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Minor league preview: Bradenton

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Although Indianapolis will have more legitimate prospects than any other team in the Pirates’ system, Bradenton may have more long-term potential. That’s true mainly due to the rotation and infield, which combined include nearly all of the team’s top prospects who aren’t with the Pirates, or aren’t named either Meadows or Newman. Other than Mitch Keller, though, most haven’t yet matched performance to potential, so this will be an important year for them.

* = Left-handed
# = Switch-hitter

Catcher: Christian Kelley, John Bormann

The Marauders will have two very strong defensive catchers. The starter will be Kelley, who probably has some potential with the bat. He started hitting in about his last week in low A last year, then batted .355 after moving up to Bradenton for the last week and a half. It’d be nice to see Kelley take a step forward, as catching is not a strength in the Pirates’ system. Bormann was drafted as a glove-only catcher and so far has performed as advertised.

Corner Infield: Will Craig, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Jordan George#, Daniel Arribas

Craig and Hayes will start at first and third, respectively. Craig, of course, is moving from third, where he struggled badly on defense after being drafted last year. The biggest issue with him is the power he had in college but did not show after the draft. He does have a very good eye at the plate and hit well after a rough start. Hayes was having what appeared to be a breakout season last year in low A, before back problems and then a cracked rib intervened. He has a chance to be a good third baseman who’s at least solid all-around offensively. It’d be wise to have tempered expectations for both due to the offense-crushing Florida State League. In addition, Hayes lost more weight than he wanted while recovering from the cracked rib, and wasn’t able to work out, so he may need time.

George was drafted as a first baseman, but has played as much in the outfield as at first and has also played a little at third. Most of all, though, he’s been a DH. He’s shown an ability to hit for a good average, but hasn’t had much power. He could be the primary DH for the Marauders while also playing first and the outfield. Arribas has played behind the plate and at third in the past, but seemed to settle in at first last year. He has some power and on-base skills, and will probably be a corner backup for Bradenton.

Middle Infield: Cole Tucker#, Mitchell Tolman*, Alfredo Reyes, Trace Tam Sing

Tucker gives the Marauders a third top prospect in the infield. He’s tall for a shortstop, but has very good speed and athleticism, and improved defensively last year, which he spent mostly at Bradenton after returning from labrum surgery. What he didn’t do was hit much, which may have resulted from the surgery. He’ll try to get the bat going and earn a promotion, which will probably depend on whether Kevin Newman gets promoted from Altoona.

The second baseman will be Tolman. He’s a strong defensive player who has a good eye at the plate, but who put up only decent hitting numbers otherwise as a college draftee playing in low A last year. Reyes and Sing are organizational utility players. Reyes is a good defensive player who hasn’t hit much. Sing has the better bat of the two.

Outfield: Casey Hughston*, Logan Hill, Kevin Krause

This is definitely a boom-or-bust outfield, as all three players have good power but considerable question marks. Hughston is a big guy who can run and who handles center field surprisingly well. He has a lot of raw power, but he’s had massive contact issues due to an inability to handle anything on the outer half of the plate. Hill also has good power, but got demoted from Bradenton to West Virginia last year and struggled badly at the latter locale until he got very hot over the last two months. Krause showed good power after being drafted in 2014, but missed 2015 due to Tommy John surgery. He returned to short-season ball in 2016 and didn’t show the same power. The Pirates will move him up to Bradenton anyway, where he’ll make his full-season debut at age 24. Originally a catcher, he appears to be primarily an outfielder now.

Rotation: Mitch Keller, Taylor Hearn*, Gage Hinsz, Pedro Vasquez, Dario Agrazal

In Keller and Hearn, this rotation (projected starters from Pirates Prospects, sub. req’d) features the two highest ceilings in the farm system, with Tyler Glasnow in Pittsburgh. After a breakout 2016 season, Keller ranks high on most top prospect lists. He could earn an early promotion, although it’s unlikely the Pirates would move him up before mid-season. Hearn is still a work in progress, as his control of his upper-90s fastball is still lacking. He’s actually thrown only 99 pro innings, thanks to a foot injury last year, so he’s gotten as far as he has fairly quickly.

All of the other starters have some potential. Hinsz had his own, smaller breakout last year, pitching respectably at West Virginia after getting a late start to the season. His fastball now gets into the mid-90s, but his secondary stuff needs work. A native of Montana, he always figured to need more time to develop. Vasquez came from Seattle for Arquimedes Caminero. He’ll be in high A despite not having pitched above the Dominican Summer League before last year. Agrazal is a big righty whose velocity got into the mid-90s last year, but he hasn’t shown an out pitch so far.

Bullpen: Jake Brentz*, Seth McGarry, Bret Helton, Logan Sendelbach, Sam Street, Yunior Montero, Daniel Zamora*, Jess Amedee

The most interesting pitcher here is Brentz, another product of the Caminero trade. He was sitting in the upper-90s and reached 100 mph in camp. Obviously, he has command issues (otherwise he’d be in the majors now), but a lefty with that velocity is always very intriguing. McGarry and Zamora are probably the most interesting of the other pitchers. McGarry threw as hard as 97 mph before being drafted, but has thrown only in the low-90s since then. He had just a fair season at West Virginia last year. Zamora has had double-digit K rates so far, although he doesn’t throw hard.

Helton and Sendelbach were both starters last year at West Virginia, but will be pushed to the pen by the Marauders’ starting depth. Neither misses a lot of bats, but Sendelbach was more effective than Helton was. Street throws at a submarine angle and got good results last year at Bradenton, but he’ll return there. Amedee has marginal fastball velocity, but he’s compiled a career K/9 of 12.5 thanks to a good slider.

Montero has one of the more interesting stories in the system. His pro career was delayed for three years, with two contracts voided, due to documentation issues unrelated to faking his identity or birth date. He finally got to low A late last year and pitched well there, but by my reckoning he’ll already be eligible for minor league free agency after this year, although he’s thrown only 111 pro innings.

Top Prospects: Mitch Keller, Taylor Hearn, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Cole Tucker, Will Craig.

Breakout Candidates: Gage Hinsz, Jake Brentz