By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
The No. 1 player in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft on Thursday night was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Unfortunately, they were a year early.
Right-handed pitcher Mark Appel of Stanford got away with a huge gamble, turning down $3.8 million from the Pirates last year after they selected him with the eighth pick in the draft, to return to Stanford.
It paid off big time as the hometown Houston Astros, who had passed on him a year ago when they also possessed the first pick, used it to select him this year, the pick being worth at least $7.8 million.
“For us, we felt like it was the best move,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said in an interview on MLB Network. “Last year was a different circumstance.”
If this was a different circumstance for the Astros, it was a different one for the Pirates, too, who picked up a compensatory first-round selection, picking ninth and 14th this year.
They used the ninth selection on outfielder Austin Meadows, who hit .535 with 14 doubles, one triple, four home runs and 28 RBIs as a senior this year at Grayson (Ga.) High School. He was rated as the third-best position player and the fifth-best player overall in this year’s draft by Baseball America. He was also rated by the same publication as the “Best Athlete,” having the “Best Strike Zone Judgment,” as well as the second-best “Pure Hitter” and “Closest Player to the Majors” among high school players.
Meadows was obviously thrilled with being selected by the Pirates, unlike Appel a year earlier, saying it was a humbling experience and admitting, “I can’t wait to meet Andrew McCutchen.”
The idea the Pirates have in mind is having the two of them in the same outfield in the future.
The 14th selection was used to select high school catcher Reese McGuire, who as a senior in the state of Washington hit .436 with 13 doubles, three triples, four home runs and 20 RBIs. He was rated as the fifth-best position player and the 12th-best player overall in this year’s draft by Baseball America. He was also rated by the same publication as the second-best “Defensive Player” among high school picks in the draft.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington hedged when asked if he had gone for the best available players or those with the greatest upside.
“These were the best available and we also liked the upside to them. I don’t know there’s any safe player in a draft. These were the players we liked best in each of our spots,” he said.
And there was much to like about each.
Huntington would not go so far as to pin Meadows with the tag of being a five-tool player.
“That’s an awful lot to put on a kid,” he said. “We like the athlete. We like the frame. We like the tool package. There’s a lot to like in this young man. Who does he compare with in the major leagues? That’s not something we want to get into. He does a lot of things on the baseball field very well. He makes use of the five tools very well, some better than others.”
And McGuire is a solid defensive player at a key position while also a strong offensive threat.
“We really like the way he receives, the way he blocks, the way he throws. He calls his own game and has forever, which is really unique in this industry. Even in high school the coaches are calling games more frequently than not,” Huntington said.
“My dad and my uncle coached me in Little League and that’s where it all began. Calling my own game definitely has helped me become the player I am. I feel really natural behind the dish, bonding with my pitcher and becoming a leader out there. I think it’s a tremendous asset and it transferred over to my hitting and offense, knowing situations and what pitches are likely to come,” he said.
“Offensively, we like the mechanics, we like the swing, we like the impact,” Huntington added. “We believe he has the attributes to be a major league-caliber hitter. You add that to the defensive package at the catcher position and you get a pretty good defensive player.”
That they selected a pair of high school players gives the Pirates more time to work with them, if they can sign them. They have committed to the University of San Diego and Clemson.
“Obviously the more baseball you can play, the better it is,” Huntington said. “That’s why the minor leagues are the way they are; you go level to level. Baseball is a game of repetition. Baseball is a game of learning. Northern hitters, you like the fact there’s more room for growth there. Southern hitters are more what you see is what you get, but both of these players have attributes we like. Meadows has a chance to be a very good hitter with power.”
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.