Draft Report: Mitch Keller, High School Pitcher

With their regular second-round pick in Thursday night's First-Year Player Draft, the Pirates selected right-hander Mitch Keller from Xavier (Iowa) High School.

Keller, chosen overall No. 64, is regarded as Iowa's top prospect -- laurels he inherited from older brother Jon, who had that rank in 2010.

"Mitch is a high-ceiling right-hander," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said of the lean 6-foot-3, 195-pounder. "We like the frame, and the quality of his pitches."

Brother Jon's experiences could influence the direction of Mitch, who has a college commitment to North Carolina. Jon opted to attend the University of Tampa, and eventually signed with the Orioles as a 22nd-round Draft pick. Mitch Keller's high Draft status could also play a part in deciding his next step.

"Whenever I talk to him about it, he says to sign pro ball because you never know what's going to happen," Mitch told the Cedar Rapids Gazette a month ago. "You could get hurt, things could not go your way, like what happened to him."

A premier baseball program such as North Carolina's could be competition for Keller's services. However, Huntington expressed optimism in being able to reach agreements with each of the Pirates' first-day selections, which also included prep shortstop Cole Tucker (at No. 24) and University of San Diego outfielder-first baseman Connor Joe (No. 39) before Keller, and La Grange High (Texas) School righty Trey Supak (No. 73) after him.

"Signability never drives our selections," Huntington said. "We make them based on how we like them. But I hope and expect to get them all signed, and get them out soon to start their careers. I'm optimistic about getting all four of these to agree to terms. At the end of the day, these are four very good players we look forward to getting into our system."

The Pirates' bonus allotment at pick No. 64 is $886,800.

"I'd probably say if the pick and money are right, then I'll definitely sign to play pro ball," Keller told the Gazette in that May 10 interview. "You can't really pass up that amount of money. It's life changing. But I'm taking it as a win-win situation either way. North Carolina is a great school, a great program. I'm excited about both ways."

Keller developed dramatically as a senior, adding 6 to 8 mph to a fastball that now regularly registers in the 90-94 mph range and pairs with a sharp-breaking curve.

The Draft continues Friday with Rounds 3-10. The MLB.com pregame show begins at 12:30 p.m. ET, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 3-10 beginning at 1 p.m. ET.

Pirates select shortstop Tucker at No. 24

Draft 2014: Pirates draft SS Cole Tucker No. 24

With their top selection in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, the Pirates on Thursday night selected Cole Tucker, an Arizona high school shortstop, at No. 24.

The choice of Tucker, from Mountain Pointe High School, was a major surprise to most Draft analysts, who had Tucker rated in the low end of the nation's top prospects.

But not to Tucker himself. The impressively introspective and confident 17-year-old not only anticipated the Pirates' pick, but doesn't think it will take long to pay off.

"I knew they had a lot of interest. The scouting department has been great about staying in touch with me," Tucker said on a brief conference call with reporters. "I'm excited. I heard it's a great place to play, and I'm stoked to be a part of it.

"Shortstop really is all I've known," Tucker added. "I think I can play shortstop in the big leagues. I feel like it's my best position on the field, and look forward to playing for the Pirates in the big leagues soon."

The consensus had Tucker rated lower than the Bucs' two ensuing Draft turns, at Nos. 39 and 64.

However, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington scoffed at the notion they could have held off on Tucker's selection.

"We didn't think he would get to us at 39," Huntington said. "We felt he was the best player available on our board. With all due respect to the experts … these are young men we are betting on, on their characteristics, work ethic -- as well as what you can see with your eyes."

Or, your ears.

The son of John Tucker, who played his way into the Florida High School Hall of Fame as a shortstop in Melbourne, Cole Tucker has a mature approach to excelling at baseball.

"Repetition ... that's the key to anything in life," he said. "My dad always told me, 'If you take enough ground balls and work hard enough, you can be a Major League shortstop.' Scouts were always saying about me, 'Great athlete. Great kid. But can he hit?' I've worked hard to get my offense to catch up to my defense."

Tucker is the first shortstop to become the Pirates' highest Draft choice since 1995, when they selected Chad Hermensen, also a prep player from Nevada who became a career Minor Leaguer, playing 13 years with five different organizations.

Tucker was recently rated as the second-best high school player in the talent-rich state of Arizona.

Tucker is a lightweight (6-foot-3, 165 pounds) switch-hitter whose major tools are speed and defensive athleticism. He starred on the 18-and-under U.S. National Team that won the World Cup with a 3-2 win over Japan in Taiwan in September.

"One of the coolest things I've ever done," he said of that experience. "to jump into that atmosphere, and to be looked on as a leader-type player. The way I play and carry myself, I think my teammates can learn from that and maybe look up to it."

Tucker batted .404 as a senior this season, with 13 stolen bases and 30 RBIs.

"His upside is just starting to be scratched," Huntington said. "We've watched him a long time. We like his range, his fluidity. As a 17-year-old, he is just beginning to grow into his body."

Tucker turns 18 in a month and has committed to the University of Arizona, but his unexpectedly-high Draft selection is likely to keep him off campus. The Pirates' bonus slot at No. 24 is valued at $1,925,500.

"Our expectations are that Cole is ready to take this next step, and start riding some buses," said Huntington, referring to the chief Minor League means of transportation. "We still have the challenge of going through the negotiating process."

Tucker's selection at No. 24 matched the lowest first pick the Pirates have ever had in the First-Year Player Draft, in its 50th year. The Bucs' lowest selection was also at No. 24 in 1973 and 1991, but they have never gotten in on the action later.

The Draft continues on Friday with Rounds 3-10. The MLB.com pregame show begins at 12:30 p.m. ET, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 3-10 beginning at 1p.m. ET.

Bucs use pick acquired from Miami to select OF Joe

Draft 2014: Pirates draft OF Connor Joe No. 39

Connor Joe has a hitter's name.

The Pirates are convinced he also has a hitter's swing.

That's why the Bucs made the University of San Diego player their second selection -- at No. 39 -- of Thursday night's First-Year Player Draft.

2014 Draft Central

The 5-foot-11, 185-pound right-handed hitter shows up on most prospects lists as a slasher: First baseman-slash-outfielder. Joe also transitioned to doing some catching last summer, in the Cape Cod League, and this collegiate season.

"But Joe is just an offensive player," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "He does a lot of things we like. A good swing, with gap-to-gap power. We'll send him out as a right fielder, and let his bat play."

Joe's bat played to team-leading nine homers and 51 RBIs this season, as he hit .367 in 53 games for the Toreros.

This pick, acquired from Miami via Sunday's trade of reliever Bryan Morris, followed the Pirates' first-round pick of prep shortstop Cole Tucker -- the first shortstop taken by the Bucs with their first pick since Chad Hermansen, in 1995.

The Pirates followed the selection of Joe by taking Iowa high-school righty Mitch Keller with (No. 64) and concluded their first night with another prep righty, Texas' Trey Supak, at No. 73.

The Draft continues on Friday with Rounds 3-10. The MLB.com pregame show begins at 12:30 p.m. ET, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 3-10 beginning at 1p.m. ET.

The selection of Joe at No. 39 came as a stunner to many Draft analysts. On MLB.com's list of prospects, for instance, Joe was rated No. 110.

"We value some things differently," Joe DelliCarri, the Pirates' director of amateur scouting, said by way of justifying such unexpected picks. "We do find some things in our core set of values that perhaps are different from what other teams or people look at. And we are very consistent in that. There are many good players out there and, as far as we're concerned, we put our energies into those who answer our core values."

Asked for specifics of what some of those values are, Huntington affably declined.

"That would be giving away what's in the secret sauce," the GM said.

Pirates take high-school pitcher Supak with 73rd pick

Draft Report: Trey Supak, HS Pitcher

The Bucs ranged into seldom mined, but familiar, territory for their final selection Thursday night in Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft.

With the overall No. 73 pick, the Pirates selected right-hander Trey Supak from La Grange High (Texas) School.

2014 Draft Central

La Grange doesn't often funnel ballplayers into MLB's Draft. But the last time it did, in 2004, his name was Homer Bailey, who was the overall No. 7 pick that year by Cincinnati and now is one of the pitching aces of the current Reds.

Supak, at 6-foot-5, weighs 210 pounds but, as noted by Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, "is still filling out his frame."

"He's a large-frame guy with an interesting mix of pitches," Huntington added.

Supak became the third high school player of the four chosen by the Bucs in the Draft's opening phase.

This marked the second consecutive Draft that the Pirates went for prep players with three of their first four Draft picks. Last June, their top three choices were high schoolers Austin Meadows, Reese McGuire and Blake Taylor. That had been the first time since 1999 that the Pirates showed that Draft M.O.

Dismissing any concrete change in organizational philosophy, Huntington attributed the new trend to "continuing to take the best player available. Whoever the best fit, is the right pick."

Supak was a perfect 9-0 as a senior and turned 18 on Saturday. He is considered to have a huge upside.

Supak has both a commitment to the University of Houston, and a family tie to that school, where uncle Jody Supak was an All-American pitcher and became a 12th round Draft pick of the Tigers in 1987.

Supak's selection wrapped up an intense, busy opening night of the First-Year Player Draft for the Pirates, who followed first-round pick Arizona prep shortstop Cole Tucker (at No. 24) with University of San Diego outfielder-first baseman Connor Joe (No. 39) and Iowa high-school righty Mitch Keller with (No. 64).

"We feel really good," Huntington said in summing up the night at the Pirates' Draft bunker. "This was the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of great people doing really good things, many of them under the radar.

"We feel tremendous about what we were able to get, and are excited about what [Friday] and Saturday bring."

The Draft continues on Friday with Rounds 3-10. The MLB.com pregame show begins at 12:30 p.m. ET, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 3-10 beginning at 1 p.m. ET.