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Pirates minor league previews: Bradenton

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The Marauders won't have the star value that Indianapolis has, and may or may not eventually provide the Pirates with as much talent, but it wouldn't be surprising if they produced the best won/loss record in the system.  The team will be made up largely of the same players who tore up the South Atlantic League in the second half last year, as well as several prominent college draftees from 2015.  Like Indianapolis, Bradenton will have more legitimate position prospects than will fit onto the field at one time.  The high A team will also eventually have two pitching prospects coming off outstanding seasons, although they're not on a level with Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon.

One interesting facet of the Marauders' season will be how well their hitters deal with the Florida State League.  The extreme pitchers league was more hostile to offense than usual last year; even McKechnie Field, which is normally the league's best hitters park, didn't play like a hitters park in 2015.  It'll be especially interesting to see how things go for hitters who need to show some power, like Jordan Luplow, Connor Joe, Jerrick Suiter, Taylor Gushue, and Michael Suchy.

Catcher

The starter will be Taylor Gushue, who's coming off a disappointing season in which he mostly struggled at the plate.  Backing him up will be Tomas Morales and Erik Lunde, both of whom will be moving all the way up from Bristol.  Morales appears to be an organizational catcher.  Lunde is a converted infielder who had a strong season last year after moving down a level.  He could get some time as a backup at third or second.

Corner Infield

The starter at first will be Jerrick Suiter, a big guy who hits for average and controls the strike zone very well, but who hasn't hit for much power yet.  He'll probably also get some time in the outfield.  The starter at third is slated to be Connor Joe, who'll also be trying to start driving the ball more after possibly being hampered last year by the fact that he was recovering from a back injury.  He was doing just that in spring exhibitions.  He'll push Jordan Luplow, who made the conversion to third last year, mostly to left.  Luplow won't be available initially, though.  He'll miss the start of the season as he recovers from an injury to his non-throwing shoulder.  Chase Simpson, who'd be a starter on most teams at this level, will play both first and third, and Luplow will likely get some time at third as well.

Middle Infield

The Marauders will have Kevin Newman at short and Kevin Kramer at second.  They epitomize the Pirates' recent emphasis both on contact/gap hitters and college position players.  The one down side, if you're a Bradenton fan, is that both are probably candidates to move up at mid-season if they're playing well.  If that happens, though, Newman could be replaced by Cole Tucker, if healthy and playing well at West Virginia, and Kramer could be replaced by Pablo Reyes.  Reyes is coming off a strong season with the Power, but won't have a position initially.  He'll probably also DH and maybe play third occasionally.  The other infield backup will be organizational player Trace Tam Sing.

Outfield

The starting outfield, left to right, is expected to be Luplow, Elvis Escobar, and Michael Suchy.  Luplow had a big second half with the bat last year; hopefully, some of his large number of doubles will go over the fence, although the Florida State League won't help in that regard.  Escobar will take over in center with Tito Polo returning to the Power.  He had his best pro season last year, batting .296.  It'd be nice, though, if he could improve his 53% career SB%.  Suchy is a very strong guy who made some progress with his plate discipline in 2015 while still hitting for decent power.

The backups will be Logan Hill and Jeff Roy.  Hill was the best hitter at Morgantown last year, so it's likely that the Pirates will get him plenty of playing time.  Some no doubt will come at DH.  Roy is a speedster who's settled in as an organizational player.

Rotation

The rotation at the start of the season will be Yeudy Garcia, Brandon Waddell, Colten Brewer, Austin Coley and Alex McRae.  The headliners are Garcia and Waddell.  Together with lefty Stephen Tarpley, Garcia was half of a breakout duo at West Virginia last year.  Almost totally unknown going into the season -- his workload had to be carefully managed all year due to the fact that he'd thrown fewer than 60 pro innings previously -- Garcia started showing upper-90s velocity and rode it to a 2.10 ERA.  Waddell is a finesse lefty who led the University of Virginia to a College World Series title last year.  He pitched only briefly in short season ball and will be skipping low A.  Tarpley dominated low A almost to the same degree as Garcia last year, but he'll miss the season's start with a quad injury.

Of the remaining starters, Brewer probably has the most upside.  He reaches the mid-90s with his fastball, but hasn't always had great command and has missed a lot of time due to injuries.  Coley led the South Atlantic League in wins last year by a wide margin, but he throws only in the upper-80s and doesn't miss bats.  McRae is similar to Coley but hasn't been as effective.

Bullpen

The most well known pitcher in the all-right-handed bullpen will be Luis Heredia.  The former top prospect has moved to the bullpen and was throwing harder than he had previously -- although not consistently -- while pitching in short stints in spring training.  He also has command issues to overcome.

Of the remaining relievers, Edgar Santana probably has the highest ceiling, thanks to a mid-90s fastball.  He was older than most Latin American signees and will play his third pro season this year at age 24.  The Pirates obviously are pushing him quickly due to the fact that he's older than other prospects with similar experience.

The remaining relievers will be Henry Hirsch, Junior Lopez, Miguel Rosario, Nick Neumann and Sam Street.  Hirsch gets his fastball up to 96 mph, but he'll be repeating the level despite pitching well for Bradenton last year.  Rosario also pitched well in high A last year, striking out over ten per nine innings and walking fewer than nine.  Lopez is a small righty who reaches 94 and had a WHIP of 0.93 with Bradenton in the second half of last season, but he doesn't miss many bats.  Neumann was the West Virginia closer last year, but relies more on control than dominant stuff.  Street is an Australian sidearm thrower who doesn't have much velocity but, as you'd expect, is extremely tough on right-handed hitters.

Lineup

C: Taylor Gushue
1B: Jerrick Suiter
2B: Kevin Kramer
3B: Connor Joe
SS: Kevin Newman
OF: Jordan Luplow, Elvis Escobar, Michael Suchy
DH/UT: Pablo Reyes, Logan Hill

Rotation

Yeudy Garcia, Brandon Waddell, Colten Brewer, Austin Coley, Alex McRae, eventually Stephen Tarpley

Key Relievers

Edgar Santana, Luis Heredia

Top Prospects: Kevin Newman, Yeudy Garcia

Breakout Candidate: Connor Joe

If the starting pitching holds up, the Marauders have the potential to dominate their level.  They should have a much more solid offensive team than you usually see in class A, although the environment in the FSL will keep the raw numbers down.  Apart from Newman and Kramer, the defense may be adequate at best.