by J.T. Toth and Ryan Lang
Photo courtesy of LSU Athletics.
The Pirates' red-hot start to the season is now a distant memory in the landscape of the 162 game journey. After starting off 20-8 and leading the National League with 154 runs scored (5.5 rpg), the Pirates began a freefall in May, going 15-33 with only 156 runs scored in those 48 games (3.2 RPG). The Pirates have been shut out 9 times this season already, and on top of that, they have 8 games where they have only scored one run. The Pirates' offense started this season overperforming and has since come back to earth with the struggles that many experts saw as inevitable.
The team is now hitting .239, which is 13th in the National League, highlighting the many flaws within their lineup. With no pure lead-off hitter, Ke’Bryan Hayes has taken on that role the majority of the season and has struggled. Carlos Santana is not the hitter he once was, and while his defense and leadership abilities haven’t waned, this does nothing to help the Bucs produce runs.
Since Bryan Reynolds signed his contract extension, he has not hit for the power or consistency they paid him well for. Jack Suwinski’s power output has been a pleasant surprise, but he can go games without making solid contact. Andrew McCutchen has been one of the team’s bright spots with a .260 avg and a .796 OPS, but he is no longer the Cutch of old. The catching position has not offered anything at the plate with Austin Hedges hitting .163 and he usually gets lifted late in the game for a pinch hitter. And most recently, the Pirates have called up Henry Davis and Nick Gonzales to try and jumpstart their anemic offense.
But fret not. Help is on the way.
The Pirates have a chance to help this offense out on July 9th with their first pick overall in the MLB Draft. They have a choice to make—do they take outfielder, Dylan Crews, or starting pitcher, Paul Skenes, both potentially generational talents out of LSU? Regardless of their choice, the Bucs will net a great prospect, but through the optics of Draft 412, Dylan Crews should be the move.
For starters, the Pirates lack outfield depth throughout the organization. Suwinski has been a pleasant surprise, but in their top 20 prospect rankings, they have zero outfielders in the discussion. Former #1 pick, Travis Swaggerty, cannot stay healthy and is a stowaway from the former regime and does not appear to be in the team's plans. Cal Mitchell, Canaan Smith-Njigba, and Connor Joe are nice bench pieces but not players projected to be long term solutions or consistent starters for the club. And the Pirates have not had a chance to take such a big-time college outfielder since they took Barry Bonds in 1985 with the 6th overall pick out of Arizona State.
Dylan Crews has been compared to Bryce Harper by many scouts and is thought of as a game changer who isn’t far away from the majors. He’s put up numbers in a year where everybody had him under a microscope, showing he doesn't wilt in the face of pressure. He has hit .423 with 18 home runs and 69 RBI’s while walking more than he has struck out (68-45).
Paul Skenes, on the other hand, has been compared to Washington Nationals' superstar, Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg was selected first overall in 2009 out of San Diego State, and people in Pittsburgh will remember his MLB debut against the Pirates (7-IP, 2-ER, 0-BB, and 14-Strikeouts). Skenes has had an electric season for LSU going 12-2 with a 1.69 ERA and even more amazing is the fact that he has struck out 209 hitters in 122.2 innings.
Now, could the Pirates use a starting pitcher like Skenes? Yes, who couldn’t? The Pirates have collected a number of pitching prospects over the past several drafts. Mitch Keller appears to be a rotation leader and future ace. Luis Ortiz and Johan Oviedo have shown their talent and both have pitches that are MLB ready. The club hasn’t given up on Roansy Contreras yet, and Draft 412 believes he could still become a “two” or “three” starting pitcher in a future rotation.
Other prospects have pitched well this year, including Jared Jones and Anthony Solometo. Each have been given promotions during the season. The team still has Mike Burrows, who was on the fast track to the Majors before his injury and Bubba Chandler, Quinn Priester, Sean Sullivan, Thomas Harrington, Owen Kellington, Jun-Seok Shim, and Braxton Ashcraft round out the potential starting pitchers listed in the team’s top 20 prospects.
This draft selection could go down as one of the most important in team history. Dylan Crews or Paul Skenes? It is not the worst situation to be in, but Draft 412 hopes General Manager Ben Cherington books a Crews and helps the Bucs acquire some much needed offensive production.