The Bradenton Marauders: A Guess At The Roster

The 2011 Bradenton Marauders will mostly consist of last year's West Virginia players, who combined obvious skills with weaknesses that were equally obvious. As these guys, especially the hitters, move up, they'll be tested at each level, because the closer you get to the big leagues, the harder it is to succeed while having serious trouble making contact, for example. So this should be an interesting season for the Marauders - most of their players will be appropriate ages for the level, and many of them have a chance to either emerge as legitimate prospects or flop completely. They also will have a number of pitchers who are returning from serious injuries.

Thanks, again, to WTM's organizational depth chart, which makes posts like this way easier than they might be.

CATCHER

Ramon Cabrera struggled through his full-season debut in West Virginia last year, but probably not so much that the Pirates won't move him up. He'll get the bulk of the playing time behind the plate, followed by some combination of Jordan Newton, Jairo Marquez and Travis Scott. Scott is pretty much pure minor-league depth, but Newton and Marquez are at least somewhat interesting. Newton plainly can hit, but he's too old for the level; if he winds up with Bradenton, he'll probably also see time at DH. Marquez has played well in fits and starts, and isn't especially old, but the Pirates have yet to clear a space for him.

FIRST BASE

This will be Aaron Baker and hopefully also Matt Curry. Curry is much more interesting than Baker, at this stage - Baker didn't hit nearly enough last year for a 22-year-old with no defensive value in Class A. There's also Calvin Anderson, who didn't hit much for Bradenton last year, but I'm guessing he'll be at Altoona in 2011. There isn't an obvious first baseman in Altoona if he's not there, and the Pirates usually prefer moving players who might be prospects up at least once a year, rather than keeping them at the same level.

MIDDLE INFIELD

Jarek Cunningham should be the Marauders' second baseman, and he'll face a challenge in his quest to learn to hit offspeed pitches. Benjamin Gonzalez, who didn't hit at West Virginia but who played solid defense, should be the shortstop. Greg Picart, a capable organizational player, could back them up. Cunningham and Gonzalez are both good ages for the level, but either one could struggle. With a step forward, Cunningham could emerge this year as one of the Pirates' top prospects, but he could easily flop as well.

THIRD BASE

Hopefully this will be Elevys Gonzalez. Jesus Brito, who struggled in West Virginia but has very good power, could also pick up at bats here.

OUTFIELD

Assuming Starling Marte and Robbie Grossman move up to Altoona (and I think they probably will, although Grossman is young enough that it might not be an awful idea to let him consolidate his skills at Bradenton for a while), this year's Marauders outfield will be a little less prospect-packed than last year's. Evan Chambers should be the starting centerfielder, and as with Cunningham, his promotion could represent a big test. Chambers needs to be more aggressive and strike out a lot less, or pitchers with more advanced control will eat him alive. Still, with power, speed and on-base ability, he has upside.

Rogelios Noris will likely be in one of the corners. Noris struggled in West Virginia, striking out 144 times compared to 15 walks, so he represents a serious risk of collapsing completely as he moves up. The other outfield spot will probably be occupied by David Rubinstein and Jose Hernandez, who are probably both organizational players.

STARTING PITCHING

Quinton Miller's development has been slowed by injuries, but he has terrific stuff, and there's no reason he can't succeed in Bradenton if he's healthy. It's also possible the Pirates could send him to West Virginia, but given the number of pitchers who need innings there, Bradenton seems like a more likely destination. Brett Lorin, who will be 24 after missing most of 2010 with injury, should be at Bradenton as well. Yet another injured pitcher, Hunter Strickland, should take another spot in the rotation if he's healthy.

Phillip Irwin, who pitched very well at West Virginia last year, should also stick in a starting role. The same goes for Kyle McPherson, and it will be interesting to see how McPherson's homer-allowing ways play in Bradenton and against more advanced hitters.

There's also the possibility that the Pirates could send Tim Alderson back to Bradenton. If they need any starting pitching beyond that, they could turn to Jason Erickson, Gabriel Alvarado or Matt McSwain.

Miller is pretty clearly a legit prospect, and the Pirates evidently believe McPherson is one too. Beyond that, who knows. Given the logjam of pitching at West Virginia, it will be interesting to see what happens to guys like Irwin and Strickland if any of the Power's pitchers break out and win promotions midway through the season.

UPDATE: A couple people in the comments have asked about Nate Baker. My guess is that he'll be at Altoona, regardless of whether someone like Irwin outperformed him last year. As an early-round draft pick, I think the Pirates will be more aggressive with Baker than they will with most prospects, and since Baker survived late last season in Bradenton (albeit with more homers than you'd like to see), my guess is that they'll just move him up. It is possible he could remain in Bradenton, however.

RELIEF

If healthy, Victor Black should be the Marauders' top reliever, followed by undersized lefty Elicier Navarro and then starters or former starters who don't make the rotation (such as Erickson, Alvarado, and Maurice Bankston) and organizational guys (Zachary Foster, Mike Williams, Marc Baca). My guess is that it's also possible that 2010 Marauders closer Noah Krol could return, although the Pirates could also send him to Altoona.

If Duke Welker is still with the organization, the Bucs could send him back to the Bradenton bullpen, although he struggles to strike out more batters than he walks. Welker threw very hard last year, though, and the Pirates put up with Mike Felix's Rick Ankiel act for a very long time.

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