When Joe Boyd came to me with this idea, I was immediately excited to see how he handled it. What he’s done here is provide you with all the logic behind his comps, then give you a league comparison and a Pirates comparison for each of the projected top draft picks this year. Super cool stuff here from Joe, enjoy! – Gary
If you’ve read any of my previous posts with Justin Verno, I don’t think it will shock you to know that I love roster construction. So articles about trades, the draft, free agency, and the like are right up my alley. When it comes to the NFL draft, I try to watch tape on as many players as I can to create my own, personal draft grades. But for the MLB draft, I have no idea where to start from a scouting perspective. There is no real tape out there, and I have a job that prohibits me from galavanting around the country to see high school games in Oklahoma.
Continuing on this theme, if you’ve read any of my previous work, you know that I like to cite Fangraphs. There are several reasons for this, 1) Eric Longenhagen (along with Kylie McDaniel and Kevin Goldstein) is excellent, 2) they have been doing it for quite some time (2017 for the purposes of this article, and most importantly 3) their data is extremely accessible.
For this idea, I wanted to utilize the data from Fangraphs, and try to make these draft prospects a bit more relatable. My plan? Utilize ‘Sim Scores’ to make player comparisons. Sim Scores are just a way of comparing a player to a bunch of other players via several inputs, and in my case those are their biographical measurements (height, weight, throwing hand, Right / Left / Switch hitter) and their tools from Fangraphs. Please note that, like baseball, baseball blogging is also somewhat of a copycat league. Part of my inspiration came from Shaun Newkirk who did this type of project last season. And I’ve created Sim Scores in the data software tool, R, but it was not exactly visually appealing. Instead, I am utilizing / improving upon a spreadsheet from HW Linwood at CheckSwings.com (now defunct). I reached out to him/her, but no luck. I’m writing this article for free, so HW, if you read this and want your cut, you can have 100% of my proceeds. The original spreadsheet had Fangraphs top 400 prospects from the 2018 season, and only was available for hitters. I have expanded the depth of prospects to 2017-2021 and I have developed a Pitcher COMPS spreadsheet as well. And without burying the lede too deeply here, I wanted to provide these spreadsheets to you:
Without getting too into the weeds here, a Z-Score will look at a featured draft player’s input (Height or Hit Tool, for example) and compare it to the pool of players (2300+ for both Hitters and Pitchers) and assign each member of the pool a number based on how far away from the featured player’s input. The further away from the prospect, the less they are alike. The Sim Score is simply a sum of all the Z-Scores, so when we are looking for a player most similar to the featured draft player, a lower score is better (think a 2.00-5.00 Sim Score). Since the Pirates have the first pick, I wanted to highlight the six players that are currently in contention for the pick and look at their most similar “famous” prospect (allow me to use my discretion here!) and the nearest Pirates prospect (I may sneak some cherry picking in here too) as I believe the readers here will easily be able to make that type of connection. And before we begin, have fun with this. If you don’t agree… blame Longenhagen or HW!
In no particular order:
Jordan Lawlar, High School Shortstop
Notable COMP: Amed Rosario – 2017 (3.10 Sim Score) — In 2017, Rosario was considered (by Fangraphs) to be the third best prospect in baseball. In this Sim Score, all of his tools are louder than Lawlar’s, but he’s also 2 years older, at this snapshot in time. If we look at how Rosario’s three-ish seasons in the majors look so far, he looks like he is a 2.5-3 WAR player with an average bat and solid defensive skills. His ceiling was a 65-grade future value, which I would think is no longer obtainable, but to add a “poor man’s” Rosario at 1.1 would be exciting for the Pirates.
Pirate COMP: Liover Peguero – 2019 (3.19) — For the Pirates comp, I cheated a smidge. This is Peguero when he was in the Diamondbacks system. But nonetheless, adding another Peguero to the mix has to be enticing for Cherington. Lawlar looks like a potential 5-tool prospect with all of his tools hitting at least the 50-grade threshold and in this comparison, Lawlar’s Hit/Power tools are better than Peguero. As a peek into the future? Peguero’s hit tool bumps up from a 50-grade to a 60-grade by 2021. A good reminder that these grades are a snapshot in time. And perhaps Lawlar can develop into a stellar, top-10 in baseball prospect.
Marcelo Mayer, High School Shortstop
Notable COMP: Jarred Kelenic – 2018 (2.42) — I have been hesitant to get on board with Mayer at 1.1 ever since he was deemed the lower ceiling option between him and Lawlar. Based on Longenhagen’s grades, however, his comps in the sim tool are insane. At the top it’s Kelenic, but he also closely aligns with Alex Verdugo, Riley Green, George Valera, and Drew Waters. A prospect of this caliber, playing up the middle, while carrying a 60-potential bat is a piece that is worthy of 1.1. I would gladly welcome a player that is in the same realm as Kelenic into the Pirates system.
They obviously play different positions, but Kelenic is the #4 prospect in baseball because of his bat. Mayer tracks exactly to his potential for his hit and power tools, so I obviously love the idea of adding that type of talent to the farm.
Pirate COMP: Hudson Head – 2020 (4.42) — Hey! Look at me cheating again. This is Head while he was still in the Padres system, but he’s a Bucco now. Head also carries that 60-potential hit tool which is such a necessity to stock up in the system.
Henry Davis, Louisville Catcher
Notable COMP: Royce Lewis – 2020 (4.42) — Did you want to see a catcher here? Me too. And it was close! Ronaldo Hernandez (a personal favorite), Alex Jackson, Luis Campusano, and Tyler Stephenson all fall within the top 20 comps, but outside my threshold noted above of 5.00. So I decided I would go with the best (notable) comp under 5.00 Sim Score and that was Royce Lewis. He too is a former #1 overall pick, so Davis would be in good company should he be the selection. Davis’s calling cards are his power and his arm. If you’re drafting for traits that are hard to buy/obtain in free agency or trade, Davis is a solid choice. The lack of depth at the position is an added bonus.
Pirate COMP: Oneil Cruz – 2020 (8.30) — Is this one a stretch? You betcha. The closest Pirate prospect was Conner Uselton at #94 most similar. Boring. If we’re going to stretch, let’s go with Cruz who has similar power potential and a similar cannon. Davis is likely to have more luck tapping into his 50-grade hit tool over Cruz’s 40-grade.
Jack Leiter, Vanderbilt Pitcher
Notable COMP: Sixto Sanchez – 2019 (2.42)
This comp is from when Sanchez was a 60-grade Future Value and when he was a top-25 prospect in baseball. He has the stuff and command but he’s been derailed/delayed by some injuries. This is always a cautionary tale with pitching prospects, but Sanchez is a complete prospect, as is Leiter. The top of the rotation potential is undeniable with Leiter. Longenhagen claims that Leiter is trying to “price himself down” to Boston at 1.4. I cannot wrap my head around that term, but I think Leiter would be a fan favorite in Pittsburgh, unless of course he is just counting the days until he can get out of Dodge.
Pirate COMP: Mitch Keller – 2019 (3.67)
Being out of market, I cannot tell if the fanbase has truly soured on Keller. I can imagine the frustration of a former prospect failing to live up to the lofty expectations. However, he’s still young and we are not far removed from Keller being a top pitching prospect in the sport. Leiter compares favorably to Keller here, while still being 2 years younger. This just shows how advanced of a prospect Leiter is and how much room he has for growth and development.
Kumar Rocker, Vanderbilt Pitcher
Notable COMP: Alek Manoah – 2019 (1.82)
I actually love this comp. Manoah tips the scales at 250+ so you get those big, intimidating vibes that Rocker also brings to the mound. Both are given an overall FV of 45+ out of the draft, and both sit mid-90s and touch 98. It took Manoah just about two years to make his Major League debut, and maybe Rocker could be on a similar track
Pirate COMP: Carmen Mlodzinski – 2020 (3.23)
Mlodzinkski is our comp for a Pirates prospect and I think it mostly comes down to his size, age, and fastball. I don’t think you’ll get many arguments that Rocker is far superior to Mlodzinski, despite his solid start to the season, and adding a player that immediately jumps to the top of your pitching prospects list is never a bad idea. But I must admit, if I had my choice I would take a player that relates closely to Sixto Sanchez and Mitch Keller over the one that compares to Manoah.
Kahlil Watson, High School Shortstop
Notable COMP: Jazz Chisholm – 2018 (4.37) — Chisholm is actually the 30th ranked comparison to Watson, but I must admit, I love the comp. I actually started writing this after the Miami series, and really enjoyed watching Chisholm. Watson has been tearing up the competition as one of the few High School prospects still playing, and he has had a late surge up boards. There’s an outside chance he could be in play at 1.1 and I think it comes down to being able to tap into that power like Chisholm has.
If I can nerd out for a second? There are actually two versions of the COMPS board that I made. The first, the basis/foundation of this entire article, deals only in potential tools. The other, unreleased version averages out the current level of each tool with the potential, as well. When comparing prospects this way, Chisholms score jumps to 2.38 and is the #1 player comp. I bring this up because the 2018 version of Chisholm was 20.9 years old, and Watson is barely 18. So in my humble opinion, there’s space for enormous growth here and Watson could prove to be the biggest boom prospect of the high school bats.
Pirate COMP: Sammy Siani – 2019 (2.45) — This one is most intriguing to me. Siani is the #1 overall comp for Watson, but not only that, there are 7 Pirates prospects (well, Head when he was with SDP and Siani twice) that show up in the top 26 closest player comps to Watson. It would seem that if the Pirates were still run by Huntington that Watson would fit their mold. Nonetheless, adding athleticism and much-needed power to the system should absolutely not be scoffed at when selecting 1.1.
We are really only dealing in potential here. For every Manny Machado or Gerrit Cole, there’s a dozen Bubba Starlings and Danny Hultzens. I don’t want to come away with the thought that any option here, any of the six players discussed for the 1.1 draft slot are a slam dunk to dominate in Pittsburgh in the near future. But we can often lose the forest for the trees when talking of prospects that we have never seen. “Player X has a low ceiling, Player Y won’t hit.” We just don’t know how these players will turn out. But when we compare their traits and demographics over time to past (and current) prospects, we can start to see similarities. The decision might be Mayer or Lawlar or Leiter, but if we pose it as a player that may develop into a Kelenic or Rosario or Sixto Sanchez that can excite the fanbase. If we can relate these players to former (and current) Pirates prospects, it’s exciting to think about another Peguero or Oneil Cruz (that can play catcher) added to the system or another Mitch Kel.. well, you get the point. In July, the Pirates are going to add a piece to the farm that will immediately add tremendous value to the system. They won’t be picking a player because they are cheap or going after a player because Nutting doesn’t want to spend. They will get a top tier prospect that can be an integral piece when they are ready to contend again. Patience, dear reader.
File -> Make a Copy
Enter a Draft Prospect into the Gold Box (all other boxes autofill)
Sort A-Z on Sim Score