It's a little hard writing a preview for Bristol because the Pirates' Appalachian League affiliate generally is very light on actual prospects. The Pirates instead seem to use it as a training ground for organizational players, which at least gets them some playing time early in their careers while the more highly regarded players go to Morgantown. The team appears to send several categories of players to Bristol:
-- Later-round college and JUCO draftees who profile more as organizational players than as prospects. This is a large percentage of the Bristol roster every year. Occasionally, a JUCO draftee who's at least a decent prospect might be included, like Brent Gibbs and Blake Cederlind this year.
-- Prep draftees from prior years and Latin American prospects who haven't played well enough to move up higher. Trae Arbet and the recently released Nick Buckner have been examples.
-- Older players from Latin America -- either players who signed at later ages than usual or ones who spent several years in the DSL for performance-related reasons -- who skip over the Gulf Coast League. Huascar Fuentes (see below) is an example this year.
-- Prep pitchers drafted the previous year, which lets the Pirates get more innings at Morgantown for college draftees while still letting the younger pitchers get the experience to build up their arms. Last year Bristol had Mitch Keller, Gage Hinsz and Trey Supak, although Keller and Supak ended up missing a lot of time due to injuries.
The following players are currently listed on the roster at MiLB.com, with Bristol opening its season today.
Catcher: Brent Gibbs, Yoel Gonzalez, Deybi Garcia. Gibbs was the Pirates' seventh-round pick this year out of junior college. He's old for a JUCO draftee -- he'll be 22 in September -- but he isn't that experienced yet. He's highly regarded defensively, but scouts question his bat. Gonzalez also is strong defensively, but has struggled to hit for two years in the GCL. He's not quite 20 yet. Garcia is an organizational catcher
Infield: Huascar Fuentes, Sam Kennelly, Raul Siri, Adrian Valerio, Julio De La Cruz, Jhoan Herrera. Valerio will probably be the best prospect on this team. He's a legitimate shortstop who has some pop in his bat, although he's mostly struggled to hit so far. He might have been at Morgantown, but Stephen Alemais is in the way. Fuentes signed at a late age and put up big numbers in the DSL last year, but he's already 24, so it's hard to see him as a prospect. He, Kennelly and Herrera are all likely to see some time at first. Kennelly has hit decently in two years in the GCL and is still just 20, but he hasn't hit nearly well enough to move forward as a first baseman, which is mostly what he's played despite originally being a shortstop. Herrera received a moderately large bonus by Pirate standards but has had only limited success. He played first in the GCL last year and put up just adequate numbers with poor plate discipline.
Siri was something of a surprise prospect two years ago when he put up big numbers in the DSL. He struggled to hit in the GCL and at Bristol last year, though. He's listed on the roster as a first baseman, which makes little sense as he's 5'9". More likely he'll be at least a semi-regular at second. De La Cruz will probably be the regular at third. He got one of the larger bonuses the Pirates have given to a Latin American prospect, at $700,000, but he's struggled so far on both sides of the ball. He's returning for a second year at Bristol.
Outfield: Michael De La Cruz, Garrett Brown, Alexis Bastardo, Victor Fernandez. If there's a prospect here, it's probably De La Cruz. He got the same bonus at the same time as Julio De La Cruz (no relation). Michael had trouble adapting to the US in 2015 after a strong season in the DSL in 2014, but he showed some signs of life in a return trip to the GCL last year. He's a speedy, leadoff type with good defensive ability in center. Brown, drafted in round 23 this year, is a lottery ticket. He's long on speed and athleticism and very short on baseball experience, as he was mainly a football player in college. Fernandez is another speedster who has some pop in his bat but undermines himself by trying to pull every pitch. Bastardo is actually moving down a level after not hitting much at Morgantown last year. He's 22 now and so unlikely to be more than an organizational player.
Rotation: Blake Cederlind, Ike Schlabach, Adam Oller, Nestor Oronel, Matt Eckelman, Nick Economos, Shane Kemp. As usual with the short season teams, I'm just guessing about the likely starters. It's not a significant distinction anyway, because at this level the Pirates will often piggyback two pitchers, both of whom will pitch in 3-5 inning stints. The best bets to serve in roughly "traditional" starting roles may be Cederlind and Schlabach. Cederlind was a fifth round pick out of JUCO this year. He has potentially very good stuff, reaching as high as 97, but he's still fairly raw. Schlabach is a 6'5" lefty drafted as a prep player last year. He's gotten his velocity into the low-90s at times and obviously qualifies as "projectible."
Of the others, Oller and Eckelman are college righties who are primarily finesse pitchers. Oronel is a Venezuelan lefty with average-ish velocity who relies on a sinker. He's still only 19 and made good progress last year in the GCL, despite a poor ERA. Kemp was drafted last year out of George Washington University, which isn't exactly a major college program. He's a finesse righty who'll be 22 early in the season and got hammered in a brief trial last year at Bristol. Economos was a JUCO draftee last year. He's 6'6" and showed some good velocity before the draft, but he threw only in the upper-80s last year in the GCL.
Bullpen: John Pomeroy, Robbie Coursel, Geoff Hartlieb, Nick Hutchings, Jordan Jess, Pasquale Mazzocoli, Mike Wallace. The most interesting guy here is Pomeroy. He was drafted in round 13 this year out of Oregon State. He's a big guy who throws in the mid-90s, but he pitched very sparingly in college due to control problems. Hartlieb, another college draftee, is 6'6" and doesn't have a lot of baseball experience, but he's gotten as high as the mid-90s. Coursel and Mazzocoli were late-round college draftees. Both are righties and Mazzocoli has shown the better velocity of the two. Jess, another late-round college draftee, is a lefty who served as a closer the last two years and had good K rates. Hutchings signed out of Australia four years ago, but is still only 20. Wallace was a late-round draftee out of Fairfield University last year and struggled badly at Bristol.