Power and prep arms for the Pirates in 2018

The Pittsburgh Pirates love to draft prep starting pitchers.  The MLB roster and my Pirates Top 50 prospect rankings are literally littered with prep arms drafted in the last 10 years.  Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, Tyler Glasnow, Mitch Keller, Travis MacGregor and Shane Baz with MacGregor being a 2nd rounder in 2016 and Baz the 12th overall pick last year in 2017.  They wasted no time doing that in 2018, drafting prep starting pitchers at 36th and 51st overall with reports already coming in that 36th overall pick Gunnar Hoglund has signed and 51st overall pick Braxton Ashcraft has plans to fly to Pittsburgh to sign before next week.  With 41 picks in the 40 rounds, the Pirates took some signability risks, in both the middle rounds, by drafting a significant amount of college juniors and late rounds when they drafted 7 prep players in the final 19 rounds.  The big names, highlights and potential steals can be found below.

1.10 – Travis Swaggerty, CF – South Alabama

With Austin Meadows currently raking in Pittsburgh, Travis Swaggerty should immediately become the top offensive prospect in the Pirates farm system. Breaking out in his sophomore season when he slashed .361/.487/.567, while hitting 10 home runs and stealing 19 bases in 25 attempts.  Swaggerty has plenty of upside to hit for average and power, while swiping his share of bases and playing a very solid centerfield.  Swaggerty has also shown great discipline at the plate, walking at a 19.5% clip while only striking out 13.7% of the time.  Swaggerty should have no trouble staying in centerfield and hitting at the top of the lineup, as a potential 20/20 player.

1.36 – Gunnar Hoglund, RHP – Fivay High School

Hoglund was a man amongst boys when on the mound as a senior in high school and I don’t mean that because he’s 6’4” 210 pounds.  While the size is perfect for an up and coming pitcher, Hoglund was simply too much for the competition in his senior season.  Hoglund used his fastball that sits 92-95 mph an improving curveball and a changeup that scouts say he has a good feel for to rack up 105 strikeouts, in just 52.3 innings pitched.  Possibly even more impressive, Hoglund walked just 2 batters all season.  Hoglund definitely has the front of the rotation potential the Pirates wanted.

2.51 – Braxton Ashcraft, RHP – Robinson High School

The 6’5” 195 pound Ashcraft comes to Pittsburgh with a heavy sinking fastball that sits 90-92 mph and a solid slider, with plenty of room for growth. Ashcraft has the upside of a 2 or 3 starter with just expected improvement.  None of this however, is the most impressive thing Ashcraft brings to the table, especially in a football town like Pittsburgh.  While Ashcraft gave up football to focus on baseball his senior year, his junior year was one for the record books.  Ashcraft hauled in 104 receptions for 2,090 yards and 37 touchdowns…and that’s in his second best sport!  The kid is an athlete.

3.86 – Connor Kaiser, SS – Vanderbilt

Kaiser, a big short stop, 6’4” 195, is largely considered a great defensive shortstop that needs the bat to develop to become a full time regular in the future. The bat has grown each season at Vanderbilt and when you combine that with his size, the upside is definitely there.  Kaiser may have given a small glimpse into that offensive potential though in the Commodores June 3rd regional game against Clemson.  Kaiser went an incredible 5-7 with a 3rd inning 3-run homer, a 6th inning grand slam and a 2-run blast in the 7th inning.  An 8th inning RBI single tied the NCAA record for RBI in a game with 10.  A performance like that certainly couldn’t have hurt just a few days before the draft.

5.144 – Grant Koch, C – Arkansas

Catchers with major power potential don’t grow on trees and they certainly aren’t available in the 5th round every year.  Koch hit 20 home runs in 419 at bats, over his 2 years as a starter at Arkansas.  With a quick release Koch is considered at worst an average defender behind the plate, so he should have plenty of opportunity to show off the power.

7.204 – Brett Kinneman, LF – North Carolina State

“I grew up loving Mickey Mantle, and I call him Mickey Mantle because he reminds me of Mickey Mantle.” – Elliot Avent, NC State Baseball coach. (quoted from D1baseball.com)   Whoa, that’s pretty high praise for a young college player.  Turns out the comparison is a little more about looks and the way Kinneman plays the game, than his natural talent, but Kinneman has done his best to make it stick.  While his approach needs some work, after striking out nearly 32% of the time in his Cape Cod League stint in 2017, the power and speed are most definitely there.  Kinneman hit 27 home runs in 443 at-bats at NC State after taking over as a full time starter and 15 home runs in just 121 at bats in that same 2017 Cape Cod League season.

15.444 – Jonah Davis, OF – Cal

We could probably copy and paste the information about Kinneman for Davis, removing the comparison to Mickey Mantle of course. Davis had a huge breakout junior year in 2018, slashing .321/.446/.606 2ith 14 home runs.  This is all tempered a bit by a 31% strikeout rate though.  The power potential is certainly worth the shot in the 15th round though.

24.714 – Cam Alldred, LHP – Cincinnati

A big college lefty in the 24th round is a worthy gamble just about every time.  When the results are as good as we saw from Alldred it becomes a no brainer.  Alldred threw 79.2 innings in his junior year with an era under 4 and a K/9 of 9.6.  Conference play is where Alldred really shined though.  In 7 starts Alldred threw 41.2 innings, struck out 49 while only allowing 9 earned runs.  Definite potential for a steal here.

28.834 – Nick Patten, 1B Delaware

Teams always love to take local kids, especially when that local kid brings 35 home runs over his 3 year career at Delaware back home with him. Patten a big left handed hitting first basemen, grew up just north of Pittsburgh in Butler and will now have the chance to play for his hometown team.  It’s not all about power for Patten though, with a career triple slash of .279/.406/.532, the Pirates could easily find a spot for the hometown kid in the future.

30.894 – Jack Herman, OF – Eastern High School

Most high school players drafted at this point in the draft are long shots to sign. Herman was projected to go in the 7th to 10th round range, but as he fell it seemed more and more likely that he would take his scholarship to Maryland and enter the draft again in 3 years.  Herman, who only batted .556 with 41 RBI in his senior season, has already agreed to sign with the Pirates.  The kind of value a team can potentially get from this kind of steal could be huge.


Featured image – via Pirates on Twitter

An absolute sports fanatic. Be it at the office or a family gathering, you can usually find me talking sports, especially baseball. When I am not at the office working for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at a small bureau in the Dept. of Human Services, I love to golf, go to Baltimore to catch the O’s or Ravens and spend time with my amazing wife. Follow me on Twitter @RyanJames5.

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