As soon as MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that Pittsburgh had selected Henry Davis-Catcher from Louisville-as the First Overall Pick in the 2021 MLB Amateur Draft, every Pirates Fan-even those who had only loosely followed discussions leading up to Sunday-knew exactly what General Manager Ben Cherington’s strategy was going to be for at least the first couple of rounds on day two.
For weeks, and in some cases months, the words under slot have become almost taboo amongst Pirates Fans, and especially many members within the Pittsburgh Sports Media. It was seen as being cheap, even when it had been pointed out countless times that this has been the practice of MLB teams-ever since the slotting system was implemented, in response to the Pirates overspending on Josh Bell in Round Two I might add-to save money on the first pick, while still getting a highly rated player. The goal of this strategy would be to spend more of their slot bonus pool ($14,394,000 for the Pirates) in the upcoming rounds in an attempt to acquire other highly rated players who had fallen down the draft board, often due to sign-ability concerns because of college commitments.
This was the plan; but the only real question that remained is whether or not Cherington could pull it off.
With the 37th Pick, and the first selection of Round/Day Two the Pirates selected Anthony Solometo-Left Hander Pitcher from Bishop Eustace Prep, located in Pennsauken, New Jersey-who was ranked as high as #17 by MLB Pipeline and #28 by Baseball American, which would make him one of the top Prep/HS arms in the class. Now, as anyone who follows me on Twitter and/or listens to my Bucs In The Basement Pirates Fan Podcast knows that I was slightly critical of this pick by Cherington; and I checked it is completely allowed. The main reasons for this critique were the awkward mechanics of his delivery and the lack of a definitive third pitch; even though this kid has gotten Madison Bumgarner and MacKenzie Gore comps.
And just to be clear this should not be interpreted as a miss on Cherington and the Pirates part for anyone who is looking for a reason to take a dig at Pittsburgh’s approach in the draft; it just an observation of the work that may need to be put in to develop this young man, which can be accomplished. And I hope that it is, because when it comes down to it, I root for the success of every Pirate and every Pirates Prospect.
After the Solometo selection, Pirates Fans had to wait a little while for their next picks at 64 (Comp Round B) and 72. However, it ended up being well worth the time spent watching potential targets come off the board during the Second Round as the Pirates selected two NCAA football commits in the forms of Outfielder Lonnie White, Jr. from Malvern Prep in Pennsylvania and RHP/SS Bubba Chandler from North Oconee High School in Bogart, Georgia. Currently White, Jr. is committed to Penn State, while Chandler is Four Star recruit to play quarterback for the Clemson Tigers. Both of whom most likely slipped down in the draft due to sign-ability concerns; although I did see White, Jr. listed as low as 72nd on MLB Pipeline, but 32nd according to Baseball America. Meanwhile, Chandler was ranked at closer together at 21st and 20th respectively.
As far as White, Jr. is concerned, he is simply an absolute athletic beast. This dude has power to all parts of the field, as well speed (70 grade) and the glove to go with it (60 grade); all while effortlessly slotting into centerfield. As it stands currently the only concern for him is the aforementioned sign-ability as one of the top 30 wide receivers in this year’s college recruitment class.
On the other hand, Chandler doesn’t appear to be as much of a signing risk by just glancing at his social media, and more than holds his own on the overall athleticism scales as well; being the starting quarterback for his schools football team, a right handed pitcher with a plus fastball that touches 97 mph and a talented shortstop who has above average fielding ability to go along with a 70 grade arm.
Then, as could have also been predicted, Cherington jumped back into conservative mode with his next six selections, but that is not to say he focus solely on value -aka under slot– with the remaining picks. There were also at least a couple of players that were chosen by the Pirates, who got some decent buzz, and evaluations from sites that I rely on with regularity.
For example, Owen Kellington was named the Gatorade High School Player of the Year, after his senior season, in which he posted a .22 ERA and 133 strikeouts in 49 innings of work; with 91% of his outs coming by way of the K.
Another player would be Louisville Outfielder Luke Brown. who Prospects Live listed as one of their team’s favorite sleepers in this years draft class. A .322 career hitter for the Cardinals, Brown previously played for John A. Logan College, where he ranked second in all of NJCAA in stolen bases and was drafted in the 25th Round back in 2019 by the New York Yankees.
Of course, these potential steals in the draft, along with the four top 32 players according to Baseball America, doesn’t automatically mean anything is accomplished as far as the future of the Pittsburgh Pirates is concerned. It does however equate to Cherington being able to successfully execute his plan thus far in the draft.
Now, comes the real work; after Identifying and hopefully Acquiring, comes Development and Deployment.