First Pitch: Just How Good Was the Pirates’ 2021 Draft?

Let’s take a moment to appreciate this video of Henry Davis hitting his first professional home run.

The Pirates drafted Davis first overall, adding the power hitting college catcher, while saving almost $2 million from their draft bonus pool. The savings, plus other savings from the middle rounds, led to the Pirates landing five total players in Baseball America’s top 100 prospects.

If the Pirates had gone with someone like RHP Jack Leiter or SS Jordan Lawlar, they might not have had the same savings and the same draft plan. Because they went with Davis — and there was no consensus ranking that had him much different in value from those other two players — the Pirates were able to get Baseball America’s number 20, 28, 32, and 87 prospects.

The second round saw them take prep LHP Anthony Solometo, ranked 28th. Their Competitive Balance pick went to prep OF Lonnie White Jr., ranked 32nd. The biggest surprise came when they took prep RHP/SS Bubba Chandler in the third round, with Chandler ranked the 20th best overall prospect in the draft. The Pirates also landed prep OF Braylon Bishop in the 14th round, adding the 87th best prospect.

These are all based on the rankings from Baseball America. Other outlets had different rankings, though the consensus was that the Pirates landed four guys who could be considered first round talents. To get an idea of how good the Pirates’ draft was, here’s a look at how many top 100 draft prospects were drafted and signed by other teams in the league, again working off the BA rankings.

Below are the MLB teams, broken down by how many of BA’s top 100 prospects they drafted and signed, with the rankings in parenthesis.

Six

Reds (10, 37, 50, 66, 91, 95)

Five

Pirates (4, 20, 28, 32, 87)

Royals (41, 47, 74, 77, 82)

The Pirates were one of three teams who signed five or more of the top 100 players in the draft. The Reds signed the most top 100 players. Looking at the breakdowns here, you can see the disparity in those numbers. The Pirates have four picks ranked higher than the Reds’ second best player and the Royals’ best player.

It’s not just about the quantity of top 100 prospects here, but the quality. How many teams can come close to matching four prospects inside the top 32 ranked players?

Four

Marlins (6, 22, 45, 88)

Rockies (23, 24, 62, 70)

Tigers (8, 12, 36, 55)

Twins (29, 60, 73, 93)

Answering the above question, the Tigers might be the closest in this draft to what the Pirates pulled off. The Tigers got four of the top 55 prospects, including three of the top 36. The Tigers were drafting third overall, and had the second biggest bonus pool in the draft. The Marlins also got a nice haul with two of the top 22, and another inside the top 45.

Three

Athletics (42, 78, 85)

Blue Jays (19, 89, 99)

Brewers (9, 76, 81)

Cardinals (16, 31, 98)

Cubs (13, 56, 58)

Diamondbacks (1, 25, 96) (2 Unsigned)

Guardians (30, 64, 75)

Rays (40, 69, 79)

White Sox (34, 52, 53)

Only two teams among this group had two players inside the top 32. They were the Diamondbacks and the Cardinals. The Diamondbacks got BA’s top ranked player in Jordan Lawlar. They drafted five of the top 100 players, but only signed three. The Diamondbacks had the seventh biggest bonus pool. The Cardinals ended up with the 16th and 31st best players, despite having the 17th biggest bonus pool.

Two

Angels (14, 46)

Braves (38, 51)

Giants (18, 39)

Mariners (17, 71)

Nationals (7, 61)

Orioles (11, 43)

Padres (35, 63) (2 Unsigned)

Phillies (15, 26)

Rangers (3, 84)

Yankees (54, 80)

There’s no one here who can compete with the Pirates’ haul, although the Rangers provide an alternate version of reality in this draft. The Pirates went with Henry Davis and saved nearly $2 million for additional players. The Rangers took Jack Leiter, who had bigger demands, and ended up costing $1.4 million more than Davis. That amount was slightly over-slot for the Rangers. They also went over-slot for their third round pick by almost $150,000.

The Rangers saved money throughout the draft, and went over-slot on guys who weren’t inside the top 100. Their top five signings were all inside the top 271, with the final three ranking 123, 158, and 271. The Pirates, in addition to their five players inside the top 100, drafted and signed guys ranked 137, 236, and 269.

Texas had the third biggest bonus pool in the draft, with $1.75 million less than the Pirates. That additional money gave the Pirates some additional over-slot money to work with in the top four rounds, plus round 14 with Braylon Bishop. If the Pirates would have gone with Leiter at their spot, and paid him what the Rangers did, they wouldn’t have had enough to sign Bubba Chandler to a $3 million deal.

Or, if they really wanted Chandler and Leiter, they could have gone with Chandler in the second round. This would have meant sacrificing Anthony Solometo, and possibly fourth round prep RHP Owen Kellington and Braylon Bishop. That’s a big cost to move from the fourth ranked prospect to the third.

One

Astros (59)

Dodgers (48)

Red Sox (2)

The good news is that these three teams were limited on how much talented they landed. The Red Sox had the sixth best pick and went with Marcello Meyer, ranked second overall.

Zero

Mets (1 Unsigned)

I can’t believe the Mets didn’t have a backup plan to Kumar Rocker.

*****

Looking at this list, just going off of the numbers for one outlet, I can’t see a draft class that I would want over the Pirates. Obviously the Pirates had an advantage with the number one overall pick and a bigger bonus pool than everyone else. They were able to leverage that to maximize their return, and I think the results of that effort are best shown when comparing their haul to what the Tigers and Rangers received with the second and third biggest bonus pools.

Ultimately, these rankings are a guide for what to expect in pro ball. Anything can happen, and it won’t be long before the rankings above become irrelevant, and the results start shaping the opinions on this draft. For now, the Pirates have the best projected starting point on talented players to work with.

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**This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: August 4th, Hall of Famer Jake Beckley

**Card of the Day: N172 Old Judge Jake Beckley

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