Pirates minor league preview:  Bradenton

Some of the star power won't be in evidence to open the season, but Bradenton features some good pitching prospects, an interesting middle infield and one potential power hitter.

Earlier in the off-season, Bradenton looked like it would have a loaded rotation to headline its roster.  Those plans have gone a little awry, as Clay Holmes had Tommy John surgery and will miss the season, and Tyler Glasnow will miss at least the first 2-3 weeks due to some back stiffness that hampered him in camp.  In addition, the Pirates decided to send Luis Heredia back to West Virginia to open the season.

Nevertheless, the Marauders will have plenty of interesting prospects.  Apart from Josh Bell, they'll have legitimate prospects in the middle infield and behind the plate.  The pitching staff will have some potential, too, illustrating the fact that the Pirates' prep-pitching strategy hit its stride in their post-2009 drafts.

Catcher: In some ways the most interesting player to watch will be Jin-De Jhang, who'll split the catching duties with Jacob Stallings and possibly also serve as DH part of the time.  The Pirates addressed a catching logjam at West Virginia in part by jumping Jhang over that level and sending him to Bradenton.  He's probably better situated than many young players to make the jump, because he has relatively advanced skills, both at and behind the plate.  Stallings is a superior defensive catcher who'll be repeating the level.

Infield: The strength of the infield should be up the middle.  Last year's 6th round pick, Adam Frazier, will skip low A and handle shortstop, while West Virginia's 2013 shortstop, Max Moroff, will move to second.  Both players have shown good on-base skills and could provide a strong top of the order.  Jose Osuna will play first.  He's repeating the level after struggling throughout 2013.  He's still only 21 and wasn't overwhelmed, at least judging by his K rate, so he could still adjust.

I'm not sure what the Marauders will do at third.  Two possibilities -- Dan Gamache and Benji Gonzalez -- aren't currently on any roster.  Gamache, who played second for the Marauders last year, lost the Altoona 3B job to Jarek Cunningham.  Bradenton will have D.J. Crumlich and Jordan Steranka to start the season.  Crumlich is a good defender, but he hasn't hit much and profiles more as a utility player.  Steranka played mostly at first in half a season at West Virginia last year, but he played third at Penn State.  He struggled with the bat in 2013.  Another possibility is Walker Gourley, who had a strong season for West Virginia last year after struggling through his first four pro seasons.  He's played everywhere, including mostly the outfield lately.  At the start of the season, the Marauders will also have Ashley Ponce, a utility infielder with a good glove.

Outfield: Bell obviously highlights the Bradenton outfield and may be the only power source, unless Osuna turns things around.  He'll look to earn a mid-season promotion, as Gregory Polanco did last year.  The other outfielders are Jeff Roy, Raul Fortunato and Jonathan Schwind.  Roy is a speedy player with no power who takes a lot of pitches and drew a lot of walks in short season ball, but he also strikes out a lot.  Fortunato has solid tools across the board, but no especially outstanding one.  Schwind is a converted catcher who serves as an organizational player.  Given the options, it's likely Gourley will play a lot in the outfield as well.

Rotation: The star power will arrive in Bradenton when Glasnow -- who was the hardest pitcher to hit in minor league baseball last year -- arrives after recovering from his back issues, and when Heredia gets promoted.  Still, the rotation will show that the Pirates can draft prep pitchers after all, even apart from Glasnow.  Jason Creasy and Ryan Hafner are both expected to start for the Marauders.  Creasy had a good season with West Virginia last year, with an especially strong finish.  Hafner pitched in relief, parlaying a new slider to a 10.6 K/9.

Two other pitchers who figure to be in the rotation are Chad Kuhl and John Kuchno.  Kuhl is a sinkerball pitcher who was drafted only in the 9th round last year, but he's apparently made an impression on the Pirates.  His velocity has been in the mid-90s at least some of the time and he'll be skipping over low A.  Kuchno is another big college righty who was drafted in 2012 and whose velocity also has gotten into the mid-90s at times.  He improved steadily after a shaky start for West Virginia in 2013.  The remaining starter will probably be Tyler Waldron, Robby Rowland or lefty Orlando Castro.  Rowland struggled with Bradenton last year, as did Castro after a mid-season promotion.  Waldron has struggled the last two years at both Altoona and Bradenton, and also missed much of last year due to shoulder problems.

Bullpen: The most interesting pitcher in the bullpen will be Jhondaniel Medina, whom the Bucs acquired from Baltimore for Yamaico Navarro.  Medina is similar to a bunch of other Latin RH relievers in the system, including Altoona pitchers Emmanuel De Leon and Joan Montero:  he's a smallish pitcher with a fastball that gets up around 94 mph.  He fanned 14 batters per nine innings last year in low A, but has control issues.  Other relievers coming up from West Virginia include Bryton Trepagnier, a fastball/slider pitcher who made some progress A last year. and Thomas Harlan, a tall left-handed soft tosser who had impressive numbers.  The Marauders will also have Pat Ludwig, who pitched well as a swing man with both class A teams last year, and Josh Smith, an organizational lefty.

Outlook

The Marauders could struggle to score runs.  Apart from Bell, it's possible they could get little offense from the corner positions.  Jhang also may need adjustment time.  The rotation, though, should be good, and will get a big boost when Glasnow is ready.

Regulars

1B: Jose Osuna
2B: Max Moroff
3B: DJ Crumlich/Jordan Steranka
SS: Adam Frazier
OF: Josh Bell, Raul Fortunato, Jeff Roy
3B/OF/DH: Walker Gourley

Rotation: Chad Kuhl, Jason Creasy, Ryan Hafner, John Kuchno, Robby Rowland (later Tyler Glasnow)

Key Relievers: Jhondaniel Medina, Bryton Trepagnier, Thomas Harlan

Top Prospects: Glasnow, Bell

Darkhorse: Hafner

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