Pirates prioritize athleticism in Draft

Bucs eye two-sport standouts to round out system

June 6th, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates’ decisions in the MLB Draft weren’t restricted by preconceived notions. Cold-weather players? They took a few of them on Day 1. Two-sport stars? They have those, too, plus a handful of two-way players who will pick a side in pro ball.

The Pirates rounded out their Draft class on Wednesday, completing Rounds 11-40. Now, they will begin working to sign the 42 players they selected over the past three days. The class contains an interesting mix of prospects with upside, starting with first-rounder Quinn Priester, and high-floor college players to fill out the farm system. They took eight high school players, three junior college players, 18 college juniors, one sophomore and 12 seniors.

The Pirates selected 17 pitchers, including three left-handers, along with 12 outfielders, seven infielders and six catchers. All eyes will be on Priester, the No. 18 overall pick from Cary-Grove (Ill.) High School, as the self-taught right-hander expressed excitement about the idea of working with the Bucs’ pitching coaches.

“We kind of had an idea in the back of our mind. We were hoping Pittsburgh would be the place that I landed,” Priester said. “It’s kind of a dream come true to play in Pittsburgh. I’m really, really excited.”

In a way, Priester represents several of the trends that defined portions of Pittsburgh’s Draft. He’s not from a traditional baseball hotbed like Florida, California or Texas, warm-weather states where athletes can play baseball all year. Neither is Sammy Siani, a Philadelphia high school center fielder taken 37th overall by the Pirates. Neither is outfielder Matt Gorski, the Bucs’ second-round pick from Indiana University.

“I do think kids travel more, showcase-wise, around the summer,” senior director of amateur scouting Joe DelliCarri said. “Northern kids are getting more exposure to more showcases a little earlier as high school players. Not so much in the north in the colleges. We’ve always similarly tried to regionally map out that we cover every inch of the Draft with our personnel by design.”

Priester was also a two-sport star in high school, dominating on the mound and on the gridiron as a wide receiver and a defensive back. He received interest from Northwestern University, where he could have continued playing both sports at the next level, but ultimately committed to Texas Christian University.

“I’ve been a multiple-sport athlete for a long time,” Priester said. “I realized that baseball is what I love, it’s what I’m really passionate about, and it’s what I want to continue doing for as long as I can.”

That could be the fate of 11th-round pick Jase Bowen, the Bucs’ first selection on Day 3. Bowen is committed to Michigan State University to play football (receiver) and baseball (outfielder) after graduating from Toledo (Ohio) Central Catholic High School.

Perhaps the Pirates will be able to sign Bowen, however, after using all eight of their Day 2 picks to select college players. They picked a few more high-upside prep players, like Bowen, on the Draft’s final day. One of them is 23rd-round center fielder Jasiah Dixon, a University of Southern California recruit with plus speed, a strong arm and raw power. Dixon comes from Orange (Calif.) Lutheran High School, the same school that produced Gerrit Cole, Jason Martin and Brandon Maurer.

The Pirates’ Day 3 haul also included 14th-round infielder Aaron Shackelford, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Player of the Year who led the NAIA in home runs (36), RBIs (99), slugging percentage (1.096) and total bases (206) in 52 games this spring. Two rounds later, they selected University of Minnesota catcher Eli Wilson, whose father, Dan, enjoyed a 14-year MLB career behind the plate.

Pittsburgh’s penultimate pick, right-hander Daniel Ross, has traveled a long way to reach professional baseball. Ross, 23, grew up in Yokosuka, Japan, and spoke almost no English when he enrolled in Nile C. Kinnick High School, a Department of Defense Education Activity school where he played baseball, football and basketball. He ultimately made his way to Millersville (Pa.) University, where he used a 93 mph fastball and a splitter to post a 3.62 ERA in 27 1/3 innings as a redshirt senior before the Bucs selected him in the 39th round on Wednesday.

In earlier rounds, the Pirates prioritized pitchers with power stuff -- whether it’s a big fastball, a heavy sinker or a plus breaking ball. That drew them to Priester, who already possesses an intriguing fastball-curveball combination. It also led to the selection of Florida State’s J.C. Flowers, a two-way player who will pitch in Pittsburgh’s system, as well as Nevada right-hander Grant Ford, Sacramento State righty Austin Roberts and Notre Dame starter Cameron Junker.

“We definitely like power to their pitches and the combination of being able to pitch,” DelliCarri said.