First Pitch: The Variants in the 2021 MLB Draft

We are all variants.

Each of us is born from a mother and father. Each of them born from a mother and father. Each of them born from a mother and father. Go back in time one century, and you’ve found eight different people who ultimately made up the you who you are today.

But, you’re not just the amalgam of your parents, your grandparents, or your other ancestors. For the world offers daily nexus events that allow a person to change their life path. You are the person you are because of those events — the people, places, or things that change your path for better or worse.

That’s one of the fun things I love about baseball development. There is so much uncertainty that it breeds chaos. Within that chaos, you find some sort of long-term order. Bryan Reynolds is just an A-ball hitter who could start in the majors one day when he’s acquired. He becomes a potential hope for the future in 2019 when he debuts. He disappoints in 2020, and the future is in question. He rebounds in 2021 with star quality numbers, and suddenly he’s a key part of the future, or a fixture in wild trade proposals.

The success from Reynolds isn’t a huge surprise. He was a second round pick in 2016, taken with the 59th overall selection. He was a top ten prospect with the San Francisco Giants, and the main part of the return for Andrew McCutchen. I think the general feeling is that there was an expectation he could be good, but there’s a surprise that he’s this good.

Perhaps the current numbers won’t last. But, maybe they will. We are all variants, and who is to say that the current timeline we’re in doesn’t contain the MVP-caliber Bryan Reynolds?

Ultimately, we are two versions of ourselves. We are the version that everyone else sees, and we are the version that we see in ourselves. The latter is the only one that matters, though the former can be used to judge performance. In the case of a baseball player, you’d like for those versions to be the same. Every player who enters pro ball sees himself as a future MLB player. Only a small percentage of those players will make it.

With someone like Reynolds, we know he’s made it in the majors. Even if he struggles in the second half, and doesn’t repeat these numbers, he’ll still be a productive MLB player, and teams will always give him chances to see if he can sustain the star-level numbers. Whether he makes it at this level of performance over the long-term will be shown, though his nexus event is spiking, and may soon become part of the sacred timeline that we are all part of.

When it comes to the first overall selection in the MLB draft, the projections get a bit trickier.

There’s no consensus top pick in the draft this year. The candidates include four prep shortstops, two college right-handers from Vanderbilt, and a college catcher. The Pirates will likely use this to their advantage, going under-slot with the first overall pick, and using the extra money to get an additional first rounder with one of their following picks.

The knee-jerk reaction to this is always “They need to take the best player available!” with ideations that Barry Bonds Jr. is somewhere in this draft ready to be taken 1-1. The irony of Bonds is that he went sixth overall, giving another example of how the best player doesn’t always end up getting selected with the first pick. The Pirates just have the challenge this year of trying to get the best pick with the first pick.

Let’s simplify things and say the Pirates take one of the prep shortstops. If the Pirates take Marcelo Mayer, Jordan Lawlar, Khalil Watson, or Brady House, then their pick will always be compared to the other prep shortstops who will probably go in the top ten picks. But, it’s impossible to say today which one of those will be the best in five or six years.

A big reason for that is the development process. The Pirates don’t have the task of drafting the best player and watching him eventually and inevitably reach the majors. They have the task of drafting the player who they have the best chance of developing into a major league player.

That’s where all of those nexus events come into play. Each of those players above was born from two parents and a family tree that shaped who they are. They’ve had different interactions with coaches, teammates, and so on. They’re influenced by where they have played baseball, and the opportunities their location provides. Once they join the Pirates, they will be influenced by the coaching staff, other players in the system, the locations of the minor league teams, and maybe even public opinion.

The Pirates have shown a good ability to scout players in the draft. They haven’t shown a good ability developing those players. The player development system has been undergoing some changes, with a new focus on developing the coaches from the top, and some new approaches to maximizing player potential.

Every year at the end of the draft, General Managers all around baseball give credit to their scouting department for all of the hard work involved in getting their new players. I think that we largely think of this credit in terms of “the scouts found the talented players”, which doesn’t seem difficult when you can go on a number of web sites and find tons of information about pretty much every eligible player in this draft.

What the scouts are getting credit for is finding the people, not the players. The scouts are the first ones who say “This player can be more than he is today” and typically they’re saying that not just because of the tools we can all see in videos, but because of the person that we don’t get to meet until he shows up for a brief interview with Greg Brown and Bob Walk in the bottom of the fourth inning of a game where the Pirates are losing 4-1. The scouts are the ones who find out what the player thinks he can become, and his chances of getting there.

Then, that player disappears into the abyss that is the farm system. He becomes another “we’ll see if he can make it” player, a number on a top 50, or a member of a tier of similarly talented players. Yet, the scouts have already determined this player will make it.

If… he is developed properly.

We will ultimately see if the Pirates have improved their development system. I don’t think we have any conclusive proof of that yet. There are positive signs in the majors, with players like Bryan Reynolds reaching levels that may have sounded improbable a few years ago as a prospect. There are positive signs in the minors, with a few breakout prospects, and a lot of guys putting up good results.

The Pirates never really had an issue with minor league players looking good in the minors. Their issue was getting those players to their ceilings in the majors.

They now have a farm system that has been restocked, thanks in part to the scouting efforts that have found guys like Roansy Contreras, Hudson Head, and Endy Rodriguez in trades, along with Nick Gonzales from last year’s draft. The next efforts to build up that farm system will come next week, when the Pirates pick at 1-1, and likely will get a chance to add two first round talents with their bonus pool space.

The task during the draft is to listen to the scouts and take the player who they’ve got the best chance of developing into the best player in the draft.

The task after the draft is the same as it is for every prospect currently in the system: Develop that player into the highest possible ceiling he can reach.

We are all variants.

The Pirates will choose one of the variants in the draft next week. Then, we will wait and see which variant of that variant they ultimately develop.

Daily Links

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**Pirates Sign Tanner Anderson to Minor League Deal

**Game Recap: Pirates Beat Braves on Walkoff Walk


**Top Ten Hitters and Pitchers for Week Nine of the Minor League Season

**Prospect Watch: Jonah Davis, Mason Martin and Matt Fraizer Go Bombs Away

**Castro and Tucker Promotions Cause a Plethora of Extra Moves

**This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: July 6th, Cy Blanton and Jason Thompson

**Card of the Day: 1976 Topps Rookie Infielders, Featuring Willie Randolph

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