The Jamestown Jammers open their first season as a Pirate affiliate on Monday. Of course, it may also be their next-to-last season with the Bucs, because the team is hoping to move its New York-Penn League presence to Morgantown, West Virginia. Until then, though, the team will operate out of upstate New York.
The roster of a short season team is usually in a constant state of flux as the organization sorts through the players and learns which ones have the most potential to advance. For that reason, it’s not always possible to say which players will be regulars, starters, relievers and so on. To an extent, the players’ performance will dictate playing time. There will usually be more players than the team has room for, and this year is no exception.
At this stage, the marquee players on the team will be outfielders Harold Ramirez and Elvis Escobar (pictured), catcher Jin-De Jhang, and LHP Cody Dickson. That won’t change dramatically, due to the fact that the Pirates’ top three draft picks were all prep players who figure to report to the Gulf Coast League once they sign. The Jammers should get some noteworthy reinforcements, though, in the form of IF/OF JaCoby Jones (3rd round), SS Adam Frazier (6th) and RHP Buddy Borden (7th). The Pirates have been unable to negotiate with Jones and Frazier due to their schools’ advancement in the College World Series.
The main catchers will be Jhang and 15th round draft pick Max Rossiter. Jhang has shown advanced hitting skills and could add power as he gets older. He came to camp in much improved condition and has better catching skills than you might think. Rossiter is a defensive specialist who struggled to hit as a senior. The Pirates always have at least a few catchers in camp who can fill in as needed. One player not on the opening roster is Samuel Gonzalez, who looked like a good catching prospect two years ago, but played mainly first last year due to a shoulder problem. It’s unknown whether he’ll ever surface again as a catcher.
Regulars: Jin-De Jhang, Max Rossiter
The primary first baseman will probably be Danny Collins, a 13th round pick out of Troy who’s put up impressive hitting numbers. Collins’ low draft round may have resulted from scouts’ dislike of right-handed-hitting first basemen, because his bat has drawn good reviews. The third baseman could be Beau Wallace, a junior college draftee who showed the ability in JC ball to hit for average and control the strike zone. Edwin Espinal could share time at both positions and, of course, he, Collins or Wallace can serve as DH. Espinal is a big but raw hitter who’s made strides with the strike zone but who has yet to tap into his power potential. The Pirates initially tried him at third, then moved him to first. He slimmed down considerably during the off-season, though, and could get another crack at third. Another possibility for time at third is Yhonathan Barrios, a high-profile Latin American signee who hasn’t developed with the bat. Kevin Ross, a prep draftee from last year who has power potential, could also move up at some point.
Regulars: Danny Collins, Beau Wallace, Edwin Espinal
The primary shortstop will probably be Frazier once he signs. Until then, the team has Michael Fransoso, Jimmy Rider, Jodaneli Carvajal and Francisco Aponte. Fransoso was drafted in the 27th round this year and profiles as a bat-first infielder. Rider mostly struggled after being drafted last year. Carvajal was another high-profile Latin signee who hasn’t shown enough with the bat to advance. Aponte is a defense-minded utility player at the lower levels. Other players who aren’t on the roster right now are Chris Diaz, who was drafted last year and didn’t hit, and Adam Landecker, this year’s 21st round pick out of USC.
Regulars: Michael Fransoso, Jimmy Rider, Jodaneli Carvjal (eventually Adam Frazier, Adam Landecker)
The two most prominent of the Jammers’ hitting prospects will be Ramirez and Escobar. They’re similar players: small outfielders with good speed and advanced hitting skills. Of the two, Ramirez got the larger bonus and has the higher ceiling. Both could see time in center. Currently, the other two outfielders on the roster are Jesus Vasquez and 18th round pick Jeff Roy. Vasquez has power but also has some contact issues. He could see time at first. Roy is a speedy leadoff type who had a down year in his last college season. Justin Maffei, this year’s 25th round pick, is not on the roster but could see time with the Jammers latter. Two other players not on the roster are Candon Myles and Luis Urena, both of whom have played more than one season in the GCL. Myles has great speed but a questionable bat. Urena is a very toolsy player with power potential, but he’s had serious problems with offspeed stuff.
Regulars: Harold Ramirez, Elvis Escobar, Jeff Roy
There isn’t much distinction between starters and relievers at this level. Jamestown will undoubtedly have piggybacking with a lot of four-inning starts and four-inning relief outings. I’m going to focus initially on the pitchers who figure to play the largest roles, but any of the pitchers on the roster, or any of the pitchers who ultimately move up from extended spring training could win more innings for himself.
Dickson probably has the highest ceiling of any pitcher likely to be at Jamestown. He’s more of a project than the typical college pitcher, but he’s reached the mid-90s and scouts think he still has some projection. Of this year’s draftees, 9th rounder Chad Kuhl, 10th rounder Shane Carle and 17th rounder Justin Topa, all righties, should play significant roles. If and when the Pirates sign Borden, his sometimes-mid-90s fastball will earn him regular innings.
Two of the more interesting pitchers on the roster are Isaac Sanchez, who’s slated to start on opening day, and Dovydas Neverauskas, two more righties. Sanchez is a 6’0” Dominican who was actually born in the Bronx. He has a live arm and sits around 92-93, but he’s had command issues. So far he’s pitched mainly in short relief, so the Pirates evidently are trying to get him stretched out. The Lithuanian Neverauskas has inconsistent velocity, ranging anywhere from the upper-80s to the mid-90s, but his command is improving and he has the makings of an effective curve. Another pitcher who’ll play a significant role is another of the team’s “projectible prep righties,” Colten Brewer. He hasn’t had a lot of opportunities so far because he’s had trouble staying healthy.
Two international signees, again both righties, also could play big roles. Dominican finesse pitcher Axel Diaz was a regular starter in the GCL last year. Cesar Lopez, who signed out of Cuba for $600,000 back in 2010, has had trouble getting past the GCL but could see some meaningful innings at Jamestown.
Of the remaining pitchers on the roster, Kevin Kleis and Dave Jagoditsh are big (6’8” and 6’7”, respectively) righties who’ve had trouble staying on the field and, in Jagoditsh’s case, throwing strikes. Lance Breedlove was drafted last year and pitched well in the NYPL, but is headed back there, possibly showing that the Pirates aren’t sure about his ceiling. Brett McKinney was drafted in the 19th round this year and has a better history working in relief. The team’s three lefties are converted first baseman Jared Lakind, who’ll open on the disabled list; soft-tossing Australian Jackson Lodge; and Jovany Lopez, a small lefty who spent four seasons in the Latin American summer leagues. Finally Kurt Yacko was recently signed as a minor league free agent and plans to convert full-time to throwing a knuckleball.
Significant Pitchers: Cody Dickson, Chad Kuhl, Shane Carle, Isaac Sanchez, Dovydas Neverauskas, Colten Brewer (eventually Buddy Borden)