Pirates draft Jones among four righties on Day 2

June 12th, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- Pirates general manager Ben Cherington said last week that college pitching was the strength of this year’s MLB Draft class. Pittsburgh’s picks on Thursday reflected that belief.

The Pirates began the Draft on Wednesday by selecting New Mexico State shortstop Nick Gonzales (No. 7 overall) and South Carolina right-hander Carmen Mlodzinski (No. 31), then they made a run on right-handed pitchers on Day 2. They comprised all four of their selections on Thursday, with the final three coming from the college ranks.

That outcome wasn’t a result of some specific strategy, Cherington said, other than the common Draft philosophy of taking the best player available.

“That’s the way it played out,” Cherington said. “As we got into each round, just happened to be that, as we got closer, the top guy left on the board in some of those rounds was a right-handed pitcher. We weren’t thinking about anything other than just taking the best player available at our pick.”

But the Pirates didn’t shy away from upside in their first Draft with Cherington at the helm. They feel particularly strong about the potential of their first four picks: Gonzales, Mlodzinski, Jared Jones and Nick Garcia, all of whom were ranked within the first 70 players on MLB Pipeline’s Top 200 Draft prospects list. Cherington said the Pirates are confident they can sign all six picks.

“We feel really good about where we ended up,” Cherington said.

Here’s a look at the players they ended up selecting on Day 2 of the Draft.

Round 2, 44th overall: Jared Jones, RHP, La Mirada (Calif.) High School
Pick slot value: $1,689,500

The 18-year-old Texas commit, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Draft’s 55th-best prospect, was a two-way standout in high school, batting .457 while putting together a 0.77 ERA during his junior season. His elite arm strength should give him a chance to thrive on the mound at the next level.

Jones’ fastball has been clocked up to 96-97 mph, and he throws a solid slider that can be a swing-and-miss pitch. He doesn’t use his changeup much now, but he should be able to develop it into a third offering to round out his arsenal. And if you want an idea of just how strong his right arm is, consider that one of his throws from the outfield lit up radar guns at 100 mph last year.

Jones, listed at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, was a regular on the showcase circuit leading up to the Draft. Inconsistent command is one of the knocks against him, but that’s not uncommon for a high-upside high school power pitcher. The game runs in his family, too, as his father spent two years as an infielder in the D-backs system and his mother played softball in college.

Jones was also a threat at the plate as a left-handed-hitting outfielder, but don’t expect to see him join the Pirates as a two-way player. Jones was representative of one trend in this abbreviated Draft, however, as the Pirates went heavy on pitchers who previously played in the field.

“Not a particular demographic we were pursuing, the position-player-to-pitcher demographic. Just ended up being the best players on the board when it came around to our picks,” Cherington said. “Quite a few of them had played a position or still do, in the case of [Jones].”

Round 3, 79th overall: Nick Garcia, RHP, Chapman University
Pick slot value: $780,400

Once again, Pittsburgh bet on a pitcher’s untapped potential by selecting Garcia.

The 6-foot-4 righty was a position player at Junipero Serra (Calif.) High School before moving to the mound as a sophomore at Division III Chapman University. He thrived in the bullpen there and eventually earned College World Series Most Outstanding Player honors as his team won the D-III national championship in 2019. During his sophomore year, Garcia went 9-0 with 12 saves, a 0.64 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 56 innings.

Garcia, MLB Pipeline’s No. 70 Draft prospect, also pitched well out of the bullpen in the Cape Cod League last summer, and he generated more excitement among scouts as he moved into Chapman’s rotation at the start of this spring. But with the season cut short, Garcia didn’t get much of a chance to prove himself as a starter.

MLB Network analyst Dan O’Dowd raved about Garcia, calling him “truly a first-round talent in the third round.” That’s indicative of Garcia’s potential, as he doesn’t have much of a track record in the rotation. Garcia’s fastball reaches 97 mph, and he also throws a cutter and a slider. In the worst-case scenario, Garcia seems like a dynamic bullpen arm. Ideally, he’ll continue developing into an effective starting pitcher.

“A classic coming-into-his-own position player getting a chance to pitch. Got a chance really to compete in the Cape even though he was at a smaller school this spring in Chapman,” amateur scouting director Joe DelliCarri said. “Watching him grow, watching the small progress that he has made along each step that we’ve seen, then getting the opportunity to see the foundation come to fruition a little bit.”

Round 4, 108th overall: Jack Hartman, RHP, Appalachian State
Pick slot value: $538,200

After bouncing around community colleges and moving from the field to the mound, Hartman landed at Appalachian State as a junior but didn’t necessarily stand out as he posted a 4.98 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings over 20 games.

But Hartman broke out in his senior year, striking out 22 batters in 12 innings over 10 appearances this spring before the season was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, and area scouting supervisor Jerry Jordan was able to see him in person.

What changed? According to an essay Hartman wrote for Appalachian State’s website, he went to the Florida Baseball Ranch last summer to improve his mobility, stability and movement patterns. Working with his coaching staff on further changes to his delivery and pitch mix and studying Rapsodo data also benefitted the 21-year-old reliever.

“For the teams out there,” Hartman wrote, “I have a young arm and a high ceiling. Mentally, I have so many more tiers to reach, and I feel like the mental side of the game is what makes a big leaguer. If I can continue to progress on both sides, the mental aspect and the physical aspect, I feel like the sky is the limit for me.”

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior could agree to a below-slot deal, allowing the Pirates to more aggressively use their bonus pool money to sign other picks.

Fifth round, 138th overall: Logan Hofmann, RHP, Northwestern State
Pick slot value: $402,000

Drafted by the Cardinals in the 35th round of last year’s Draft but not signed, Hofmann didn’t allow an earned run while striking out 38 batters in 28 innings during his shortened junior season this spring.

He’s not an overpowering pitcher, standing at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds with a fastball that sits around 90-91 mph, but he -- like Day 1 picks Gonzales and Mlodzinski -- stepped up to the challenge against tougher competition in the Cape Cod League last summer. Hofmann, a native of Saskatchewan, was named a Cape Cod League All-Star after going 3-1 with a 3.54 ERA while striking out 27 in 20 1/3 innings.

The 20-year-old played hockey and track and field in addition to baseball in high school before pitching two seasons for Colby Community College.