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Bradenton season review

Several top prospects highlighted the Marauders' season, but once they moved on things got bleak.

Like Altoona, Bradenton had a rough season in 2013.  The Marauders opened the year with eight straight losses and never recovered.  They finished with a 57-77 record, worst in the Florida State League.  Also like the Curve, Bradenton had several of the Pirates' top prospects for part of the year, but most of the other prospects struggled to varying degrees.  The Marauders had to withstand the promotion of most of their players who were performing well, without getting equivalent replacements from West Virginia, but they somehow rallied for a 16-11 record in August and September.  Despite playing in the league's best hitters park, Bradenton finished ninth in the twelve-team league in runs.  Their pitching staff was tenth in ERA.

The Hitters

The Marauders' marquee players at the start of the year were the Pirates' top two position playing prospects, outfielder Gregory Polanco and shortstop Alen Hanson.  Polanco hit the ground running, adapting to the new level quickly and hitting 312/364/472, with 24 steals in 28 tries, before earning a mid-season promotion.  Hanson hit the ground face-first, struggling at the plate and in the field.  After committing ten errors in ten games, he got a few days off and settled down, committing just 15 more in his last 82 games at short in the FSL.  Hanson also overcame a .654 April OPS to finish at 281/339/444 before a late-July promotion.

After the two top hitters, it was mostly slim pickings.  Willy Garcia led the team with 16 HRs and showed off a powerful outfield arm, but his 23:154 BB:K ratio bodes very poorly for him as he faces higher level pitching.  Second baseman Dan Gamache had a solid but uninspiring season for a college draftee in his second full year, hitting 258/342/373, although he did hit 34 doubles.  1B/DH Jose Osuna struggled all year, finishing at 244/298/357.  On the plus side, he played the season at age 20 and had a passable BB:K ratio of 35:76.  The Marauders' catching duo was one of the more interesting aspects of the position playing contingent.  Defensive specialist Jacob Stallings had a low average but decent OBP and SLG (219/352/371) after jumping up to high A in his first full year.  A lot of his production, though, including five of his six HRs, came in the season's first three games and in another three-game stretch near the season's end.  Elias Diaz, also a good defensive catcher, got the shorter end of the tandem and had by far his best pro season at the plate, hitting 279/382/399.

Apart from Polanco and Hanson, easily the most recognizable position player on the team was first baseman Stetson Allie, who moved up at mid-season after pulverizing South Atlantic League pitching.  The extensive holes in Allie's swing made good targets for high A pitchers, as he struggled to a 229/342/356 line, with strikeouts in over a third of his ABs.  Allie did draw walks in about 15% of his plate appearances, so the problem isn't an unwillingness to work the count.  Another potential prospect, Gift Ngoepe, went in the other direction, moving down for the final month after being overmatched at the plate in AA.  Ngoepe hit much better after the demotion, with a 292/424/427 line, but he still struck out in nearly 40% of his ABs.

The bulk of the remaining playing time went to organizational players and prospects who appear to have stalled at the level.  Infielder Benji Gonzalez and outfielders Junior Sosa and Taylor Lewis all posted OPS figures very close to .600.  Another outfielder, Cuban defector Carlos Mesa, showed good power, with 21 doubles and nine HRs in about half a season's worth of ABs, but 11 walks and 99 Ks led to a .260 OBP.

The Pitchers

Many of the Marauders' starters had disappointing seasons.  The three exceptions, each interesting in a different way, were Nick Kingham and Eliecer Navarro in the first half of the season and Joely Rodriguez in the second.  Kingham took a major step forward, going 6-3, 3.09 in 13 starts.  He rode improving velocity and secondary stuff to a 0.99 WHIP, 1.8 BB/9 and 9.6 K/9, as well as a mid-season promotion.  Navarro is a "crafty lefty" who's more of an organizational pitcher, but a good one.  He posted a 2.86 ERA and pitched well in nearly every start.  That didn't stop him from losing his first nine decisions, though, due to a lack of hitting and bullpen support, until he finally picked up a win just before being promoted.  Rodriguez is a dark horse prospect who made it to high A at age 21 despite missing a season due to injury.  Following a good first half at West Virginia, he had a 2.67 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in a dozen Bradenton starts.  He'll be one of the Pirates' more interesting roster decisions prior to the Rule 5 draft.

The rest of the story wasn't so good.  Adrian Sampson tried to make a difficult jump to high A in his first full season after being drafted out of junior college.  He got hammered nearly every time out in the first two months before pitching decently over the last three, finishing with a 5.14 ERA, .310 opponents' average and .478 opponents' slugging average.  Groundball righty Robby Rowland struggled all year until pitching well in August, ending up at 4-11, 4.82.  Zack Dodson, who's probably the last remaining hope among the high school pitchers drafted in 2009, returned from his drug suspension and went 6-8, 4.40.  Matt Benedict pitched his way out of the rotation, going 0-6, 4.98 as a starter before pitching better out of the bullpen.

The Bradenton bullpen was fairly solid.  The primary closer was organizational lefty Robbie Kilcrease; for some reason, some teams like to use organizational pitchers as closers in the low minors.  Kilcrease had a 1.36 ERA, but he's not a prospect.  Two of the primary relievers were smallish, hard-throwing righties out of the Dominican, both of whom are already Rule 5 eligible.  Joan Montero had a 3.03 ERA, but struggled to throw strikes and didn't miss a lot of bats.  Emmanuel de Leon had a higher ERA (3.49), but pitched better, striking out just under a batter an inning.  Lefty Zac Fuesser, a JC draftee from the 2009 draft, moved full time to the bullpen and had a 3.18 ERA but had more hits allowed than innings pitched.  Another 2009 draftee, Zack von Rosenberg, pitched only sporadically, relieving in 14 games and walking more than he struck out.  The bell may be tolling for him.  Finally, finesse lefty Orlando Castro won a promotion at the same time as Joely Rodriguez, but showed why big numbers from soft-tossers at low levels have to be regarded with suspicion.  He dominated at West Virginia, but struggled in four starts with Bradenton and moved to the bullpen, where he pitched better in ten appearances.

Biggest Surprise: Rodriguez

Biggest Disappointments: Osuna, Sampson

Top Five Prospects (Min. 50 IP, 25 games pitched or 150 PA)

  1. Gregory Polanco, OF
  2. Alen Hanson, SS
  3. Nick Kingham, RHP
  4. Stetson Allie, 1B
  5. Joely Rodriguez, LHP