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Pirates' 2020 Draft: The First Stones in the Foundation

Updated: Aug 8

by Emmet Mahon

Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

Pirates' General Manager Ben Cherington just concluded his fourth amateur draft for the organization, and he and his staff have added twenty fresh players who will be starting their professional careers shortly. Each draft has displayed different strategies and priorities. However,

his first draft for the Pirates in 2020 was his most unique and crucial. When he assumed control

of the front office in 2019, Cherington found a terrible major league roster and a minor league

system equally devoid of talent.

Cherington knew addressing the former was going to be a long and arduous task. It would involve ridding the Pirates of any coveted components in hopes of injecting numerous, intriguing prospects into all levels of the system. He did this with the hope the youthful talent would arrive quickly, and at the same time, to accelerate them towards respectability first and competitiveness second. To many long-suffering Pirates fans, this sounded like just another Soviet style five- year plan reeking of “trust us this time”. But Cherington had no choice considering the abject bereft nature of the organization from top to bottom.

In addition to trades, Cherington knew that if he had to have any chance at success, he would

have to be astute in international signings, and especially the draft. He and his scouts immersed

themselves in reports on hundreds of prospective selections. They compiled lists. They had

conversations and debates. They established budgets.

Then everything changed. Like all things globally, the COVID-19 pandemic completely altered their plans. With most amateur baseball organizations cancelling, or curtailing, their seasons, the opportunity to view prospects became impossible.

The loss of game day revenue forced the slashing of budgets. Draft bonuses were the first effected. Attempting to contain expenses, and compounded by the loss of timely scouting information, Commissioner Rob Manfred reduced the length of the Rule IV draft from twenty rounds to five. These challenges outside of Cherington’s control forced a complete pivot of his revitalization plan. Armed with the seventh pick in each round, he relied on all available information, and he made six selections, five regular picks and one competitive balance pick. Few could anticipate how it would all play out.

Round One, Nick Gonzales, 2B, New Mexico State. Signed $5,423,000, Slot $5,432,000.

2021: 80 G, .303 BA, .950 OPS, 98 H, 18 HR, 4 3B, 23 2B, 54 RBI, 7 SB

Minors: 211 G, .277 BA, .871 OPS, 225 H, 31 HR, 11 3B, 58 2B, 118 RBI, 14 SB

Current (MLB): 30 G, .222 BA, .639 OPS, 22 H, 2 HR, 1 3B, 6 2B, 13 RBI, 0 SB

Gonzales was undrafted as a high school senior and received limited Division I scholarship offers, He enrolled at New Mexico State University and immediately posted eye-catching numbers. Skepticism arose in the scouting community that he was benefiting from the thin air at NMU and was feasting on inferior competition. He allayed many concerns by being named MVP of the 2019 Cape Cod League, one favored by Cherington, by slashing .351/.451./.630 with seven home runs in 153 at bats. He displayed strong plate discipline with more walks than hits. Entering the 2020 draft, analysts tabbed him the best pure hitter available. His defense was not a strong suit, and the consensus was that he would be a second baseman in professional baseball.

Gonzales has mostly lived up to his billing. He continues to drive the ball hard and to all fields. He demonstrated more power than expected in the lower levels and he has struggled mightily to take advantage of his eye for the zone. Opinions in the scouting community think he is trying to do too much at the plate. They believe now that he has reached the major leagues, he might relax and get back to doing what he does best. Others feel this is a red flag that might cost him the ability to be an everyday starter. The one aspect of his game that has surprised in his time with the Pirates has been his defense. He has been solid. He has made multiple heads up plays and looked comfortable at the position.

Competitive Balance Round A, Carmen Mlodzinski, P, University of South Carolina.

Signed $2.050,000, Slot $2,312,000.

2021: 15 G, 2W 4L, 4.82 ERA, 1.338 WHIP, 52.1 IP, 48 H, 7 HR, 28 R, 66 K, 22 BB

Minors: 61 G, 10 W 14 L, 4.32 ERA, 1.385 WHIP, 183.1 IP, 181 H, 19 HR, 105 R, 208 K, 73


Current (MLB): 17 G, 1 W 2L, 1 S, 1.86 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 19.1 IP, 13 H, 2 HR, 4 R, 17 K, 7


Mlodzinski is an athletic pitcher who came to his craft late. He did not take to the mound full time until his senior season of prep ball. His big arm and arsenal of three pitches attracted the attention of the University of South Carolina, who offered him a scholarship. Unsurprisingly, his raw feel for pitching exposed him during his freshman year. His sophomore campaign saw the pieces starting to fall into place. Mlodzinski looked like a different pitcher early, before fracturing his foot in his third start, ending his season. Like Gonzales, he enhanced his prospect status with a fine campaign in the Cape Cod League. His 2-0 record with a 2.15 ERA and forty strikeouts in 29.1 innings pitched was among the league’s best. Like his sophomore season, he dealt with a shortened season during his junior year. This time due to the pandemic. In 25.1 innings pitched, his ERA was 2.84.

When the Pirates selected him 31st overall, they envisioned him as a power starter. Throwing a 99

MPH sinker that was as confounding to hitters as the pronunciation of his last name, the hope of

a middle of the rotation arm was conceivable. However, after a mediocre season in A ball, Pirates' brass made the decision to switch him to the bullpen before the start of the 2022 season. That decision has proven correct as Mlodzinski moved quickly through the system and joined the Pirates' bullpen this season. His presence and “stuff” has played well enough that Pirates' Manager Derek Shelton has the confidence to deploy him in high leverage situations.

Round Two, Jared Jones, P, La Mirada HS (CA), Signed $2,200,000, Slot $1.689,000.

2021: 15 G, 3W 6L, 4.22 ERA, 1.470 WHIP, 66 IP, 63 H, 6 HR, 44 R, 103 K, 34 BB, 11 HBP

Minors: 60 G, 11 W 18 L, 4.24 ERA, 1.313 WHIP, 267.1 IP, 240 H, 30 HR, 141 R, 333 K, 111

IP, 28 HBP

Current (AAA): 7 G, 2 W 1L, 4.72 ERA, 1.165 WHIP, 34.1 ERA, 30 H, 2 HR, 18 R, 41 K,

10, BB, 3 HBP

Jones was one of the youngest pitchers available in the 2020 draft. His ceiling was apparent in his 0.77 ERA senior season at La Mirada High School in California. Blessed with a 97 MPH fastball and a bat missing slider, it is understandable why powerhouse University of Texas was eager to get him on campus. It took an over slot bonus for the Pirates to pry him away from the Longhorns. When play resumed in 2021, his ability was without question. Even though he was young for his level, he more than held his own. He fanned batters with great regularity and finished the season with a gawdy 103 to 34 strikeout to walk ratio. Those numbers are intimidating. The eleven hit batters also gave opposing hitters little margin for comfort. In 2022, he was once again one of the youngest hurlers at the next level, Hi A Greensboro. While refining his slider and changeup, he continued to strike out, and plunk, batters. In 122.2 innings, he sent the opposition back to the dugout 142 times. His fast track continued that season. As a 21-year-old at AA Altoona, Jones continued to strike out batters at a rate over one per inning. His control also improved. His 2.23 ERA and 1.083 WHIP earned him a mid-season call up to AAA Indianapolis. After some rough initial outings adjusting to the older players at that level, Jones has gained his footing, lowering his ERA by a full run in July. He does not turn twenty-two until August 6th . He might earn an appearance or two with Pittsburgh later this season. At a minimum, he should be in contention for a rotation spot in Spring Training 2024. If all goes well, fans might witness a rotation of Mitch Keller, Paul Skenes, Quinn Priester, Jones, and 2021 second round pick, Anthony Solometo next season.

Round Three, Nick Garcia, P, Chapman University (CA), Signed $1,200,000, Slot $780,400.

2021: 21 G, 5 W 4L, 4.22 ERA, 1.353 WHIP, 113 IP, 66 H, 9 HR, 35 R, 109 K, 46 BB

Minors: 63 G, 11 W 16 L, 4.78 ERA, 1.370 WHIP, 265.2 IP, 251 H, 40 HR, 159 R, 264 K,

113 BB

Current (AA): 17 G, 2 W 8L, 6.92 ERA, 1.628 WHIP, 78.0 IP, 95 H, 16 HR, 63 R, 72 K, 32


When the Pirates selected Garcia, some analysts suggested if he had pitched for a Division I program, he would have been a first-round pick. His career at Chapman took a diverse route. As a freshman, he was a position player. His impressive throwing arm convinced the coaching staff to make him the team’s closer as a sophomore. Their decision resulted in Garcia being dominant at the end of games during their Division III National Championship. In his abbreviated junior campaign, Garcia made five starts, going 4-1 with a 2.00 ERA. He first appeared on Pirates' scouting radar as another player who excelled in the Cape Cod League. Garcia also checked other boxes for the Pirates' brass with a quick, live arm, and above average athletic ability. He debuted in 2021 to adequate results, however, he did display enough projectability and progress that earned a promotion to Hi A Greensboro. There he battled Jones to be the affiliate’s top pitcher for the year. He would have started this season with Pittsburgh’s Double A team in Altoona, but they traded him in the offseason to the Colorado Rockies for OF Connor Joe.

Round Four, Jack Hartman, P, Appalachian State (NC), Signed $60,000, Slot $538,000

2021: DNP

Minors: 53 G, 2 W 4 L, 5.07 ERA, 1.673 WHIP, 55 IP, 60 H, 4 HR, 46 R, 60 K, 32 BB

Current (Hi A): 31 G, 2W 3L, 4.46 ERA, 1.486 WHIP, 36.1 IP, 38 H, 2 HR, 25 R, 41 K, 16


Looking to save bonus money to sign Jones and Garcia, the Pirates took Hartman and hoped. A two-way player at two different junior colleges before enrolling at Appalachian State, Hartman was more potential than promise. Twenty-two strike outs in 21 1/3 innings got the scouts to notice the big right hander. He has only been used as a reliever in the pros. Like Garcia, the Pirates moved him to bolster the major league roster. They traded him to the Tampa Bay Rays for 1B/DH Ji-Man Choi. He is currently an overaged bullpen arm in Hi A for the Rays. Choi was subsequently traded to the San Diego Padres along with LHP Rich Hill. The Pirates received three players in return. One of whom, 1B/OF Alfonso Rivas, joined the major league club. He effectively replaces Choi.

Round Five, Logan Hofmann, P, Northwestern State University (LA), Signed $125,000, Slot $402,000

2021: 22 G, 6W 4L, 3.59 ERA, 1.113 WHIP, 82.2 IP, 59 H, 12 HR, 40 R, 103 K, 33 BB

Minors: 58 G, 8W 5L, 5.22 ERA, 1.531 WHIP, 129.1 IP, 118 H, 20 HR, 134 K, 80 BB

Current (Hi A/Released): 10 G, 1 W 1 L, 12.27 ERA, 2.818 WHIP, 11.0 IP, 20 H, 2 HR, 18

R, 6 K, 11 BB

Cherington closed out his initial Pirates' draft class with another Cape Cod veteran, the Canadian native Hofmann. His debut was the most surprising and encouraging. Scouts did not consider Hofmann an elite prospect. The Pirates drafted him to reallocate bonus money to other picks and considered him a lottery ticket. Initially, he looked like that ticket had hit the jackpot. He dominated Low A ball, fanning opposing batters at an impressive rate. While he was commanding the strike zone, hitters that made contact had difficulty squaring him up. Hofmann suddenly became a prospect that warranted watching. Unfortunately, his success was short-lived. Injuries and inconsistency beset his 2022 season. His pitches became very hittable. In 2023, his game completely went off the rails and the organization released him in July. A change of scenery and a fresh set of eyes could be the cure for what plagued his fall off.

For a first effort, performed under trying and unprecedented circumstances, Ben Cherington should be proud of the 2020 draft results. Four picks have directly and indirectly contributed to

this year’s major league team. One pick is on the verge of contributing to the team this season or

next. Only one pick, the last one, hasn't yielded any long-term benefit to the organization.

You can reach Emmet Mahon at

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