The 2022 MLB season is in the books and the Houston Astros are the champions.
Controversy aside, they wrote the modern playbook on building a championship. Prolonged
losing, low payrolls, accumulating talent through high draft picks and shrewd international
scouting and signing. They pushed themselves over the top by adding veterans who came at the cost in terms of prospects and money. Apart from the last maneuver, which will always be a prove it to me proposition, the Pirates appear to have realized this is the prudent cause to chart.
This offseason will be critical for General Manager Ben Cherington and his staff. They
once again have the opportunity for a premium pick when MLB conducts its first ever draft
lottery on December 6th . Their 2023 first pick will be anywhere between first and ninth.
Before discussions on what is in the Pirates immediate future, a look at their immediate
past is in order. As has become the norm, the Pirates possessed a high selection, 4th overall. This positioned them well to add blue chip prospects to a burgeoning system. MLB’s draft pool structure allowed them to spend up to $13,741,300 on bonuses without incurring a tax. They could exceed that by 5%, up to $14,428,365, before risking the forfeiture of future picks. For the first time in several years, the Pirates did not spend all the way up to the 105% limit.
This year, the Pirates had twenty-one selections and were able to get nineteen under
contract. They invested heavily in pitching with thirteen arms added to the system. That includes an unusually high number of left handers at eight. Of their thirteen pitchers signed, only two were from the high school ranks. The emphasis on college pitching indicated management's awareness of the lack of depth in the system and the need for newly procured hurlers to move quickly through minors. The players selected display the organization’s fondness for spin rates, projectability and success in summer prospect leagues.
The Pirates rounded out their prospect haul with two infielders, two outfielders, one
catcher and one two-way player who on the day of the draft was announced as being both a pitcher and 3B. They were unable to come to terms with two pitchers, Mississippi State RHP K.C. Hunt and behemoth Miami area prep RHP, 6’7”, 215 lbs. Yoel Tejada. They could have signed him for $837,065 without penalty. He chose to enroll at the University of Miami.
For those who did sign up, only ten got into game action this summer. This is often the
case, especially with pitchers, because of the long layoff between the end of their amateur
seasons and when they arrive at Pirate City. Also, this year, the Pirates eliminated one of their Rookie level teams. They shifted their focus from game activity to emphasizing individualized drills, instruction, and video study. For those that did see the field, most spent a game or two with the Florida Complex League squad before finishing their seasons across town with the Low A Bradenton Marauders.
One pitcher who did not debut and will not until mid-2023 was 2 nd round LHP Hunter
Barco from Florida. He was considered a high 1st round selection at the beginning of the NCAA season. However, Tommy John surgery in the spring ended his year. If he can regain his health and maintain his potential, he is another arm that can move quickly up the ranks and provide needed left-handed balance to a righty dominated Pirates rotation.
Drawing conclusions from the results of such a small sample size is pointless. With that
said, here is a summary of prospects that did play, presented in order of selection.
Shortstop Termarr Johnson was taken in the 1st round, He will be the measuring stick for
this draft class. He was the 4th overall selection and was the consensus best pure hitter in the draft. He is not a power guy at this point of his development, but he could become a 10-15 HR hitter as he adds to his frame and continues to refine his craft. His future in the field is unclear. The strength of the Pirates system is the abundance of quality 2B and SS prospects. Johnson’s advanced bat and above average athletic ability could make him a candidate to change positions. In his debut, Johnson appeared in twenty-three games receiving 63 at bats. The result was a .222 BA, .731 OPS with 1 HR, 6 RBI and 6 steals. He has a chance to move rapidly through the system.
Jack Brannigan is the two-way player, drafted out of Notre Dame in the 4 th round. Most
scouts expect him to eventually settle on the mound, His analytics profile support that notion. He was never a great batter in college, displaying hints of power, while his time on the mound was limited. In that time, he produced elite spin rates and the ability to display eye-catching numbers on the radar gun. He played exclusively in the field this summer, logging no time on the mound.
He posted a .210 BA and .666 OPS to go with 3 HR and 14 RBI in 100 AB. He also stole six
bases. Next season will give a strong indication as to where he will eventually settle on the
Plate discipline and getting on base are the calling cards of 5th rounder Tres Gonzales. He
has a tremendous eye for the strike zone and bat to ball skills to match. Lacking power, his best contribution to team success is as a table setter. Where he fits in the outfield will have to be determined. He does not produce the power desired of corner outfielders and he does not cover enough ground for centerfield. He got 82 AB that resulted in a .317 BA with a .801 OPS. He did not have a homer and drove in twelve runs. Like the other OF draftees, he was aggressive on the bases, stealing seven.
6th round RHP Derek Diamond entered 2022 with the possibility of being selected early.
However, his pitch velocity declined, and his command became erratic. That caused his stock to fall to the middle of day two. He only pitched in the Rookie Complex League against younger hitters, and he produced zero earned runs in 4 IP spanning three appearances. He struck out four and walked one. If he can reclaim his velocity and maintain his high spin rates, he will be an intriguing arm to follow.
The remainder of the debuting Bucco’s were players selected on day two and three of the
draft. While most of them will need a lot to go right for them to reach Pittsburgh, and most will be washouts, fill utility roles, or will be organizational roster fillers, all posses interesting tools such as high spin rate and premier velocity for pitchers, or solid strike zone judgement and consistent bat to ball contact with the batters.
The other Pirates pitchers who appeared for the first time in a professional setting were 8th
round LHP Cy Nielson out of BYU (7G, 8.31 ERA, 1.96 WHIP, 8K,8BB), 9th round RHP out of
Yale (4G, 10.80 ERA, 2.70 WHIP, 2K, 5BB), 17th round RHP out of Houston Jaycob Deese (3G,
0.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 5K, 1BB) and 19th round RHP out of Pacific Elijah Birdsong (4G, 6.75
ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 3K, 3BB).
The two position players from the bottom half the draft who were able to get their feet
wet were 10th round OF out of Oklahoma Tanner Tredaway (55AB, .164 BA, .616 OPS, 1HR, 10 RBI, 2 SB) and 16th round C Nick Cimillo out of Rutgers (28AB, .214 BA, .567OPS, 0HR,
Notes: the following draft picks did not play this summer and will not make their
professional debuts until next spring: Supplemental 1st round RHP Thomas Harrington, 3rd round LHP Michael Kennedy, 7th round RHP J.P. Massey, 11th round LHP Dominic Perachi, 13th round LHP Miguel Fulgencio, 14th round LHP Julian Bosnic, 15th round 1B Josiah Sightler, 20th round Joshua Loeschorn.