Bucs go heavy on college pitching on Day 2 of 2023 Draft

July 11th, 2023

Following their selection of two pitchers on Day 1 -- right-hander Paul Skenes with the first overall pick, and right-hander Zander Mueth with the 67th overall pick -- the Pirates used seven of their eight selections on Day 2 on collegiate pitchers, four of whom hail from the Southeastern Conference.

“I think you’re getting a collection, in a general sense, of a lot of traits that are important to the organization,” said senior director of amateur scouting Joe DelliCarri. “We had a chance to spend a lot of time with these players at the field, around the field, off the field, getting to learn who they are and what they’ve been exposed to, what the upside is in different places. We believe this collection definitely has some unique opportunities in some different areas to take advantage of growth and big gaps in growth that we think we can tap into with our coaches and player development.”

Pittsburgh began the day by selecting third baseman Garret Forrester out of Oregon State with the 73rd overall pick. From there, the Pirates selected seven straight college arms: Carlson Reed (West Virginia), Patrick Reilly (Vanderbilt), Hunter Furtado (Alabama), Jaden Woods (Georgia), Austin Strickland (Kentucky), Danny Carrion (UC Davis) and Landon Tomkins (Louisiana Tech).

The pitchers selected out of the SEC endured their share of struggles in college baseball’s powerhouse conference. Reilly (fifth round) had a 5.25 ERA across 144 innings. Furtado (sixth round) had a 5.77 ERA across 93 2/3 innings with Alabama and Wake Forest. Woods (seventh round) had a 4.97 ERA across 155 2/3 innings. Strickland (eighth round) had a 5.28 ERA across 102 1/3 innings. To DelliCarri, those struggles aren’t necessarily a deterrent.

“Not everybody in that league, as we say in the room, comes through the carwash completely clean,” DelliCarri said. “That's a tough league. You're facing good lineups every night, you’re facing a lot of good hitters and vice versa, hitters are facing good pitchers. But I would share a little insight into [the fact that] we like to see adversity, and we like to see some ups and downs. … We get a chance to talk to them about it, we get a chance to see their aptitude and how they make changes from week to week.”

Added assistant general manager Steve Sanders, “Most of these players -- just about all these players -- are far from finished products. It highlights the importance of looking beneath the surface results, looking for traits.”

Struggles in college don’t necessarily translate to struggles in pro ball. Last year, the Pirates selected right-hander J.P. Massey, who ended up becoming one of two of the Pirates’ representatives at this year’s SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game.

Massey, selected in the seventh round with the 200th overall pick, never found consistency during his time at the University of Minnesota. In four seasons as a Gopher, Massey had a 6.70 ERA with 140 strikeouts to 106 walks across 123 2/3 innings. In his first year as a professional, by contrast, Massey has a 3.45 ERA with 64 strikeouts to 34 walks across 62 2/3 innings, earning a promotion from Single-A Bradenton to High-A Greensboro in late June.

“We saw a lot of really, really, really good traits and ingredients,” Sanders said. “Athleticism, a good mover. We got to know J.P. as a person and fully bought into the human being, the worker. I think what we’re seeing is him starting to scratch the surface of what we think he’s capable of.”

On the subject of pitching, DelliCarri also provided a breakdown of Mueth, the Pirates’ third and final selection of Day 1. Mueth, a right-hander out of Belleville (Ill.) East High School, drew comparisons to the Red Sox’s Tanner Houck because of his low three-quarters release, as well as his southwestern Illinois upbringing.

“We got to spend some time a couple times this winter on Zoom, then again some time in Phoenix,” DelliCarri said. “Really likable young man. … He knows what he’s done to this point as a high-school kid, knows some of the areas that he wants to get better at and has a growth mindset to it. Good athlete. Fast arm. Unique look with the angles and arm speed. Low slot. He’s got a chance to have a fastball and changeup. Legitimate movement in the fastball at times, with the combination of slider and then the changeup is good for a young pitcher, as well.”