GCL Pirates season review

Chung Sung-Jun

Strong debuts from a pair of first-round picks highlight the season

The GCL Pirates had an unusual team in a couple respects.  In most seasons they haven't had a first round draft pick on the roster because the Pirates have usually drafted college players, or in the case of Jameson Taillon a high school player who signed late and debuted in full season ball.  This season's entry, though, had not one but two first round picks, both taken in the first half of the round.

Another difference from recent Pirates rookie league teams was the presence of several college seniors.  That was reminiscent of the previous administration, which loaded the rookie level roster with older players for no apparent reason.  Of course, the previous administration didn't have an Austin Meadows or a Reese McGuire to go with the older players.  I don't know for sure, but I think one reason may be the fact that a large percentage of the players who've reached the GCL from the Dominican Summer League have been good enough to move on up, rather than lingering for multiple years in the GCL, like they did in the bad old days.  That may have created a need to add college players.  In any event, the result was that the GCL Pirates' hitters were slightly older than the league average and the pitchers were exactly the league average age.  The team's lower level affiliates have usually fielded rosters that have been younger than league average, often much younger.

In no small part due to the contributions of Meadows and McGuire, the GCL Pirates won their division with a 33-27 record, although they were quickly bounced from the playoffs.  The team finished fourth in the 16-team Gulf Coast League in scoring, but only 12th in staff ERA.

The Hitters

Obviously, the featured position players were Meadows and McGuire, both of whom lived up to expectations.  Meadows got hot after starting slowly and finished at 294/399/519, with five HRs.  He added two more HRs in five games after a promotion to Jamestown.  McGuire hit 330/388/392, with nearly as many walks as strikeouts, and played outstanding defense behind the plate.  That included throwing out 44% of opposing base stealers.

Two other high school draftees struggled.  Shortstop Trae Arbet posted only a .496 OPS and struck out more than ten times as often as he walked.  He also had trouble in the field, committing 21 errors in 38 games.  Outfielder Nick Buckner struck out five times as often as he walked, but unlike Arbet he started making progress over the last ten days or so.  He finished at 245/290/347.  A third high school draftee, speedy outfielder Candon Myles, returned to the GCL for the third time and hit 291/367/305 before a late promotion to Jamestown.

Four players moving up from the DSL had mixed results.  Catcher Daniel Arribas, who ended up playing mainly at first after McGuire arrived, hit 307/399/380 despite a slow start.  Second baseman Ulises Montilla hit 290/364/439.  At 20 and 21, respectively, neither was especially young for the level.  Carlos Ozuna played short until Arbet arrived and then mostly played second.  He struggled at the plate, posting just a .519 OPS.  Maximo Rivera played mainly at first, which is a bad sign in itself, and hit just 244/330/337.  Another Dominican player, Enyel Vallejo, signed at a later age and never played in the DSL.  He's ostensibly a shortstop but played mainly the outfield, hitting 306/325/468.

The college seniors struggled.  Adam Landecker was the team's primary third baseman, but hit only 220/322/317.  Outfielder Justin Maffei hit just 237/298/342.  One junior college player, third baseman Beau Wallace, opened the season at Jamestown and struggled badly.  After he was demoted to the GCL, he hit just 149/282/161.

The Pitchers

Managing a pitching "staff" in rookie ball is largely a matter of trying out numerous pitchers to see which ones can stay healthy and throw enough strikes to get through an inning or two.  The Pirates used 29 pitchers this year, but quite a few appeared only briefly and some of the others appear unlikely to go much farther.

The GCL Bucs featured a handful of interesting high school draftees, the most prominent of which was this year's second round draft pick, lefty Blake Taylor.  He pitched sparingly in his debut, but allowed only seven hits in 21 innings and posted a 2.57 ERA.  His walk and strikeout rates weren't as good, but he didn't even turn 18 until near the end of the season.  The GCL staff featured two of the Pirates' standard "projectable," tall, high school righties in Neil Kozikowski and Jon Sandfort, the latter of whom was drafted in 2012.  Kozikowski didn't miss many bats, but he had a 2.62 ERA and walked only three in 24 innings.  Sandfort fanned almost a batter an inning, but was erratic otherwise and finished with an ERA of 4.95.  Another high school righty, Billy Roth, had a 9:10 BB:K ratio, but still managed a 3.26 ERA.

The GCL Bucs had three interesting international signees on their staff.  One was Taiwanese lefty Wei-Chung Wang, who was coming off Tommy John surgery.  He led the team in innings and posted a 3.23 ERA, with an impressive WHIP of 0.87, and eight strikeouts and less than one walk per nine innings.  Wang relies heavily on a curve, which can be enough by itself to dominate low-level hitters, so it'll be interesting to see how he does at higher levels.  Dominican lefty Cesilio Pimentel was a little erratic, with an ERA (3.97) that was worse than his other numbers, including a 1.18 WHIP.  Righty Adrian Grullon showed a mid-90s fastball and fanned over ten per nine innings, but struggled at times and missed the second half of the season with an injury.

Finally, another college draftee, lefty Cameron Griffin, posted a 1.90 ERA and fanned eleven per nine innings.  He also walked over five per nine, though.

Biggest Surprise: Vallejo, although I doubt he'll actually be a prospect.

Biggest Disappointment: Arbet.

Top Prospects

  1. Austin Meadows, CF
  2. Reese McGuire, C
  3. Blake Taylor, LHP
  4. Adrian Grullon, RHP
  5. Cesilio Pimentel, LHP
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