by Justin Ives
With the MLB draft coming in the next few months, it's a good time to take a deep dive into some of the talent that the WPIAL has produced over the years and continues to produce. I'm sure everyone has heard of the “Hometown Kid” aka Neil Walker. Walker was a former first round pick by the Pirates back in 2004 and helped end the 20-year postseason drought by playing 2nd base for his hometown team. Nowadays, you can listen to him announce the Pirates on AT&T Sportsnet, but he is not the only former first round pick the WPIAL has produced. Since 2016, the WPIAL has produced 3 more first round selections straight out of high school along with many other high school prospects committing to top tier D1 baseball schools such as South Carolina, Alabama, Duke and others with hopes of advancing to the draft.
Alex Kirilloff (2016)
“With the 15th selection in the 2016 MLB draft, the Minnesota Twins select Alex Kirilloff, an outfielder from Plum Senior High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.” - Rob Manfred (MLB Commissioner)
That announcement forever changed a local prospect's life. Kirilloff, now a 25-year-old, is still with the Twins and has played in over 100 games in the major league. He was also the first MLB player to ever make his debut in the postseason back in 2020. Kirilloff is a career .251 hitter in the majors and currently plays in triple A after finishing rehab. He will soon return to the big league.
Austin Hendrick (2020)
Austin Hendrick attended West Allegheny High School where he torched the WPIAL. Hendrick hit many long balls before Covid hit and shortened his high school career. Hendrick was then drafted with the 12th overall selection in 2020 to the Cincinnati Reds. He has the capability to be an everyday corner outfielder in the MLB and has flashed very good power from the left side of the plate. One of Hendrick’s defensive strengths is a plus arm that will scare runners and base coaches alike. He is currently in High A ball and ranked 21st in the Reds’ robust farm system. Last year in only 388 at bats he hit 21 homers. The average number of AB’s a MLB starter gets is roughly 550, so those 21 homers translate to around a 30 homer season if he can keep up that pace once he reaches the “bigs.” While he does have some issues with his high strikeout rates, he is only 21 with the average pitcher in High A being 23 years old. He projects to make his MLB debut in 2025.
Cole Young (2022)
Cole Young attended North Allegheny where he hit over .400 every season since his freshman year on varsity. Young helped bring his school to a WPIAL championship in his junior year in the 6A (highest) division. Just a short 10 months ago, he was selected with the 21st pick of the MLB draft by the Seattle Mariners.
Young is a middle infielder who can hit for a high average and be a solid fielder and base runner. He currently is tearing up Single A baseball at just 19 years old. In 17 games last year and 20 this year, he is hitting over .320 and drawing walks at almost the same pace as striking out, which is rare for a prospect right out of high school. He is currently ranked as the Mariners’ 3rd best prospect and ranked 97th best in all of baseball according to mlb.com. His ETA for the majors is in 2026, but if he keeps hitting like this, it is going to be tough to keep him from getting up there sooner.
Some other local prospects that were drafted out of college
The Bednars (2016 and 2021)
David Bednar—who I am sure most of you know—is the Pirates’ lockdown closer. He and his brother, Will, both grew up and went to Mars high school where they starred on the baseball team. David went to Lafayette before he was drafted in the 35th round by the Padres and then traded to his hometown team (the Pirates) as part of the Joe Musgrove deal. His walkout song is “Renegade” by Styx, the same song that the Steelers play late into the game to get the crowd hyped. Will, on the other hand, went on to play at Mississippi State before getting drafted 14th overall in the first round of the 2021 draft by the San Francisco Giants. He currently is playing High A ball and hopes to make his MLB debut sometime over the next few years.
Brendan McKay (2017)
Brendan, just like the Bednars, went to college before going into the MLB. McKay attended Blackhawk High School before going to Louisville where he transformed into a top 5 talent. He was selected with the 4th overall pick of the first round by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2017. This was not his first time being drafted as he was previously selected in the 34th round by the Padres back in 2014. He decided to uphold his commitment to Louisville which ended up being the better option for him, and as a result, played his way into a big jump all the way up in the 2017 draft. McKay made his debut in 2019. However, since then, he has not appeared in the majors. Currently, he is recovering from Tommy John surgery, which will cost him the full 2023 season with hopes he can return and get back to the majors in 2024.