Pirates assessing options for '23 Draft

July 5th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Justice delos Santos’ Pirates Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

So, who’s it going to be? Dylan Crews or Paul Skenes?

It is expected that Crews and Skenes will go first or second overall, in some order. However, when talking with reporters ahead of Sunday’s Draft, Pirates general manager Ben Cherington said on multiple occasions, unprompted, that their options go beyond LSU’s finest.

"I wouldn't stop at two players,” Cherington said. “We have more than that under consideration.”

Cherington added later, “We’re still learning about all of the guys, and we think it’s a strong group. By group, I really do mean that it goes much deeper than two players.”

Could the Pirates defy expectations and draft someone not named Dylan Crews or Paul Skenes? Perhaps high school outfielders Walker Jenkins or Max Clark? Or, is Cherington keeping his cards close to his chest and ensuring he doesn’t tip his hand? The answer to that question will arrive Sunday at roughly 7 p.m. ET.

The decision to draft Crews, Skenes, or another player entirely, with the first overall pick will set the tone for Pittsburgh's approach in the draft.

The Pirates went over slot value to sign Termarr Johnson with the fourth overall pick in 2022. The slot value of the fourth overall pick last year was $7,005,800, but Johnson signed for $7,219,000. The Pirates, then, had $213,200 less to divvy out for the remainder of their draft picks.

In 2021, by contrast, the Pirates signed No. 1 pick Henry Davis for less. The slot value of the first overall pick that year was $8,420,000 million, but Davis signed for $6,500,000 million. The Pirates were left with $1,920,000 more to work with for the remainder of the draft, a sum they used to draft and sign Anthony Solometo, Bubba Chandler and Lonnie White Jr.

“We feel good about that process,” Cherington said. “We think that draft is going to help the Pirates. Twenty years from now, we can look back and we’ll see exactly who the best players were. We think that draft class is going to help the Pirates in the way we hoped that it would. That was not an easy choice, but I remember saying the night of the draft that Henry was the first player on the board -- and that’s true. We were able to take him and sign the guys after him. Hopefully, a bunch of those guys help us win games here in Pittsburgh.”

This year, the first-overall pick will be worth $9,721,000, surpassing the $9,015,000 value that the Phillies had with the first-overall pick in 2016 as the largest since in the bonus-pool era (since 2012). The Pirates will also have $16,185,700 in total bonus pool money, the third-highest total ever behind the Astros in 2015 ($17,289,200) and the Orioles in 2022 ($16,933,000).

Cherington said that the team intends to spend all of its bonus pool. Several weeks ago, Pirates president Travis Williams said there will be “no restrictions on spending within those parameters” regarding the Pirates’ bonus pool.

“The first choice is really important, to state the obvious,” Cherington said. “Every team’s job is to get as much total talent out of every draft as they can. Historically, when you have the first pick, the biggest portion of that is going to be for the first pick so we have to consider that. History says that that’s where the best player is going to come from. But the whole draft is important and our job is to get as much as we can out of it."

Crews or Skenes will likely command something close to the full slot value of $9,721,000, if not _the _full slot value. MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo estimate that Crews and Skenes will want a signing bonus of $9.2 million and $9.1 million, respectively.

Those two have certainly played well enough to warrant a conversation about being the first overall pick. Crews reached base safely in all 71 games he played and hit .426/.567/.713 with 18 home runs. Skenes had a 1.69 ERA with 209 strikeouts in 122 2/3 innings. Could the Pirates potentially go over slot like they did last year?

“We haven’t gotten to that point in the process yet where we’re layering that in,” Cherington said. “Right now, we’re just focused on getting the board set up and getting the order right or, at least in our opinion, right. I believe that needs to come first, to honor the board and honor the order. Then that information gets layered on, as we get closer.”

High schoolers, such as Clark and Jenkins, could sign for under the full slot value, allowing the Pirates to use the same strategy they used in 2021 and allocate more bonus pool money to other picks. Callis and Mayo estimate that Clark could go for something close to eight million.