By Emmet Mahon
The 2022 MLB season start was delayed while the owners and players hammered out a
new CBA. Important items they fought over were things such as competitive balance linked to a
salary cap and floor, revised free agency and arbitration, an international draft and revenue
sharing. When the dust settled, most of those issues were unresolved and both sides could pat
themselves on the back for solving the biggest obstacle in baseball, tanking. A strategy employed
in every professional sport, from the godfather of tanking, Penguins GM Eddie Johnston putting
peanut vendors in the net to secure franchise icon Mario Lemieux, to Sixers GM Sam Hinkie and
The Process (how did that work out?), to, well, several MLB franchises this century.
To address this scourge and threat to the very integrity of the game of baseball, this latest
CBA instituted a convoluted and complex draft lottery to set the order of the first round of the
MLB draft. All non-playoff teams would have their selection in the first round determined by a
weighted lottery. The top three teams with the worst 2022 records would have the greatest
chance of winning the top pick and the largest bonus pool that accompanied it. The lottery was
conducted during a primetime telecast on December 6th and in a stunning reversal of recent
history, the Pirates won. They will now be able to select the player they desire next summer.
This draft could be Pirates GM Ben Cherington’s legacy draft. During his Pirates tenure,
he has never had a first-round selection outside of the top 10. His first draft was the COVID
impacted draft of 2020. It was a crapshoot for all GMs because of the inability to conduct
extensive scouting of players. He selected 2B Nick Gonzales, who, while beset by injuries and
inconsistency, is still regarded as a top prospect. The next year he had the top pick. With several
players worthy of being that selection, but with no consensus top player, he chose C Henry Davis
and signed him well below slot, freeing up money for later in the draft to acquire intriguing,
younger prospects for over slot bonuses. It was an audacious strategy, and now is regularly
followed by teams at the top of the draft. In his most recent draft, he selected prep 2B Termarr
Johnson. He supplemented that selection with several pitchers, mostly from the college ranks.
This strategy should allow these picks to move quickly through the system to be part of the
team’s unstated goal of contention in 2024 and beyond. The player he selects in July will send a
clear message if that is, in fact, the plan, or just more lip service.
The Pirates absolutely, positively must take the best player on the board and pay him
what is necessary. The system is already burgeoning and can afford lesser regarded prospects
later in the draft to procure the next championship caliber player. Who that player will be
remains to be seen. Eight months is an eternity in amateur scouting. Players will plateau, players
will surge, players will get injured once they start keeping score. Heading into 2023, three names
are in the discussion for top player. LSU OF Dylan Crews, Tennessee RHP Chase Dollander and
high school OF, Max Clark from Franklin HS in Indiana. Early mock drafts have the Pirates
Dylan Crews, OF, LSU. The Pirates are in good shape at the front of the diamond.
Pitchers, catchers, and infielders, particularly in the middle, all have at least one prospect who
has the look of being a solid, everyday contributor, or better, on a major league roster. The
outfield is a different story. There are players that if a lot goes right, could be very good players.
Right now, there is not one prospect you could put your finger on and say, that’s The Guy. Dylan
Crews is The Guy. The Florida native would have been a top selection in 2020, however, shortly
before the draft, he withdrew his name from consideration and matriculated to LSU. He bet on
himself, and he won. In 125 college contests spanning 594 plate appearances, Crews collected
176 hits, 27 doubles, 6 triples and 40 home runs. He drove in 114 runs and stole 17 bases. His 81
walks and 100 strike outs resulted in a career slash line of .356/.458/.677, an absurd OPS of
1.135. He is a solid defender, adequate in center, but shows ability to be a plus RF down the
road. Most of all, he has a championship mentality.
Chase Dollander, RHP, Tennessee. Dollander was undrafted in 2020 out of his Georgia
high school. He initially attended Georgia Southern for his freshman year before transferring to
Tennessee where he blossomed into an ace. He has a fastball that reaches 99 MPH and has
supplements it with a tight slider and big curve. He has a consistent delivery and commands his
pitches quite well. Between the two schools, he has a 14-3 record. He has fanned 172 batters
while walking only 41 in 128 innings. His 3.02 career ERA is slightly inflated by the 4.04 ERA
he posted in his freshman year at Georgia Southern. His Tennessee ERA was 2.39 and had a
combined WHIP of 1.09. He could move quickly through the minors and be a front-line starter
for a contending Pirates team.
Max Clark, OF, Franklin HS, Indiana. Clark is the only prep player currently under
consideration for the first overall pick. He is a five-tool player and would represent a long view
strategy by Cherington. His arrival would likely not coincide with the opening of the window in
2024 but could be a player to extend the window when the always financial driven decision
making occurs with players already in the system. His stock will hinge on upcoming tournament
play against better caliber opponents. If he continues to dominate and develop, it would not be a
surprise to see him donning a Pirates jersey on draft night.
While these three names dominate the evaluation for who should be the first player
selected, there are others who with an exceptional spring, could catapult themselves into the
discussion. Names to keep an eye on after the calendar turns to 2023 include Ole Miss SS Jacob
Gonzales, North Carolina HS OF Walker Jenkins, Wyatt Langford from the Florida Gators,
intriguing and toolsy Vanderbilt OF Enrique Bradfield and Infielder Jacob Wilson from Grand
Canyon. Should Wilson somehow play his way up to the first selection, it would probably be a
popular choice. Jacob is the son of former Pirate fan favorite Jack “Flash” Wilson. If the Steelers
tab Joey Porter, Jr. with their first draft pick, Pittsburgh fans could have several years of enjoying
watching two heralded second-generation players.
Notes: The draft lotter only establishes the order for the first round. All subsequent
rounds are determined by won/loss record, worst to best. In those rounds, the Pirates will be
selecting third based on a tie breaker with the Reds. Playoff teams will draft in the order of their
2022 record, with Astros going last. In addition to the Pirates, the Tigers (3rd ), the Rangers (4th )
and the Twins (5th ) all improved their first-round selection position.