Bristol will go into its second year as a Pirates affiliate. Its role in the organization is a little unusual. Generally speaking, the GCL is the introductory league for prep draftees and Latin American players, and the New York-Penn League for college draftees. That leaves Bristol somewhere in the middle.
The Pirates seem to be using the team for at least a couple of purposes. One is getting more innings for lower level pitchers. With two teams playing only 60-70 games and typically several dozen pitchers or more, the Pirates were having to make judgments about young pitchers, mainly whether to give them chances in full season ball, on just a couple dozen innings of competition. A second purpose seems to be giving opportunities to players who've struggled in the GCL without leaving them at that level for 2-3 years. That's especially important with their Dominican Summer League team turning out players with at least some talent in numbers now. It's not like the bad old days, when playing time at the lowest levels wasn't a limiting factor because there were very few actual prospects.
Of course, all of this means that Bristol may not always do too well in the W/L column. The Pirates' first Bristol entry went 22-46, easily the league's worst record. This year's team may not be a whole lot better, especially on offense. It does, however, have much more pitching potential than last year's team, which had by far the league's worst. The main focus will be three above-slot prep pitchers from last year's draft.
Draft rounds from 2015 are in parentheses.
The primary catcher should be John Bormann (24). He was considered one of the better college seniors available in this year's draft, strictly due to his glove. The other principal catcher will be Tomas Morales, who's returning to the level. He's actually put up respectable hitting numbers, including last year, but he's been mainly a backup since the Pirates signed him. The roster also lists Erik Lunde as a catcher. He struggled to hit as the second baseman in the NYPL last year, so the Pirates apparently will try him behind the plate.
The infield will be comprised mainly of struggling prospects and two players from this year's draft. First base at least should produce some offense. It'll be split between Jordan George (35) and Carlos Munoz. George had a big year at Arkansas State. Munoz had a good season in the GCL last year, but it was his fourth pro season and he's going to have to hit a lot because he's 5'11" and very stocky, so he doesn't offer much aside from his bat. Third base may be divided between Julio De La Cruz and Carlos Ozuna. De La Cruz signed for $700K three years ago, but struggled in the DSL and GCL. Ozuna was originally a shortstop, but was pushed to third by other prospects last year, which he spent at Bristol. He had a decent season with the bat, but will return to the level. Jose Salazar, an organizational infielder, will probably back up at both positions.
The middle infielders will probably be Trae Arbet and Logan Ratledge (13). Arbet has struggled mightily since the Pirates drafted him in the fifth round in 2013. He'll be returning to Bristol for his second season. Ratledge had a big senior season at NC State. The Pirates may want him to get time at both second and short, so Arbet may not get all the time at the latter position. Bealyn Chourio will also see time in the middle of the diamond after a decent season last year in the GCL.
The Bristol outfield may not be a strong point. The regulars will probably be Nick Buckner, Henrry Rosario and Sandy Santos. Buckner was an above-slot draftee two years ago who'll be returning for a second season at Bristol. He made some progress last year, but struck out in over a third of his at-bats. Rosario had an .862 OPS in the GCL last year, but was a little old for the level. Santos is skipping over the GCL, based probably more on his age (21) than his performance in the DSL last year, when he had an OPS of .726. Santos may split time in center with Edgar Figueroa, who's returning to Bristol after struggling there last year. Bristol will also have Enyel Vallejo as a utility player. He's hit well most of the time as a pro, but he's already 24.
The Bristol roster currently has 19 pitchers, which the Pirates will have to sort through somehow. Some are returning to Bristol for a second year, or have struggled otherwise. The real prospects, of course, will be last year's above-slot prep draftees, Mitch Keller (pictured), Trey Supak and Gage Hinsz. Keller had the best debut of the three last year in the GCL, while Supak struggled with his control. Hinsz threw only eight innings after signing late. The primary concerns for all three probably will be to build up their innings totals and work on fastball command. Bristol will also have two above-slot prep pitchers from the 2013 draft, Billy Roth and Neil Kozikowski. Both struggled severely in 2014, Roth at Bristol and Kozikowski in the GCL.
Several pitchers from the 2015 draft will debut at Bristol. Scooter Hightower (15), who had a strong JuCo season this year, and Logan Sendelbach (10), who pitched well at Division II Tiffin University, are probably the most likely to be in the rotation. Tanner Anderson (20) served in a swing role at Harvard. Mike Wallace (30) could also start. Shane Kemp (26) walked the same number as he struck out at George Washington University this year and figures to pitch in relief.
Quite a few pitchers, apart from Roth, will be returning from 2014. Not all of them pitched badly. Lefty Omar Basulto was in the Bristol rotation all of last year and pitched decently, but he'll return. Luis Paula pitched very well out of the bullpen, but he'll also be back. He was on the Morgantown roster at the start of the season and was in Morgantown for the opener, but is now with Bristol.
The remaining returnees mostly struggled last year. Marek Minarik, a 6'7" righty from the Czech Republic, opened last year in the NYPL rotation and pitched poorly, then continued to do so after being demoted to Bristol. Jess Amedee struck out 12.5 per nine innings last year at Bristol after being drafted out of college, but had an ERA of 6.26. Palmer Betts, also drafted last year out of college, pitched only sparingly at Bristol. Christopher De Leon struggled to throw strikes at Bristol late last year after pitching well most of the season in the GCL. Lefty Mervin Del Rosario struggled badly in a swing role at Bristol last year. Dan Urbina struggled even more, with an ERA of 8.01. Miguel Ferreras allowed only one hit in six appearances in the GCL, but had an ERA of 8.47 after being promoted to Bristol.
3B: De La Cruz/Ozuna
OF: Rosario, Buckner, Santos/Figueroa
Rotation: Keller, Supak, Hinsz, Hightower, Sendelbach, Basulto
Key Relievers: Paula, Betts
Top Prospects: Mitch Keller, Trey Supak, Gage Hinsz