Williams: When It Comes to Draft Picks, What’s in a Name?

The 2021 MLB draft is a little over a month away, and will be kicked off by the Pittsburgh Pirates with the first overall pick.

Who the Pirates will take with that pick remains a mystery. We probably won’t find out the answer to that mystery until right around draft time.

That won’t stop us from spending the next month-plus speculating on who they could take, or arguing who they should take.

I’ve written in previous articles about how the Pirates would be smart to maximize their bonus space by going under-slot with the first pick, which would allow them to pick up a first round talent with their second round pick. There isn’t a consensus top pick at the top of the draft, making this a great year for such a strategy.

The choice the Pirates have at the top of the draft comes down to a pair of right-handed pitchers from Vanderbilt, a few prep shortstops, and a college catcher.

No names in that description above.

Often, we don’t even treat future draft picks as if they have names.

College right-handed pitchers come with risk, because all pitchers come with risk. However, college pitchers, in particular, come with the risk of hazardous usage (especially in the College World Series) along with potential training techniques to overcome.

Prep players come with the obvious risk that they’re so far away from the majors, with so much to develop to get their current promising tools to the major-league level. The position players are always considered safer, in part cause pitchers carry injury risk, and in part because drafting a prep shortstop tends to be the one of the best ways to get a future All-Star MLB shortstop.

College hitters tend to be the safest overall route, especially if you get one at a premium defensive position. Typically, at the college level, they’ve shown whether they might be able to stick at the position long-term, along with whether they’ve been able to hit in the majors one day. The downside to the college hitter route tends to be a lack of upside compared to their prep counterparts.

Every draft pick, regardless of where they come from, carries risk.

Some of that risk is an injury risk, where pitchers can lose massive amounts of value.

Some of that risk is positional, where hitters can lose massive amount of value.

These risks should be considered, but only to an extent.

For example, if you are taking a player because the organization needs someone at his position, you’ll want to imagine that same player at another position. This is where prep shortstops have the advantage. They are starting at the hardest position to fill, typically with the athleticism to move to an easier position if they can’t stick at shortstop. College catchers, on the other hand, typically are only discussed at the top of the draft if they have a great chance to be MLB catchers. Still, the risk there is the bat. Are you getting a two-way, starting catcher, or a catcher who is just strong defensively with limited hope that the bat will make him that future two-way guy?

There are no names above.

Those college pitchers could be Jack Leiter or Kumar Rocker.

Or, they could be any high draft pick in the past from Gerrit Cole to Mark Appel.

The prep hitters could be Jordan Lawlar, Marcello Meyer, or Brady House.

Or, they could be any previous draft pick from Manny Machado to Tim Beckham.

The college catcher could be Henry Davis.

Or, it could be Matt Wieters or Tony Sanchez.

When draft day arrives, only the names in this draft will matter.

It will be important to factor in the risks above for all of these guys. If I’m making the pick, I’m using this info to filter out the college guys, and I’m focusing on those prep shortstops.

It’s up to the Pirates’ player development system to turn any of these guys into MLB players. However, a lot can go wrong that even the best development system can’t prevent. I like the forgiveness that a prep shortstop provides.

Next week, I’ll be looking closer at those individual players with individual names.

2021 Draft