Pirates Draft: The Best Of The Rest

7-30-22 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)

Not that I need reminded, but every so often it hits me like a punch to jaw…Pittsburgh is predominately a football town; especially when it comes to their Steelers. Some may think this most recent reality check is due to the line of cars waiting to get into Training Camp at St. Vincent in Latrobe, except it’s not.

The discussions on social sites-even ones from certain members of the Pittsburgh Sports Media-surrounding MLB Draft is primarily why. As much as it’s said that the Rule 4 Draft is different from those in any other in professional sports, this fact never really seems to sink in.

If an 18 year-old shortstop is drafted in the 1st Round-and I don’t care if it’s 4th Overall-there is no need for conversations about what to do with Oneil Cruz, Nick Gonzales, Liover Pegeuro. This is not the same as a running back’s job being on the line a la Rasheed Mendenhall and “Fast” Willie Parker. Termarr Johnson is not taking anyone’s job; at least not for the next four years or so. And, even then it’s possible, he or any number of middle infielders have been moved off the position.

Yet, each year we hear these same types of meaningless chatter.

Which is very similar of the fruitless endeavor of making lineups-or 5 man rotations-for 2025 or 2026 with every single player that was selected in the top few rounds of the last 3 or 4 drafts.

Honestly at this point, go make your own Facebook group(s) or Twitter Space(s) to debate this mindless drizzle; and, leave the rest of us out of it.

Or more succinctly put:

Now back to the Pirates portion of the MLB Draft.

After making what were correctly assessed as slight money saving moves at #36-Thomas Harrington ($100,300 under slot)-and at #44-Hunter Barco ($251,100 under slot)-some thought the Pirates would make a big splash in the upcoming rounds; just like they did with Lonnie White, Jr. and Bubba Chandler last year. Unfortunately many overshot the mark by forgetting the near $7,005,800 slot value that would be due to the Pirates First Round Selection, Termarr Johnson.

Had the Pirates opted to go with say a Zach Neto or a Jace Jung they would have been able to negotiate to obtain the extra funds; much like the $1.9 million they saved by drafting Henry Davis #1 Overall in 2021. Then, they might have been able to go overboard.

With that being said Cherington and Company did create a ripple, as opposed to the wave some were expecting, with their 4th Round Pick (#100 Overall); and then went back to playing it safe again.

1) Michael Kennedy-LHP (Troy HS)

Graded out as the best high school left-handed pitcher-#3 overall-in the state of New York by Perfect Game, Kennedy mowed his way through the Flying Horses opponents to the tune of a .60 ERA with 65 strikeouts, 8 walks and just 15 hits across 35 innings.

Named the New York Gatorade Player of the Year, he had a verbal commitment to LSU, but ultimately signed with the Pirates for a cool $1 million ($445,000 over slot).

With a low-90’s (55 grade) fastball, paired with a high-70’s (55 grade) slider and a low-80’s changeup (50 grade), this 17 Year Old-he doesn’t turn 18 until the end of November-As Kennedy could have easily chosen to become a Tiger in the fall; yet, as you can see, he was more than happy with starting his professional career.

2) Jack Brannigan-TWP (Notre Dame)

Each time a Two-Way Player is drafted Shohei Ohtani-or for Pittsburgh Pirates Fans Bubba Chandler-automatically come(s) to mind. No offense to Brannigan, but he really isn’t in the same ballpark as Ohtani; and, I’m not sure it’s even a same church different pew when it comes to comparing Brannigan to Chandler. This is not to say that he isn’t a good player. He is!

In three years at Notre Dame-with the bat-Brannigan grew into a fairly solid contact hitter, with a little bit of pop; but, really didn’t see this transition into the Cape Cod League, using the wood bats. Across his Sophomore and Junior seasons with the Fighting Irish he slashed .292/.373/.516 with 18 homers and 48 total extra base hits. In the Cape during the summer of 2021 he .282 AVG, a .759 OPS and one homer in 352 less plate appearances.

Seen as having on of the best arms in Prairie States due to his 70 grade fastball that sits comfortably between 95-97 mph, a 60 grade mid-80’s wipeout slider and a rarely used 50 grade change up, he never really got much work in between high school in Chicago, his time in South Bend and The Cape.

During Brannigan’s last season with Notre Dame he posted a 7.36 ERA and a 1.636 WHIP, but struck out 28 batters in 14.2 innings. In the Cape he pitched just 3 innings, which makes it pretty much impossible to judge anything.

So truthfully, how likely is it that Brannigan ends up as an infielder, AND a relief pitcher? Not likely in the long term. Will they let him try both? I believe so for right now. Where will he end up? I will say he becomes a member of the bullpen; but, it’s possible he gets a run at the rotation as well.

Last week when I was on The Pirates Fan Forum with Gary and Jim, I failed to make the comparison between him and current Pirates Prospect J.C. Flowers; who pitched just 26 innings during his junior year at Florida State, and is now predominantly as a swing-man/long reliever out of the bullpen. This of course was after he started during the majority of his appearances last year.

Based on was scouts are reporting, Brannigan would prefer to stay as a position player; although know one really knows the conversations he had with the Pirates before signing his $770,700-right on slot-bonus.

3) Tres Gonzalez-OF (Georgia Tech)

Back in 2019 Gonzalez was lauded for having some of the best bat to ball skills among high schoolers in his area; resulting in him being selected by the Dodgers in the 37th round. Be that as it may, like many young men his age, he ultimately bet on himself, and went to Georgia Tech to prove that he could continue this level of play against more advanced competition.

As a result he was selected by Pittsburgh in the 5th Round, and signed to a bonus of $347,500 ($67,100 under slot); thanks mostly to a .314/.442/.461 slash line with 91 walks to 74 strikeouts in a Yellow Jackets uniform, and a .331 average in the Cape.

To his detriment, the one thing he has not been able to consistently add is power; a skill that scout’s believe he could develop. However, for now it’s all speed (60 Grade Run Grade) and Hit (55 Grade)

4) Miguel Fulgencio-LHP (Cowley County Community College)

First off, the dude’s 23. But, that’s what happen when you try your hand at football first-at Oklahoma State University-before turning your eyes back to baseball.

Secondly, he’s a JUCO Bandit-a brand of baseball player that I have become partial to. Attending Crowley Community College in Arkansas City, Kansas, Fulgencio pitched strictly out of the bullpen; logging 33 innings in 2021 and 46 in 2022. Across those 79 innings he struck out 106 and only walked 26; while making appearances in the newly formed Appalachian Collegiate Summer League last year, and the Cape Cod League this one.

Selected in the 13th Round, and given the status quo $125,000 signing bonus, the former Tiger could rise through the system based strictly on his age and make-up.

5) J.P. Massey-RHP (Minnesota)

Massey oozes pure athleticism, raw talent and charisma-or drip as the cool kids call it nowadays.

Set to transfer from Minnesota to Mizzou for the upcoming season, after making 12 starts for the Golden Gophers during his senior season. During this time he posted a 6.52 ERA, 1.736 WHIP and 63 strikeouts; but struggled with control by walking 39, hitting 6 batters and tossing 12 wild pitches.

A lanky 6’5” and 205 lbs, the Chicago Native has both a two-seam and four-seam fastball that reach 95 mph with ease; and, are accompanied by a slider, a changeup and a curve.

A project when he arrived at Minnesota, and still a project when he eventually arrives at Pirate City after signing for $150,000 ($93,000 under the #200 slot value), Massey guarantees to be exciting.

Now obviously these aren’t the only five players-along with the Pirates First Three Off The Board-that could potentially make an impact in Pittsburgh one day; however, they are the ones I found most interesting during my initial assessment(s).

Drafting future MLB talent is hard! Developing future MLB talent is hard! Baseball is hard!

Published by Craig W. Toth

Former Contributing Author at InsidethePirates.com, Co-Host of the Bucs in the Basement Podcast and life-long/diehard Pittsburgh Pirates Fan!

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