highest level than it is in college and in the lower-minors. I’m not bold enough to unequivocally say that Newman can’t do it, but the odds are stacked against him. Of course, there have been successful infielders with similar offensive profiles that Newman could use as role models — Ben Revere, decidedly not an infielder but the first player to come to mind also qualifies (.291 career BA, .052 career ISO) — such as Placido Polanco (.297, .100), Marco Scutaro (.277, .111), Jose Altuve (.302, .100), Jeff Keppinger (.282, .102), and Ryan Theriot (.281, .069). So the odds may be stacked against him, but not in such a way that makes the Pirates silly for using a first round pick on him.

Defensively, I’ve flip-flopped on my view of Newman since last April. Back then I thought he was a shortstop with little doubt. Though his superior instincts, first step quickness, and quick release all give him a shot to stick at the six-spot, his lackluster arm strength and limited range make him a better long-term fit at second base. Part of my thought process changing had to do with seeing more of him on the field (with two caveats: I’m a fan, not a scout, and it was video, not live), part of it had to do with hearing from trusted contacts who did see him up close a lot more than I could have hoped to, and part of it was my own evolving view of how important arm strength is for a shortstop. We’ve become so accustomed to thinking that third base is the infield position where the biggest arm is needed, but after focusing more closely on some of the throws that big league shortstops are asked to make deep into the hole as their momentum carries them away from their target, I’d argue that shortstop is where ideally your strongest arm would go. That’s not Newman, and I think that the rest of the industry will realize that sooner rather than later.

A “bigger Johnny Giovotella” was one of the names quoted at me when asking around about Newman during the season. I put him on the Mark Loretta/Adam Kennedy continuum pre-draft and also mentioned that somebody smart I know threw out a Joe Panik comp. Let’s say Giovotella/Theriot is his floor and Panik/Polanco is his ceiling. That’s still an impressive range of outcomes — when your realistic floor is a big league player, as I honestly believe is the case for Newman barring injury, that’s something — and well worth a late-first round pick. The Pirates nabbed him a little earlier than that (pick 19), but it’s a minor quibble in the grand scheme of draft prospect valuation. I like Pittsburgh. I like Newman. I hope he ends up with a career a lot closer to what some other outlets have predicted (he’s a STAR!!!) than what I think. I just wouldn’t bet my non-existent job on it, that’s all.

I’ve listed all these players at the positions announced by the team on draft day, but that’s a tad troublesome when it comes to certain players. See my previous take on Newman as one data point here, though SS Kevin Kramer (96) is probably an even better example. Since being announced as a shortstop on draft day, Kramer has played 2B almost exclusively (34 of 36 games) as a professional so far. It’s not a big deal either way since his most likely successful path to the big leagues will be that of a utility infielder, but there you go. Kramer is the kind of player who grows on you the more you watch him. He’s a really good athlete with enough physical tools (average arm, average speed, average strength) to see a big league future ahead. His hit tool will be the separator for him as it’s above-average (think .270ish) with enough pop and patience to be around a league average bat at the kind of up-the-middle defensive spots he’ll play. I think the gap between him and Newman is closer than the majority think, though that probably says more about how I view Newman than how I see Kramer’s career turning out.

I thought I was going to look relatively low with my ranking of SS Logan Ratledge (155), but him falling as late as he did (397) suggests otherwise. If you like him, then the old Devon Travis comp on him has to be right up your alley. If not, then the best you could hope for is a utility infielder with range stretched a bit more than ideal at shortstop. Despite the higher personal ranking than his draft position, I’d actually line up closer to those who question his pro future. He’s a nice utility prospect to be sure, but it’s hard to get past his senior season breakout looking more like a mirage (that extra year of physical and emotional maturation means a ton) than his new normal. It’s nice value this late in the draft either way. A fourth college shortstop, draft-eligible sophomore Eli White, understandably couldn’t agree to terms as a 37th round pick and will head back to Clemson to try again this year. I’d be surprised if his stock didn’t jump thirty or so rounds before next June rolls around.

C John Bormann is a defense-first catcher. Well, more accurately he’s defense first, second, and third through tenth. He’s not a total zero with the stick, but it’ll be his glove that keeps him employed for years to come. As much as I value catcher defense I do like my catchers to hit a little as well, so I’m not quite as bullish on his pro outlook as others might be. He’s still a solid organizational player even if he doesn’t pan out as a big leaguer. My lazy (since it’s from the system I follow closest as a fan) best case comparison for him would be something like Tuffy Gosewich or Logan Moore.

1B Zach George (166) is a fifth-year senior coming off two torn ACLs who is potentially stuck at first base defensively without the type of power typically associated with the position. Doesn’t sound so hot on paper, does it? Even with all those negative marks on his ledger, I can’t help but love the guy. I mean, I did rank him almost one thousand spots ahead of where he actually got selected (1057) on draft day. It’s obviously a good thing I wasn’t in a draft room to convince a team to overdraft him thirty rounds, but my appreciation for his ability is grounded (I think) in logic. George is a switch-hitter with a fantastic eye (55 BB/28 K and a .548 OBP his senior year) and the ability to hit the ball with authority to all fields. He’s been an underrated glove at third in the past — though that’s based on what could be dated information, I admit — and his story of perseverance is one that not only speaks to his own willingness to stop at nothing to achieve his dreams in pro ball, but also serves as a tale of inspiration to pro teammates who sometimes need a friendly reminder to put how important the game is in perspective.

3B Mitchell Tolman (258) has an interesting offensive profile as an average pop/average speed third base prospect who might have quite enough bat to work as a regular in the long run. What’s interesting about that profile to me — you surely were wondering why average pop/speed is interesting when it’s close to the opposite of that in reality — is how well it fits into a potential utility role down the line. I don’t see why an average runner with a strong arm couldn’t make it as a four-corners utility guy eventually, but what do I know? It should also be noted that some think Tolman could hold his own at second with increased time at that position. If you’re picking up on some Matt Carpenter vibes here, you’re not wrong. That’s obviously a 95% percentile outcome, but you never know, right?

I saw OF Casey Hughston (306) as more of a fringe top ten round pick before the draft, but Pittsburgh felt comfortable gambling on his big offensive tools (power, athleticism, bat skills) helping him overcome his questionable offensive approach. We’ll see. I actually think OF Logan Hill (255) compares favorably to Hughston from a skills standpoint with a clear edge in plate discipline and an arguable edge in raw power. I liked (and still like, obviously) OF Ty Moore (113) best of all. Originally written in April, this still fits: “[Moore] is living proof that you can have average tools across the board so long as the best of said tools is the bat, whether it’s straight hit or power. Moore has as good a hit tool as you’ll find in this year’s class. The rest of his tools may be more or less average, but that hit tool will keep him getting paid for years to come. It’s a bit of a tricky profile in an outfield corner, but those with confidence in him as a hitter will give him a long look.” I’m buying. Meanwhile, Ryan Nagle, the fourth college outfielder selected by the Pirates, is more interesting than your usual 27th round pick. He’s a lefty hitter with decent power, speed, and some plate discipline coming off a nice junior season (.329/.395/.442 with 22 BB/25 K and 11/15 SB).

Getting a prospect with the kind of raw ability (90-96 FB, breaking ball with average or better promise) as RHP Jacob Taylor (317) in the fourth round is a good thing even when said prospect has serious control questions and no real present third pitch. At worst you’re getting a late-inning reliever starter kit; at best, assuming damn near everything goes right, he’s talented enough to be an above-average rotation staple for a long time. LHP Brandon Waddell (254) has managed to turn an upper-80s fastball (91 peak) and intriguing offspeed stuff (plus 75-77 CB, interesting low-80s cut-SL, and a 79-82 CU that looked better with every outing this spring) into something resembling a future back-end of the rotation big league starting pitcher. He was a horse in the Virginia rotation — 88.2 IP, 114 IP, and 75 IP in his three years there — who was good for around a strikeout per inning at his best. Taking a lefty from Virginia isn’t a bad strategy in general, so I’m into this pick. RHP JT Brubaker is a local-ish college product (RIP Akron baseball) who has been up to 94 in the past with a frame that suggests good things to come. I root for all players to succeed because I’m a great guy like that, but it would be extra nice to see Brubaker and the rest of his former teammates at Akron do well in pro ball considering the rotten way it ended there. RHP Seth McGarry has the look and feel of a future quality big league middle reliever thanks to a big fastball (92-95, 97 peak), plus breaking ball, and all the athleticism and deception you’d want.

RHP Bret Helton’s draft season results (4.72 BB/9 and 5.75 ERA in 61 IP) don’t exactly scream ninth round value pick, but he’s an athlete who has hit 94 in the past (88-92 mostly) with an above-average hard cutter and that’s worth taking a chance on here. His control is the biggest worry for me, but that seems to be a trend in many of the players selected by Pittsburgh. Maybe that’s a reflection of the confidence they have in their developmental staff to teach pitchers how to throw strikes. It is easier to improve a guy’s control than it is to magically find a way to add miles to his fastball or depth to his breaking stuff, after all. RHP Nick Hibbing doesn’t have any issues with control (0.44 BB/9 in 41 IP in his senior year), so the focus with him will be getting the most (he tops out at 93) out of his 6-6, 200 pound frame. RHP Tanner Anderson reminds me some of Helton as a prospect. The stuff is there (88-92 FB, 94 peak with usable CB and CU), but he never missed bats in the Ivy League so I’m incredulous he’ll suddenly start doing so against professional hitters. He never stood out to me in the few times I saw him over the years, but, let’s be honest, that really shouldn’t be held against the guy too much.

For a 36th round pick, RHP James Marvel has a ton written about him on the site already. Search around for a more nuanced take, but the short version is Captain Marvel could prove to be a major steal if healthy. Fellow ACC pitcher and 30-something rounder (33rd, if details matter to you) LHP Sean Keselica is another really impressive find at the end of the draft. Keselica has always had a good arm (87-92 FB, average or better mid-70s breaking ball), and the idea that his athleticism and the freedom from no longer being a two-way player (.313/.394/.374 with 13 BB/15 K in his senior season) will help continue to see the stuff tick up as a pro is not without merit. The Pirates kept hitting with the late picks (in my view) with the back-to-back closing selections of RHP Tate Scioneaux (round 39) and LHP Daniel Zamora (round 40). Scioneaux sits 87-93 with his heat while using an average change as an out-pitch while Zamora’s quick scouting notes (86-90 FB, average-ish breaking ball, emerging changeup) may remind you of the more famous lefty taken over 1,000 picks beforehand. To take that to the crazy conclusion, I actually had one contact tell me that he felt there was really little to no difference between the long-term pro outlooks of Brandon Waddell and Daniel Zamora; in fairness, he considered them both to be up-and-down relievers at best, but still. It’s worth noting that both Scioneaux and Zamora were big-time college producers (both in terms of traditional stats and the newer, better stuff) while at Southeastern Louisiana and Stony Brook respectively.

I do my best to cover as much amateur baseball across the country as possible. Somehow pro teams manage to do a much better job than a guy on the internet with a staff of one. Weird, right? The Pirates drafted pitchers from Tiffin, South Mountain CC, Columbia State CC, Bellevue, and Mercer County CC. I know I should do a better job trying to cover non-D1 college ball, but there are only so many hours in the day. Anyway, that’s all just a long way of saying I don’t have a lot of information on many of the pitchers selected by Pittsburgh this year. I could do some quick Googling and pretend like I’m more of an expert than I am, but that ain’t me. So here’s what I’ve got.

RHP Logan Sendelbach sounds good so far. The early returns on RHP Chris Plitt look interesting, especially the whole no walks in 28.2 innings pitched thing. RHP Scooter Hightower has performed well so far. RHP Stephan Meyer‘s had success in a small sample. LHP Ike Schlabach is a 6-5, 185 pound lefty, so that’s cool. I shouldn’t have whiffed so badly on RHP Nicholas Economos pre-draft considering he played his home games around 45 minutes from me, but it happens. RHP Nathan Trevillian has a cool last name AND I actually had pre-draft info on him (90 MPH fastball, 6-2, 160 pound frame). RHP Shane Kemp isn’t the ferocious dunker who played for the Sonics in the mid-90s. Same but better joke could apply to RHP Mike Wallace, but I’ll leave it to you to fill in the blanks there.

Top 500 Prospects drafted by Pittsburgh per me…

31 – Kevin Newman
49 – Ke’Bryan Hayes
96 – Kevin Kramer
113 – Ty Moore
155 – Logan Ratledge
166 – Zach George
254 – Brandon Waddell
255 – Logan Hill
258 – Mitchell Tolman
306 – Casey Hughston
317 – Jacob Taylor

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