First Pitch: History Repeats in the 2021 Draft

Very rarely in life do you get a do-over. Yet that seems to be happening with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Exactly ten years after their last time picking first overall, the Pirates have been awarded another first overall pick. The last time they were in this situation was in 2011, when they drafted Gerrit Cole.

Those of you who followed along at the time may have remembered that Cole wasn’t a guarantee to be selected. Anthony Rendon went into the season as the top draft prospect, but fell due to injury concerns. Dylan Bundy was a phenom prep pitching prospect, but told the Pirates not to draft him out of concerns that they wouldn’t allow his long-toss routine. The Pirates were talking about Danny Hultzen for some reason. And then there was Cole’s college teammate, Trevor Bauer, who didn’t look as electric as Cole, but still looked like a solid pitcher.

It almost seems like history is repeating itself in 2021. The Pirates have the first overall pick again, and the top player on the board is an electric pitcher who has a teammate pitcher that could also be worthy of the pick, even if he’s not as exciting.

Kumar Rocker is the prize of the 2021 draft, with a big frame, a fastball that gets up to 99 MPH, and a plus slider. His teammate at Vanderbilt is Jack Leiter, son of former big league pitcher Al Leiter, who doesn’t have the top end stuff, but has a better ability to pitch. Leiter works in the lower 90s, but has a wider range of pitches and is a more polished pitcher at this point.

The draft class also features your college bats and prep phenoms. Adrian Del Castillo is a catcher at the University of Miami, regarded by Baseball America as one of the best hitters in the draft class. As with any catcher, there are questions whether he can stick behind the plate long-term, but he’d be worthy of number one if his bat could remain at the position.

The prep scene features two shortstops who stand out. One is Jordan Lawlar, who is from the same high school as Pirates’ first baseman Josh Bell, who was their second round pick in 2011. Lawlar grades as average or better across the board with his tools, and projects to stick at shortstop. Brady House is higher ranked by Baseball America, with what they describe as “plus hitting potential and massive power.” He should be able to stick on the left side of the infield.

The 2011 draft class was a great one, and it was going to be difficult for the Pirates to walk away with a bad player from that group. The 2021 class looks to be just as solid right now, with plenty of choices for the Pirates at number one. At the very top is Rocker, whose big stuff and big frame could make him a pitcher to build around in the future, just as the Pirates envisioned with Cole.

Perhaps this time the Pirates can get the best pitching prospect to become the best pitcher in the game while he’s in their own system.

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First Pitch