Is it just me, or did this year's MLB entry-level draft sneak up on everyone? Not that it should be a huge surprise considering this has been regarded as one of the weakest draft classes in baseball history. While time will only tell who panned out, the fact that there's a 5'9 pitcher from lowly Duke University in the top 15 rankings is a sign. If you're looking for a stacked draft class, watch last year's draft because this is certainly not the year.
This is not to say that this draft class is a complete waste of time, it just doesn't contain the type of talent we've grown accustomed to over the last 10 years. While the consensus top talent, Byron Buxton, projects to be an All-Star player, he is nowhere near the talent of a Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg or Gerrit Cole.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have the eighth selection, which is a good thing since expert rankings show a clear-cut top 8 players. Of those 8, Byron Buxton, Mark Appel, Mike Zunino, Albert Almora, Kyle Zimmer and Kevin Gausman are almost guaranteed to be gone before the Pirates are on the clock.
Who will the Pirates select? This year has been about as unpredictable as any. Baseball America's latest mock draft shows the Mariners selecting Zunino at number 3. However, over the last few weeks, Puerto Rican shortstop, Carlos Correa, has shot up the boards and could go as high as number 2 to the Twins.
That would be disappointing for Pirates' fans. Correa is extremely athletic and projects to play either shortstop or third base, drawing comparisons to Troy Tulowitzki and Evan Longoria. If he somehow fell to the Pirates at number 8, it would be a no-brainer to select him. Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that he will fall that far.
If the Pirates wanted to take a shortstop, they could select Deven Marrero from Arizona State. Marrero is the best fielding shortstop in the Pac-12 and would provide depth at a very talent-devoid position in the organization. Of all the shortstops in this draft, Marrero is most likely to stay at the position when he turns pro. Yet, Marrero doesn't provide for an even bigger need: hitting. Marrero has had a down year for ASU at the plate with a .279 average and four home runs. At one point, mock drafts had him going to the Pirates, but now it looks as though his stock has dropped to the middle of the first round.
Pittsburgh was originally linked to California prep pitcher, Lucas Giolito. However, a sprained UCL ligament in his throwing elbow has dampened the hype. With Giolito still throwing off of flat ground, it is entirely possible that one of the top pitching prospects in the draft will fall out of the first round altogether.
But that doesn't mean the Pirates can't look at one of Lucas's teammates.
Max Fried is a 6'4 180 pound southpaw with a 95 mph fastball and a potential plus-plus curveball. Given the Pirates' recent draft history of selecting young, projectable, arms, Fried fits the profile immediately. Yes, the Pirates have selected a pitcher in the first round the last two drafts, but if Fried projects to be a better player than any of the positional players left on the board, you have to go with Fried. Plus, another solid pitching prospect opens the door for a possible trade down the road to acquire a major league-ready bat.
In my opinion, the Pirates should select Fried unless any of the preceding teams reach for a player (like high school outfielder Courtney Hawkins) and the Pirates have a shot at taking Correa, Zunino, etc. Of course, they could also go the Tony Sanchez route and reach for a player to save money. A power bat such as Joey Gallo or Richie Shaffer could be an option, but given the Pirates recent history in developing young bats, this would be a risky move.
For now, the Pirates will have to wait. At eight, they hold the lowest pick since 2005 when they selected Andrew McCutchen 11th overall.