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Pirates’ minor league recap: Bristol

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If you followed Cannonballs Coming at all during the season, you know there’s not much to see here. Bristol finished at or near the bottom of the Appalachian league in most hitting and pitching categories, and their defense was even worse than the hitting or pitching. The result was a record of 17-49.

Bristol is always going to be a rather peculiar affiliate. The Pirates’ main purpose in establishing it was to host prep pitching draftees the year after they’re drafted. We’ve discussed that before. Otherwise, the roster tends to be made up primarily of players who haven’t done very well. It’s a kind of last chance to get established as a prospect. That sort-of worked with Adrian Valerio, who didn’t hit much at Bristol last year but turned things around this year.

Another category of player who tends to end up at Bristol is pitchers who don’t really fit any category, generally guys who represent a project of one sort or another. Often it’s junior college pitchers or college pitchers the Pirates don’t think are ready for the New York-Penn League. An example from last year would be John Pomeroy, a hard thrower drafted out of Oregon State who rarely pitched in college due to control problems. (Pomeroy missed this season due to Tommy John surgery.) A similar example from this year’s draft is Drew Fischer. He went to a small New England college (Amherst) and has shown mid-90s velocity, but lacks experience against good competition. He had trouble throwing strikes for Bristol, walking 6.7 per nine innings, but he also fanned 10.3.

Obviously, these are lottery tickets and the best case scenario is that the Pirates find a reliever. In fact, I can’t think of anybody similar to Pomeroy or Fischer who’s worked out for them so far. But I’d rather they draft guys like that than no-upside pitchers who can put up good numbers in the NYPL but have no realistic chance of being more than an organizational guy.

Numbers in parentheses are draft rounds.

Hitters

There’s not a lot to discuss here. The bulk of the position players were guys who figure, at best, to be organizational players. They uniformly struggled.

Two of the Pirates’ more prominent Latin American signings of recent years, both outfielders, had a chance to get on track. They went in different directions. Edison Lantigua’s first three years were plagued by injuries and just not hitting with much authority. He was easily the team’s best hitter among players who weren’t far too old for the level, posting a 307/411/477 line and matching his HR total from those first three years combined in one game. The big cautionary note with him is that he fanned in nearly a third of his plate appearances. On the other hand, Yondry Contreras, a speedy center fielder, had just a .613 OPS and fanned in nearly 40% of his plate appearances.

Other than Lantigua, the team’s best hitters were Henrry Rosario and Matt Diorio (16), which says a lot by itself. Rosario is a 24-year-old minor league veteran who spent six years in short season ball before finally getting into a dozen games at West Virginia at the end of the season. He had a .965 OPS. Diorio was drafted out of college last year, struggled at Morgantown and got demoted this year, and had an .811 OPS, which still wasn’t exactly dominant.

Several of this year’s college draftees had passable performances. Two late-round draftees, Ben Bengtson (23) and Ryan Peurifoy (38) had decent debuts, with OPS figures of .774 and .782, respectively. Bengtson was drafted as a shortstop but ended up as the regular third baseman. Peurifoy played center and left. Both probably profile as organizational guys. The team’s fourth-round draft pick, catcher Jason Delay, hit .252 with an equal number of walks and strikeouts, but no power. Delay was selected as a senior out of Vanderbilt to help save some bonus pool money for the earlier prep draftees. He’s a glove-only catcher who probably profiles something like Jacob Stallings with less power.

Pitching

The highest profile players at Bristol were the prep pitching draftees. Originally, there were supposed to be four from the 2016 draft: Travis MacGregor (2), Braeden Ogle (4) (pictured), Max Kranick (11) and Austin Shields (33). As I wrote in the GCL recap, Kranick and Shields had spring training setbacks and opened in the GCL. Shields never made it to Bristol but Kranick did. He didn’t pitch at all until early August, then had three abbreviated starts in the GCL, during which he had some pitch count issues. He made it to Bristol in time to make two starts and pitched well in both. Scouts are high on Kranick; he would have been drafted in the early rounds if other teams realized he’d sign, representing a minor coup for the Pirates’ scouting staff. (Yes, it’s a vital part of a scout’s job to assess whether a player is signable, which is why it makes no sense to “credit” a team with drafting players it didn’t sign.)

Ogle got much better results at Bristol than MacGregor. To an extent this isn’t surprising, as Ogle already sits in the mid-90s, while MacGregor is more of a projection guy. Ogle had some ups and downs early, mainly due to some control problems, but he was outstanding in his last two starts and finished with pretty good numbers. MacGregor, on the other hand, got hammered. Opponents hit .339 against him and he also had some control problems, and everything got worse as the season went along. I don’t think stats at this level for prep pitchers mean much, as Mitch Keller showed, but MacGregor’s season wasn’t encouraging.

A few other pitchers from the 2016 draft showed some potential. Fischer (35) I already mentioned. Hunter Stratton (16), a projectable junior college pitcher, allowed opponents just a .228 average but walked nearly seven per nine innings. Another JC draftee, Alex Manasa (11), is a projectible and has limited pitching experience. He showed very good control and had a decent K rate, although he got hit a little hard at times. Stratton pitched out of the rotation and Manasa out of the bullpen, but both project as starters down the road if they develop. Reliever Mason Ward (34) had very good walk and K rates. He had a 1.18 WHIP but a 3.80 ERA.

Bristol had one pitcher from the 2015 draft: Jacob Taylor (4), a junior college draftee. He has a good arm but figured to be a project all along, then got derailed by Tommy John surgery right away. This year was his first extended action and it didn’t go well, as his 8.35 ERA shows.

The one Latin American pitcher of any significance was lefty Domingo Robles, who led the team in starts and innings. He’s a finesse pitcher who showed good control, but he tended to pitch well for a while and then run into a big inning, leading to an ERA of 4.83.