Who Would the Pittsburgh Pirates Be Tanking to Draft If They Fall Even Further

 



I wrote an article discussing how the Pittsburgh Pirates could end the 2021 season on a high-note by playing a part in knocking bitter rival, the Cincinnati Reds, out of the playoffs.  It was generally embraced, but many of the comments were encouraging the Pirates to lose for a better draft pick.  It got me thinking, who would the Pirates be tanking for anyway?  Is there that big of a difference between who the Pirates could take at No. 2 versus No. 5 in next year’s amateur draft?  Let’s take a look.

Current Standings

If the season ended today, the Pirates would have the 4th overall pick in next year's draft.  They are one game up on the Texas Rangers for the 3rd pick overall, eight games up on the Arizona Diamondbacks for 2nd overall, and nine games up on the Baltimore Orioles for the 1st overall pick.  Additionally, they are five games back of the Washington Nationals who currently hold the 5th overall pick.  So with 13 games remaining, it appears that the Pirates will most likely receive the 3rd or 4th overall pick.

However, for the sake of a comprehensive look, I want to profile each of the projected top five picks of next year’s draft.  I’ll preface by saying, anything passed Elijah Green at first overall is very different across many mock drafts and scout evaluations so if I leave someone off the list, cut me some slack.

Elijah Green 

The overwhelming favorite to go 1st overall is outfielder Elijah Green.  Green is a 17-year old out of IMG Academy in Florida.  Many consider Green to be the best prep prospect the MLB draft has had to offer in quite some time.  His power is undeniable, and he has also graded very well in regards to arm strength and speed. 

The only issue in Green’s game is his tendency to swing and miss, but at 17, he has plenty of time to iron this issue out.  Most experts say he would have been the No. 1 overall in this year’s draft if he had been eligible.  Even though the Pirates do need more outfield prospects, as they currently having none ranked in their top 10, it would take a lot for the Bucs to fall below the Orioles or the Diamondbacks for the No. 1 overall pick.

Carter Young

Carter Young is the next prospect consistently at the top of the mock draft boards.  Young is a shortstop from the draft prospect factory, Vanderbilt University.  Young interests teams for many reasons, but two stand out.  He is a plus fielder at both shortstop and second base.  He started every game for Vandy at shortstop in a shortened 2020 season.

The second reason is his ability as a switch hitter.  As analytics grow, so does the desire to roster those that can hit against both left-handed and right-handed pitchers.  However, in this year's draft, the Pirates passed on many shortstops available at the first pick because the top of their pipeline is filled with middle infielders.  Even if the Pirates were to fall to No. 2, or Carter Young were to fall to them, I don’t see Young being drafted by the Bucs.

Dylan Lesko

The highest ranked pitcher on the board, Dylan Lesko, is who I could see landing with the Pirates at either No. 3 or No. 4.  Lesko is a right-hander out of Buford High School in Georgia.  Some scouts believe Lesko should be in the first overall conversation, but since a high school right-hander has never been taken first overall, it doesn’t seem likely.  Lesko is already hitting 96 on the gun and that’s before entering college where he has committed to (you guessed it!) Vanderbilt University.

Since each of the Diamondbacks and Orioles pipelines are loaded with pitchers, and the Rangers used their 2nd overall pick on pitcher Jack Leiter this year, Lesko could fall to the Pirates even at 4th.  I am not always a fan of drafting pitchers.  In fact, I’m a big proponent of Theo Epstein’s theory of “Draft Hitters, Sign Pitchers”.  However, as I look up and down the Pirates prospect list, plus the lack of highly ranked outfielders available in the draft after Elijah Green, 2022 may be a good time to snag one. 

Jackson Ferris

Another top pitching prospect expected to be taken high in the 2022 draft is left-handed pitcher Jackson Ferris.  Ferris currently attends IMG Academy with Elijah Green, making it the hottest spot for major league scouts in the country.  MLB scouts will be flocking to check out Green and might as well schedule their trips during the starts of the highly touted 6’4” lefty Mississippi commit. 

Ferris already has a fastball in the mid-90’s at just 17 years of age.  With the expectation of adding to that as he grows, his changeup comes at hitters in the low-80’s creating many swing-and-miss opportunities.  Ferris also sports an upper-70’s breaking ball, and most scouts expect him to add a fourth pitch by the time he makes the big leagues.  If the Pirates are looking to add an arm in next year’s draft, they would do well with either Lesko or Ferris.  Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com has the Pirates taking Ferris at No. 4 overall.  

Brooks Lee

After the top four or five players, it is a real crap shoot of who scouts and mock drafts have ranked near the top.  One guy that consistently hovers in the top 10 is shortstop Brooks Lee from Cal Poly.  Adam Wells from Bleacher Report have the Pirates taking Lee at No 3overall. 

However, even though Lee is a very gifted hitter, the Pirates had their choice of elite shortstops with this year’s draft.  Instead, they went with catcher Henry Davis, in part because the top of their pipeline is loaded with middle infielders.  

Due to this, I don’t see the Pirates reaching for Lee at No. 3 or No. 4 when either Ferris or Lesko should be remaining on the board.  To counter those who say the Pirates had their choice of pitchers in the 2021 draft as well, it was known Jack Leiter would not easily sign with the Pirates, and other Vanderbilt stud, Kumar Rocker could not agree to a deal with the New York Mets.  If Ferris or Lesko prove to be more sign-able, I see them as a good fit for the Bucs. 

Conclusion

So ultimately, the Pirates will not gain much by tanking the rest of the way.  Who the Pirates can take at No. 4 versus No. 3 overall is not a big enough jump to not try and knock your rivals out of the playoffs instead.  I expect them to still have their choice of either top pitcher prospects Dylan Lesko or Jackson Ferris.

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