Draft day in any sport is supposed to be a day of optimism, of looking forward to the future construction of your club. This year we may have to look through the fog of whether the game itself will be played, even as we watch our teams fortify talent with no place to play themselves.
In Pittsburgh, we’re asking different questions about our draft picks than say the Dodgers. Sure, the Dodgers don’t need their picks to pan out nearly as bad as our Buccos, maybe that’s why theirs always seem to. See if the Pirates take a player with their first pick and he doesn’t pan out, as we’ve seen more than once, it literally sets the franchise back, whereas the Dodgers just fill in the hole left by the failed pick.
I can already hear the outrage should they take Nick Gonzales with the 7th pick. Why do they need another middle infielder? I hear that, but it’s important to keep in mind just because he plays middle infield now, what path he takes in his development is entirely open. Middle infielders tend to be some of the best athletes and hence mailable. In other words, you may be able to turn a SS into almost any other position outside Catcher or Pitcher, but an Outfield prospect may be locked into that position or perhaps First Base.
Neil Walker for instance was drafted as a Catcher and played all over the diamond before finding a home at Second in MLB. Most pitchers will have a pedigree as having started most of their career, but there is no guarantee that’s how they’ll arrive. The numbers don’t add up for many of them, and I mean that in multiple ways. First, there are way more slots in the pen than in the rotation and further many pitchers find adding length causes a necessary reduction in velocity. Some will struggle to add a needed 4th pitch that keeps hitters off the fastball, while others will never grasp the consistent control and show the ability to maintain it throughout a seven inning start.
Saying all that makes it seem, well, kinda depressing.
It’s not the same for every pick, there’s a reason these picks are projected first rounders. They’ve largely been vetted and there are enough metrics in place to at least feel reasonably assured they will make it to MLB given proper training and opportunity. Looking back to last season, Quinn Priester had already developed a solid 4-5 pitch mix, needing refinement of course but already throwing them put him ahead of the curve. Does this make him a lock to start for the Bucs come 2023? No, of course not, but it gives him a head start on arriving as exactly what the Pirates hoped he would when they picked him.
Travis Swaggerty is another recent pick who has plenty of tools at his disposal, the best of which is speed. His hit tool may never reach the upper echelon that affords him a starter role in the bigs. He of course could prove me wrong, Kevin Newman sure has thus far, but a first-round profile does not always equal a locked in starter on the big club.
There may very well be no riskier pick than a catcher. Think about everything that has to go right, they must pick up the defensive side of the game, understand the responsibility of calling a game, be personable in order to develop relationships with pitchers. It’d be nice if they could hit a little, and on top of everything else they have to endure 4 or 5 seasons of wear and tear on their knees before they sniff an MLB dugout. There are just a few reasons why catchers struggle to develop. Some make themselves so valuable with the bat the club may want to move them just to keep them healthy and or keep them in the lineup every day. There is a sweet spot that very few transcend, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try, just means if they should ultimately choose a catcher like Dillon Dingler or Drew Romo with the competitive balance pick, maybe don’t sit back thinking a problem has been solved.
The draft is a time for optimism and looking forward to a time when these players could come together and form the core that leads your club to the promised land. For best results, it’s best to remember none of them alone will change the completion of your roster. Sit back and enjoy tonight, it’s real sports news, Craig and I will break it down as it happens tonight.