Reviewing the MLB Draft: General Thoughts and the Pittsburgh Pirates
The Major League Draft finished up last Friday, where the Big Board provided the consensus of ESPN, Keith Law, Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, and FanGraphs draft rankings, taking only the top 100 players. This Big Board provided a consensus view of the top 100 draft prospects, where there ended up being 158 players ranked on the board. We can use this board to look at the biggest surprises, which seemed to be the Baltimore Orioles, who took Heston Kjerstad second overall.
Kjerstad was ranked ninth by EPSN, 11th by Law, 13th by Baseball America, 10th by MLB Pipeline, seventh by FanGraphs, and was ninth on the Big Board. The draft model for Kjerstad as P(pick = 2) = 3.61 percent, the sixth highest probability for any player. He’s an SEC player who performed with Team USA (.395/.426/.651), but the swing and miss is real (22 percent with Team USA). Sig Mejdal is now with Baltimore with Mike Elias after years in St. Louis, where he liked Jed Lowrie at Stanford, and Houston. Perhaps the model really likes Kjerstad, given his monster ISO’s and being third highest in college WAR per Driveline. It was presumed if they didn’t take Austin Martin, then they would cut a deal and draft a high school player at 30. Instead, with Nick Bitsko, Ed Howard, and Jordan Walker all gone, they drafted a college shortstop and followed that with two more college players in rounds two and three. However, they drafted Coby Mayo (96th on Big Board) in the fourth and Carter Baumler (152 on Big Board) in round five, so the club did find some high school guys to go overslot on.
The Red Sox took Nick Yorke, a high shortstop, at pick 17 despite ranking 69th on ESPN, 96 on Baseball America, and 148 on the Big Board with no other top 100 ranking. The reasoning here is the hit tool and the worry he wouldn’t be there at pick 89, however the draft model had the probability of him being at that pick at 82 percent, though it only uses FanGraphs data, where he was ranked 165. The Sox will save money there and will be able to go overslot on Blaze Jordan, a top high school player who slid to pick 89, assumingly because of a high bonus demand.
Other notes: Mick Abel (15th overall pick by the Philadelphia Phillies, 11th on the Big Board), Nick Bitsko (24th overall pick by the Tampa Bay Rays, 15th on the Big Board), and Justin Lange (34th overall pick by the San Diego Padres, 47th on the Big Board) were the only high school pitchers taken in the first round or the competitive balance round a. 12 of the first 37 picks, day one, were college players, and according to Jeff Passan from the ESPN Draft Show, a new record low of 33 high school players were taken among the first 100 picks. Using FanGraphs, the teams who added the most talent via the draft are:
|Team||Prospect Trade Value Added||Players Drafted: 35+||Value/Prospect|
|Detroit Tigers||$62.0 Million||6||$10.3|
|Baltimore Orioles||$45.0 Million||6||$7.5|
|Colorado Rockies||$36.5 Million||5||$7.3|
|Pittsburgh Pirates||$33.0 Million||4||$8.3|
|Kansas City Royals||$31.5 Million||6||$5.3|
The Royals also added five top 500 prospects, including one top 200 prospect, on Baseball America’s list as undrafted free agents. The final note is that evaluating how the draft model performed in 2020 will come out within the next week or so. As a Pirates fan, I talk about their draft below, with some acquired trackman data about Nick Garcia, Jack Hartman, and Logan Hofmann.
Pittsburgh Pirates Draft Review
Scouting notes are from Kiley McDaniel at ESPN, Keith Law of the Athletic, Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, and Eric Longenhagen at FanGraphs. All are very good baseball sites with excellent and detailed reports. I recommend supporting them, especially given the loss of revenue from there being no baseball season. In terms of scouting, the 20-80 scale from FanGraphs will be used along with the Theo Epstein school, which puts letter grades on the players (A1, A2, B1, etc.). Tracking data, both hitting and pitching comes from Baseball Savant.
Pick 7: Nick Gonzales – New Mexico State University
With their first pick in the MLB Draft, the Pirates picked shortstop Nick Gonzales from New Mexico State. Gonzales mostly played second base in college, transitioning to shortstop this season, and that is the position that the Pirates announced him at. He’s a right handed hitter who is on the smaller side at 5’10” and 190 pounds. He ranked fourth on ESPN, seventh by Law, fifth by Baseball America, fifth by MLB Pipeline, sixth by FanGraphs and was fifth on the consensus board. The draft model had him with a probability of going at pick seven at 7.41 percent, the simple model had him at 7.33 percent, and incorporating the MLB Pipeline data into the draft model, Gonzales had an 8.42 percent of being drafted by the Pirates. He had the second highest probability at pick seven in all three models, trailing only Austin Martin, who despite being second on the consensus big board, fell to the Toronto Blue Jays at pick number five.
Law described him as a likely regular who has more gap power than home run power, which relates to Dr. Stephen Loftus ranking him third and having his probability of making the MLB in year three at 23.3 percent (probability in his career is at 99.89 percent). Gonzales is a likely big leaguer, and McDaniel compared his offensive talent to Martin and Longenhagen his with “the most explosive hands outside of Torkelson.”
In college, Gonzales hit .399/.502/.747 but that came at an elite hitter’s park against lesser competition. However, in 2019 on the Cape, Gonzales hit .351/.451/.630 and won the MVP. Longenhagen has his future tools as a 60 hit, 50 game, and 50 raw, anticipating him to be a .280-.290 hitter with about 15-18 home runs. His long term home is probably at second base or left field, where his defense does not need to be as strong as it does at shortstop to produce. McDaniel comped him to Keston Hiura with less power and better defense. Last season, Hiura had an average exit velocity of 91.4 mph (90th percentile) and was in the 97th percentile in hard hit rate. He produced a .388 wOBA and .267 wOBA, with his estimates being a .353 wOBA and .250 ISO. Hiura had a strong rookie season and was a 60 before graduating last season.
Currently, FanGraphs has him as a 50 prospect, or a B2, making him an average everyday starter. This ranks 92nd on their top 100 list and sixth among Pirates prospects, behind Ke’Bryan Hayes, Oneil Cruz, Mitch Keller, Travis Swaggerty, and Tahnaj Thomas. His overall ceiling, based off the Hiura comp, seems to be a B1 (60) as an occasional all-star and averaging 3.4-4.9 fWAR a season.
Pick 31: Carmen Mlodzinski – University of South Carolina
After going with a college bat at pick seven, the Pirates started a run of five straight right handed pitchers with the first being Carmen Mlodzinski from South Carolina. The 6’2″ and 230 pound right handed pitcher has no room left to grow in but he still has plenty to develop after missing most of 2019 with a broken foot. He ranked 37th by ESPN, 34th by Law, 25th by Baseball America, 21st by MLB Pipeline, 48th by FanGraphs, and was 27th on the consensus board.
Law had him in “the mid 90s with a power slider and curve”, McDaniel said “2+ breaking balls” and Longenhagen has him with a “88-91 mph cutter/slider.” Given Joe DelliCarri, the Pirates Senior Director of Amateur Scouting, mentioned that Mlodzinski is working on different pitches (Mike Persak of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), including a cutter, slider, and curve, it makes sense for the three sources to mention the different looks that they saw. DelliCarri also notes that he likes that the fastball moves to both sides of the plate, though Baseball America noted that the fastball didn’t generate the swings and misses but instead got ground balls. The site also mentioned he was a potential top 10 pick at the beginning of spring, so the fastball not providing that swing and miss, is noteworthy. DelliCarri also mentioned the fire Mlodzinski has and they like the fierce competitors; in the past this could be seen with Gerrit Cole and now currently Joe Musgrove. Baseball America also noted that he has a clean arm action, which given he missed 2019 with a broken foot, it’s a good sign that the arm should play and is not at higher risk of injury, further hampering his development.
Mlodzinski started off 2020 with a 2.84 ERA in 25.1 innings, but that came with a 20.75 percent strikeout rate and 7.55 percent walk rate before the season got shut down. SEC play did not begin yet either, so these numbers came against a weaker part of the schedule. However, on the Cape in 2019, the righty produced a 2.15 ERA, 37.04 percent strikeout rate, and 3.70 percent walk rate (he also hit four batters, giving him a uBB+HBP rate of 7.41 percent) in his 29.1 innings. Longenhagen described him as “filthy.” Alex Stumpf of DK Pittsburgh Sports talked to Mlodzinski’s pitching coach, who provided the spin rates on his pitches:
|Pitch||Spin Rate (RPM)|
The fastball has a lower spin rate, making the two-seam fastball a better option, throwing it down in the zone. This pitch induces the groundballs and can help explain why the scouts weren’t seeing the swings and misses. Given the velocity, a four seam fastball could play here, especially if the spin is high, allowing Mlodzinski to pitch up in the zone more. His curve spins below average, and his slider, which is half cutter, is about average in terms of spin. The pitching coach told Stumpf that there is potential for more spin on that offering.
Longenhagen currently has him ranked 14th in the Pirates system as a 40+ FV (C1/C2), indicating a backend SP, but Law called him a mid rotation arm. Combined with Baseball America calling him a potential top 10 candidate, if the fastball can start to miss bats, perhaps Mlodzinski is more of a 45 (C1) instead. This puts the ceiling around a B1/B2 (50/55) as an occasional all-star but mostly a number three or four starter.
Pick 44: Jared Jones – La Mirada High School (CA)
The lone high school player selected by the Pirates stands at 6’2″ and 195 pounds, giving him some projectability. The right handed was committed to the University of Texas, but has since signed with the club. Jones turns 19 in August, making him older for a high school player, but in the book Future Value by Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel, they noted that the Pirates don’t really care about the age of high school picks. Despite Neal Huntington and Kyle Stark being let go and replaced by Ben Cherington and Steve Sanders, the bulk of the previous front office remains. This includes the scouting staff, led by DelliCarri on the amateur side, and the analytics side where Dan Fox is the Senior Director of Baseball Informatics and Justin Newman, a quantitative analyst, amateur scouting. ESON ranked him 51st, Law 85th, Baseball America 41, MLB Pipeline 55, FanGraphs 91, and he was the 56th best prospect on the consensus board.
Longenhagen reports that his fastball is “in the upper 90s” with McDaniel mentioning that it has touched 100. Law said that “there’s a feel for a changeup but inconsistent breaking balls.” On the ESPN Draft Show, McDaniel said that Jones gets good extension and that he’s moved more over the top allowing him to get more spin on the fastball. During a Pro Baseball Report event in California, Jones threw in front of a trackman to these results:
|Pitch||Velocity (MPH)||Spin (RPM)||League Spin (RPM)|
His fastball has a Bauer Unit of 27.64 (velo was reported at 92.4 per PBR), where the league average is 24.3. For reference, Justin Verlander was at 27.8, Carl Edwards 27.8, and Andrew Bailey 28.4 in 2017. This pitch has high velocity with high spin and will play when thrown up in the zone, as it will look to be rising, leading to missed bats. This is especially true from an over the top arm slot. The curveball would be in the 69th percentile and the slider in the 89th percentile. Jones creates spin and is athletic, screaming Joe DelliCarri. The team took Shane Baz and Steven Jennings in 2017 (Jennings less velo, but is athletic and creates spin), took Braxton Ashcraft and Michael Burrows in 2018 (Burrows lower velo but plus spin per FanGraphs), and in 2019 took Quinn Preister, who has him own rapsodo. Longenhagen currently has him as a 40 (C2), ranking 25th, and per Baseball America, Jones has “a chance at three plus pitches” which is supported by the data above.
If Jones improves his command, his ceiling is likely a B2 (50/55) as a number three or four starter (likely more of high three), but if it clicks, and given his spin, that’s a B2 (60) type player who would be an occasional all-star and a low two/high three starter. Ben Cherington’s background is player development, and Jones seems like the type of player who can blossom with the right program.
Pick 79: Nick Garcia – Chapman University
The Pirates drafted right handed pitcher Nick Garcia in the third round from Chapman University, a division three school. He stands at 6’4″ and 215 pounds, giving him the potential to add some strength, with Keith Law noting that Garcia didn’t move to the mound full time until 2019. He ranks 65 on ESPN, 61 by Law, 56 by Baseball America, 70 by MLB Pipeline, 86 by FanGraphs and 71st on the consensus board. Garcia is a young 21-year-old, which is a plus as Law notes he needs more time to develop. This has been a trend, as last offseason the Pirates acquired Dante Mendoza and Tahnaj Thomas from the Cleveland Indians, who were both pretty raw when acquired.
Ben Cherington said that there was positive growth from the 2019 season to the summer to this past spring. DelliCarri mentioned that they like the traits (size, delivery, arm action, etc) with Cherington adding that he has starter traits. Law mentioned that “you can dream on a league average starting pitcher.” At pick 79, a league average starter would be a win. In 2019, Garcia pitched to a 0.64 ERA with 82 strikeouts in 56 innings. He started off 2020 with 36 strikeouts and a 2.00 ERA in 27 innings. Given the division three component and the weaker competition, Garcia held his own on the Cape in 2019, pitching to a 25 percent strikeout rate and 2.17 ERA.
Longenhagen had Garcia up to 98 mph in the fall but more 92-94 this spring, but that 98 really illustrates and the growth Cherington talked about. Law added that the “slider and curveball are more fringy.” I’ve been able to acquire his 2019 Cape trackman data, with the caveat that trackman data is different between college, Cape and MLB (which will be important later):
|Pitch||Velo||Spin Rate (RPM)||Spin Axis|
Garcia’s fastball has a Bauer Unit of 26.36, breaking 8.2 inches arm side. Baseball America has mentioned he’s touched 97-98 mph, so if Garcia can maintain the fastball velocity deeper and longer – something that should come with the learning of being a full time pitcher – Garcia is looking at a really elite fastball. Right now, the pitch still plays up in the zone, where it can miss bats, but at higher velocities, the pitch will improve even more. His curveball is about league average in spin and velocity. A perfect 12-6 curveball has a spin axis of 0, which is nearly impossible, so Garcia’s has some tilt to it, looking like about 2-8 on a clock. His slider has league average velocity but below average spin. With the 178.1º spin axis, the pitch has more vertical break than horizontal, breaking 0.4 inches glove side and 3.3 inches vertically. The changeup has that 10 mph separation from the fastball and moves 9.2 inches arm side.
Currently FanGraphs has him as a 40 FV (C2) and ranks him 23rd in the farm. Given that Garcia was a pop up arm, the recent transition to the mound and small amount of looks, along with what Law, DelliCarri and Cherington said about the starting traits, the ceiling looks to be a B2 (50) as a number three/four starter or above average/backend reliever. A C1 (45), backend starting pitcher/middle reliever to set up man, seems to be a realistic ceiling for Garcia. This is another example of the Pirates chasing upside and is another chance for the new player development aspect to work with a player.
Pick 108: Jack Hartman – Appalachian State University
Hartman is a big right handed pitcher, standing at 6’3″ and 212 pounds, who Cherington called a “big, physical kid.” He began throwing full time in 2019 and told App State that he throws “an unnatural natural cutter.” He was ranked 286th by Baseball America but not by any other outlet. Hartman posted a career 4.28 ERA, 29.45 percent stakeout rate, and a 17.18 percent uBB+HBP rate in 33.2 innings. In his 12 innings in 2020, the right had a 38.6 percent strikeout rate and 19.3 uBB+HBP rate to go along with a 3.00 ERA. This is 30 command, at best, and it’s inconsistent per Baseball America, making him a clear cut relief pitcher, the role he had at App State.
Baseball America continued to write, “When he’s on, Hartman has a heater in the 94-97 mph range, with a banger of a breaking ball while throwing solid strikes. When he’s not on, the fastball still comes out well, but his slider looks more like a well below-average pitch and his control is a much bigger concern.” App State, linked above, wrote that “4-seam cutter, high spin fastball, power breaking ball, sharp slider.” Cherington added that Hartman touches 97 and has a really good slider, mentioning “good spin rates on both pitches” and that he likes the stuff. Stumpf of DKPS provided me with Hartman’s pitching coach, and I was also able to secure his trackman data (same caveat as above):
|Pitch||Stumpf (RPM)||2020 Trackman (RPM)||Spin Axis|
(no official range)
(rev up to 2900)
The fastball sitting at 94 puts the Bauer Unit at 27.44, which again is a pitch that will work up in the zone. The slider is currently a mixture of a cutter and slider, but at 2660 rpm, the pitch would be in the 89th percentile of MLB pitchers. With more time on the mound, more spin can be added. The cutter has more horizontal movement than drop, with the slider getting 2.3 inches glove side with little drop. This would seem to be his best out pitch. The curveball, by his trackman data, is about average spin and is more of a traditional 12-6 curveball given the 28º spin axis. This is where the caveat about college, Cape, and MLB comes into play. Hartman’s pitching coach has him at 2600-2700 and up to 2900. As he gets comfortable with pitching and throwing the curve, this seems like a pitch that can develop as another secondary out pitch.
Baseball America called him a senior sign guy, which likely saves money for Mlodzinski, Jones, and Garcia. Given no other ranking, he’s currently at best a D (30), an up/down relief pitcher, but if he get the command up to a 40/45 and more consistent spin, that’s a potential Kyle Crick power FB/SL combo with variance (depends on the command on a given night), making the potential ceiling a C2/C1 (40/45) as a middle to back end relief pitcher. This is another chance for the player development department.
Pick 138 – Logan Hofmann – Northwestern State University
Hofmann, a right-handed pitcher, is a 20 year old at the time of the draft, not turning 21 until November, who stands at 5’10” and 190 pounds. He’s a cold weather arm, originally coming from Canada. The only ranking was from Baseball America, where he ranks 478. Before his time at Northwestern State, Hofmann had 230 strikeouts in two seasons at Colby Community College, setting the strikeout record for the conference. In 2020, he posted an ERA of 0.00 with a 36 percent strikeout rate and 4.8 percent walk rate in 28 innings and four games. This is weaker competition, but in 2019 on the Cape, Hofmann posted an ERA of 3.37 and a strikeout rate of 30.6 percent in the regular season, but after pitching 3.1 innings in the postseason, Hofmann finished with a 3.54 ERA in 20.1 innings.
He was a starter in college but seems destined to be a reliever in college. Baseball America said he has a “fringe fastball at 90-91 mph but the 12-6 curveball is above average with some power.” I got his 2019 trackman data from the Cape (this is the player where the warning about trackman for college/Cape/MLB came into play):
|Pitch||Velo (MPH)||Spin (RPM)||Axis|
The fastball has an average Bauer Unit at 23.95, but breaks 4.7 inches arm side and has 10.6 inches of vertical movement compared to a pitch with no spin. The higher vertical movement leads to higher whiff and fly ball rates. As a MLB comparison, in 2019 Lucas Giolito had a Bauer Unit of 24.8 on the fastball with 4.3 inches of arm side movement and 10.6 inches of vertical movement. After being worth -15.9 runs in 2018, Giolito’s fastball was worth 20.6 runs in 2019. This is not to compare Hofmann’s stuff to Giolito, just to provide a picture of what the pitch looks like, especially as Giolito’s heater averaged 94.6 mph in 2019 (it was 92.8 mph in 2018). The curveball at 2640 rpm, would be the 67th percentile in the MLB and it has 6.9 inches in glove side movement and drops 7.7 inches. The changeup has a 7.2 mph difference from the fastball and it breaks 8.3 inches arm side.
Ben Cherington called Hofmann’s pitches an interesting mix, noting he has a “high spin fastball that he commands really well and a really good breaking ball” before calling him a “competitor” who “keeps getting better.” My source who provided the data and told me about the potential differences said that the Pirates definitely had other data on Hofmann. If the fastball has more spin, it can still play up in the zone despite the lower velocity, similar to Marco Estrada. If the fastball has higher spin, perhaps the curve does as well. Right now, Hofmann seems to be a NP/D player (20-30), as a non-prospect or up/down arm, with the ceiling of a D/C2 (30/35/40) as depth bullpen/middle relief.
Pirates Draft Overview
Kiley McDaniel mentioned on the ESPN Draft Show that analytical models make adjustments for Cape and SEC performance to matter the most. Gonzales and Mlodzinski both tore up the cape (Mlodzinski was an SEC arm as well) and Garcia and Hofmann came from smaller schools while holding their own in the cape. Jones has plus spin on the fastball and slider along with above average spin on the curve. Garcia has an above average spin on the fastball and it will play well up in the zone. Hartman has good spin rates on both his fastball and slider, and looks like an interesting relief prospect but currently has control issues. Hofmann has good spin rates per Cherington and has produced strikeouts, though against lesser competition. The Pirates really targeted the Cape performers and pitchers with high spin rates and low mileage on the arms, all of which will play in a model. When he was hired, Cherington talked about beefing up the infrastructure, and it seems that the quantitative analysts had some impact on this draft.
Before the draft, the Pirates farm ranked 11th on ESPN ($248 million in trade value), 14th by Keith Law, 23rd by Baseball America, 15th by MLB Pipeline, and fourth by FanGraphs ($284.5 million in trade value). Using a Branch-and-Bound algorithm (consrank package in R), the consensus has the Pirates around the 11-13th best farm in baseball.
Using FanGraphs data because of their transparency and ease of downloading data and calculating systems, their method will be used. Just note, in aggregate, the team seems to be more borderline top 10 than the below analysis. After removing Juan Pie (35+ hitter) and Yordi Rosario (35+ pitcher) and their respective $500K in trade value, the Pirates farm system was worth $283.5 million before the draft. They added $28 million from Gonzales, $4 million from Mlodzinski, and $1 million each from Jones and Garcia. This puts the club’s farm at $316.5 million, ranking as the fifth best farm.
After removing the MLB players from all teams (for the Pirates, Mitch Keller, Nick Burdi, and Kevin Kramer), the Pirates have $279.5 million in trade value, again the fifth best. The key is to develop the talent, as they have 37 players with grades 35+ at Double-A or lower ($229.5 million, ranking 11th) and 33 at High-A or lower ($186.5 million, ranking 10th). This doesn’t include players like Kevin Newman and Bryan Reynolds who had strong rookie seasons, though the underlying numbers better support Reynolds, or Cole Tucker, who was a 50 last season before graduating. The key will be for Cherington, whose background is player development, to mold these players into productive major leaguers.