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Pirates minor league preview: Bristol

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Bristol this year won’t be much different from any other year. The Pirates added the team as a developmental tool for their prep pitching draftees. That’ll be the focus again this year. The team, as usual, will have few if any real position prospects, instead going mainly with players who’ve struggled and haven’t been able to move up.

Catcher

The regular catcher will be fourth round draft pick Jason Delay. He profiles about the same as Jacob Stallings — a good defensive catcher with a questionable bat, maybe a little better than Stallings’ — and wasn’t a fourth round talent. The Pirates drafted him there to save slot money, which no doubt helped them sign some of their prep pitching targets. The backup is Paul Brands, a native of the Netherlands.

Corner Infield

First base will probably be shared between Huascar Fuentes and Jhoan Herrera. Both are repeating the level after putting up weak numbers there last year. Third base at the moment appears to be occupied by Johan De Jesus, another struggling Latin American prospect. He hasn’t posted an OPS above .620 in his three seasons and he missed a fourth season due to a PED suspension. (Following Bristol has essentially meant viewing the wreckage of the team’s Latin American efforts in recent years.) Eventually, Jesus Medrano (31st round) could at least share the third base job, although he’s not on the roster yet as he just signed. He had a big senior year at Fresno State after three pretty undistinguished seasons before that. Some of the team’s middle infielders may see time at third as well.

Middle Infield

The Pirates drafted several college middle infielders who look like they’ll compete for playing time at Bristol. The principle ones are Ben Bengtson (23) and Nick Valaika (24), brother of Rockies’ infielder Pat Valaika. Bengtson hit reasonably well at the University of Harford, while Valaika hardly played while at UCLA due to injury. The Bristol roster also includes Kyle Watson (37), who was a backup in college and didn’t hit at all.

Bristol has a pair of Dominican middle infielders, Melvin Jimenez and Luis Perez, both of whom hit well in the DSL but not after they got to the GCL. Perez also missed all of last year with an injury and is already 23. Both have played second and short, and Jimenez has played a little at third. How the Pirates divide the playing time among these two, Bengtson and Valaika will probably depend a lot on their performance. One or more of them could see a lot of time at third, as De Jesus has really struggled so far as a pro, with a career .526 OPS.

Outfield

Apart from Delay, probably the closest thing to a position prospect on this team will be Yondry Contreras or Edison Lantigua. Contreras is a speedy center fielder who signed for a big bonus, by the Pirates’ penurious standards, back in 2014. Like many of the Pirates’ more prominent Latin American hitting prospects over the last five years, he’s had massive problems making contact. Lantigua is strictly a corner outfielder who has a solid hit tool but has struggled with injuries. He never hit for much power previously, but he has three HRs already this year.

The rest of the outfield should be some combination of Matt Diorio, Henrry Rosario, Ryan Peurifoy and Luis Benitez. Diorio was drafted last year and is moving down from Morgantown, so he’s headed in the wrong direction. Rosario is the Bristol equivalent of Adam Hyzdu at Altoona. He’s put up some decent numbers in the past, but this will be his third season at this level and sixth in rookie ball, something I can’t remember seeing since the Littlefield era. Peurifoy was drafted in the 38th round this year and profiles as an organizational player. Benitez will be 24 in August and also looks strictly like an organizational player.

Rotation

What potential this team has lies in the rotation, mainly in three prep pitchers drafted last year: Braeden Ogle (pictured), Travis MacGregor and Max Kranick. The lefty Ogle already throws in the mid-90s with a new slider that has promise. Like most pitchers at this stage, he needs to work on command. MacGregor is more of a projection guy, throwing in the upper-80s to low-90s now, but got good results last year in the GCL. Kranick’s stuff is fairly similar to Ogle’s, with a better breaking ball. He’s not on the roster yet, as he had a minor setback in extended spring training, but he’s expected to join the team soon.

Apart from Ogle and MacGregor, the other starters so far have been Domingo Robles, Jacob Taylor and Hunter Stratton. Robles is a finesse lefty with good control but not overwhelming stuff. The Pirates drafted Taylor out of junior college back in 2015, but he had Tommy John surgery after his first pro outing and hasn’t seen much action yet. He came with a fastball that got up to 97, but his command was considered a project. Stratton was a JuCo draftee in the 16th round this year. I don’t know anything about his stuff but he had good strikeout rates in school. It’s also possible that 11th round pick Alex Manasa, another JuCo product, could get some starts. He signed for a slightly above-slot bonus and has some projection left.

Bullpen

I’m not sure there’s a great deal of upside in the bullpen. Another JuCo draftee, Will Reed (20), has good present stuff, with a fastball that can reach 95 and a good curve. Miguel Hernandez, a 6’5” Dominican, has a mid-90s fastball but has scuffled a little with control problems. Drew Fischer (35) got up to 95 as a starter at Amherst and had good K rates. His arm could play up in relief. Adonis Pichardo reportedly reached the mid-90s shortly after the Pirates signed him out of the Dominican in 2014, but he hasn’t thrown as hard since nor gotten very good results. Mason Ward (34) was one of only two LHPs the Pirates drafted. He appears to be a finesse guy and could get some starts.

Regulars

C: Jason Delay
1B/DH: Jhoan Herrera, Huascar Fuentes
2B: Melvin Jimenez, Ben Bengtson
SS: Luis Perez, Nick Valaika
3B: Johan De Jesus, maybe Jesus Medrano
OF: Yondry Contreras, Edison Lantigua, Matt Diorio, Henrry Rosario
Rotation: Braeden Ogle, Travis MacGregor, Max Kranick, Domingo Robles, Jacob Taylor
Key Relievers: Will Reed, Drew Fischer