Now that a few weeks have passed since the 2021 MLB Draft, we can begin to thoroughly analyze each team’s draft class and how they did. With the first overall pick in the draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates had the choice of literally anyone they wanted, but by the time the Pirates finished their fourth selection in the draft, they had done something that no one could have predicted.
The Pirates’ first choice at number one overall was a little tricky. There was no slam dunk pick this year like a Bryce Harper or a Stephen Strasburg in years’ past. There were up to seven different players being considered by Pittsburgh’s front office for the pick, but the general consensus was that high school shortstop Marcelo Mayer would be the pick. Mayer would command a strong signing bonus, but most outlets had him as the best player in the draft, and his tools showed why. Mayer has lightning quick hands on both sides of the ball, plays excellent defense, is a real 25-25 threat at the plate, most teams would love to have him. So, it was a bit surprising to hear commissioner Rob Manfred announce catcher Henry Davis‘ name as the first overall pick.
There were rumblings of Davis jumping to number one because he wouldn’t command as high of a signing bonus, but most still had Mayer as the pick. That’s not a knock on Davis, he was still projected to be a top five pick, and for good reason. Davis batted .370 with 15 homers and 48 RBIs while playing excellent defense and being a tremendous leader in his senior season at the University of Louisville. But when his name was called, the whole world knew the Pirates were going to get crafty. And when Davis signed for $2 million less than his slot value, he gave Pittsburgh the breathing room they needed.
Pittsburgh’s second choice came at number 37 overall, where high school left-hander Anthony Solometo was waiting. Solometo’s name still on the board at that point was a little surprising, but not a total shocker. His name was expected to be called around the back half of the first round, but other mocks had his name around Comp Round A or early in the second round. Despite kicking off the second round, it’s easy to see why he wouldn’t last long. The 6’5″ southpaw brings a truly funky delivery on the mound. His mechanics are very smooth however, and has no trouble repeating them, plus his delivery adds a layer of deception on the bump.
He brings mid-90s heat on his fastball, and combines it with excellent control. His off-speed offerings are well above-average as well. A tall high-school southpaw with a strange delivery brings comparisons to a Madison Bumgarner type of pitcher, but Solometo is up for the challenge. Solometo signed for about $800k more than slot value.
Pittsburgh’s third pick kicked off Comp Round B at number 64 overall, at which point Lonnie White Jr. heard his name called. White had some late first round traction on his name, but ultimately dropped for what was deemed to be a tough sign. White was a four-star recruit to play both baseball and football at Penn State. White is a gifted athlete who excels on both the baseball diamond and the gridiron, and could easily be a first-round pick in both sports. White’s summer was spent focusing on baseball only and it paid off.
He showed a plethora of impressive tools, scouts were able to see big time power in his bat, outstanding defense in center field and above-average baserunning. How heavily teams valued his strong commitment was always going to determine where his name was called, and the Pirates were thrilled to find his name still on the board by the time their third pick rolled in. White took home a $1.5 million signing bonus, about $500k more than slot value.
The Pirates’ fourth pick kicked off the third round at number 72 overall, and had to be absolutely shocked that Bubba Chandler was still available. Unlike Solometo and White, Chandler was seen as a slam dunk first round pick. Chandler joined White in slipping due to signability concerns, he committed to Clemson to play quarterback under Dabo Swinney and keep playing baseball. Chandler excels at everything he does on the baseball field, he was the starting pitcher for his high school team, and was the starting shortstop on days he didn’t pitch.
Scouts viewed him as a potential first-rounder as both a shortstop and a pitcher, and is currently one of the most exciting two-way players not named Shohei Ohtani in the country. On the mound, Chandler brings high-90s heat on his fastball, and has begun to develop some off-speed offerings that scouts have liked. At the plate, he brings solid power and speed potential from both sides of the plate, and his plus speed translates well in the field. Even with his strong commitment to Clemson, it was believed that Chandler preferred baseball to football, so to see him fall to the third round was surprising and an absolute gift that fell into Pittsburgh’s laps.
No matter where he was picked, Chandler was going to sign for first round money. He did just that, taking home a $3 million payday.
The rest of Pittsburgh’s draft mostly consisted of college seniors, who they could sign for much cheaper than slot value to save money for their first four picks. It’s hard to judge how good a team’s draft class will be just weeks after they’ve signed, but the Pirates have truly done something special. Davis, Solometo, White and Chandler were all viewed as first round picks at one point or another, and the Pirates got all four by pick number 72. It’ll be fun to look back on this class in a few years to see how they’ve done.
Maybe none of the picks panned out, or maybe Pittsburgh drafted four generational all-stars and their 2021 draft class will go down in history as one of the best ever. Only time will tell, but for now, these players have a long ways to go, and the lowest minor league levels are calling.