Of the four full-season Pirate affiliates, Bradenton will probably have the least prospect talent. The focus for the Marauders will be on the pitching staff, which will have one of the team’s better prospects as well as several starters with some breakout potential.
The primary catchers will be Arden Pabst and Jason Delay. They’re pretty similar, both being strong defenders with weak bats. Pabst was a 12th round pick in 2016. Delay came in the 2017 fourth round, where he was probably an overdraft intended to save the Pirates pool money they could use on several above-slot signees. Delay is making the jump all the way from Bristol. Also on hand, although maybe not on the active roster much of the time, is John Bormann, he of midnight-ride-to-Miami fame. Bormann also is a good-glove, weak-bat type. Hunter Owen is expected to see a little time behind the plate as well.
The Marauders will have Albert Baur and Lucas Tancas at first, with one or the other probably also serving as DH some of the time. Baur put up solid numbers with West Virginia last year, but he’s already 26 and has more gap than over-the-fence power. The Pirates took Tancas in the 26th round last year. He has some power potential and had a good second half in short season ball. He was an outfielder previously, but figures to play more at first for now. He’s already 24, which may in part explain the aggressive promotion.
The third baseman most of the time should be Hunter Owen. Originally an outfielder, he’s not a strong defender at third, but he put up an .893 OPS at West Virginia last year. Owen is also 24, so the Marauders will be pretty old for the level at the infield corners.
I’m not sure where Jordan George is headed, as he isn’t listed with Altoona, either. He put up very good numbers last year for Bradenton in the first half and solid ones for Altoona after that. He’ll be 26 in July, so hopefully he’ll find some playing time higher up.
Arguably the best position prospect on the team will be shortstop Adrian Valerio. He’s a good defensive player who didn’t hit until last year, when he suddenly started showing some power. He also had a 6:1 K:BB ratio, which isn’t so good, but he just turned 21. With Tristan Gray gone, the second baseman will Trae Arbet. After a good start at West Virginia last year, Arbet tailed off badly, with especially poor plate discipline. The backup will be organizational infielder Alfredo Reyes, who’s returning to the level. Reyes is a strong defensive player who doesn’t hit much. Valerio and Arbet have both been a little injury-prone, so somebody else likely will have to be added at some point, possibly Kevin Mahala.
The Marauders’ outfield will be interesting for different reasons. Two of the regulars will be players from last year’s draft, seventh rounder Jared Oliva and ninth rounder Bligh Madris. Oliva is a legitimate center fielder with at least gap power and, so far, good base stealing skills. Madris had Playstation numbers at Colorado Mesa University, which as you’d guess played in a Coors-like environment that probably made evaluation difficult. That could explain Madris being something of a sleeper in the draft, but he had a good debut at Morgantown and could be a breakout candidate.
The third regular is slated to be Tyler Gaffney, who spent a couple years on the injured list and practice squad of some evil NFL team. Gaffney had a good debut in his one half-season with the Pirates before leaving to play football, including an HBP rate that made Ron Hunt look cowardly. Gaffney will be 27 in a couple weeks, so whatever he’s going to do he needs to do it fast. Bradenton will also have Casey Hughston back from last year’s team. Hughston is a big guy who covers a surprising amount of ground in center, but he hasn’t overcome major problems making contact.
Bradenton has six starting pitchers on the roster. I’m not sure how the Pirates are going to juggle that; there may be some piggybacking involved. One thing for sure is that the top prospect on this team will be Luis Escobar. He has swing-and-miss stuff — in fact, Escobar, and not Tyler Glasnow, holds the West Virginia team record for strikeouts in a season — but he’s been prone to command breakdowns. At worst, Escobar profiles as a late-inning reliever, but he could be a mid-rotation starter. He’s on the 40-man roster now and so his margin for error won’t be great.
The Marauders will have two pitchers who came out of nowhere to have good seasons last year at West Virginia. Oddy Nunez is a 6’8” lefty with low-90s velocity and a four-pitch mix. He dominated left-handed hitters and got a lot of groundballs with a decent strikeout rate last year. Eduardo Vera is a righty who was coming off Tommy John surgery. He finished very strongly, including a near-no-hitter. He gets as high as 97 mph and has a good curve. The Pirates limited both Nunez’ and Vera’s workloads last year, as they hadn’t pitched that much previously. One challenge this year obviously will be getting them on a more standard starter’s workload.
Two college draftees who got in-season promotions to Bradenton last year will return. Cam Vieaux is a finesse lefty and sixth round draft pick who seldom misses bats. He had little trouble with low A hitters but got hit hard in high A after moving up at mid-season. James Marvel was returning from Tommy John surgery when the Pirates drafted him out of Duke in 2015. He had just solid numbers at West Virginia before throwing 24 innings with Bradenton late in the year. Marvel also doesn’t miss a great many bats.
Finally, the Marauders will have Gage Hinsz, an above-slot signee out of prep school in 2014 who’ll be returning to the level. Hinsz came from Montana, which isn’t exactly a baseball hothouse, so he wasn’t all that experienced when drafted. He’s shown potential, but he struggled last year at Bradenton with both command and shoulder issues. It seemed like every time he put a couple good starts together, he’d go out briefly, then have trouble when he returned. He’ll make another stab at staying healthy this year.
Bradenton will open the season with one pitcher who realistically could appear in Pittsburgh this year. Bo Schultz has about 50 innings of major league experience and is coming off Tommy John surgery. He’ll start his return with the Marauders and will probably move up to Altoona before too long. He has good velocity and gets ground balls, but doesn’t miss a lot of bats.
At least two of the Marauders’ relievers feature good arms. Ronny Agustin is a lefty who’s had very big K rates (12-13 per nine innings) so far due to good breaking stuff. He spent the second half last year at West Virginia and held left-handed hitters to a pitiful .122 average with no extra base hits, but he had some control issues. Angel German is a righty who came from the Dodgers in the Tony Watson trade. He has hit 100 mph, but control and secondary stuff have been issues so far. That’s why he’s already eligible for the Rule 5 draft without having gotten above low A until now.
Two relievers will be returning to the Marauders. Righty Jess Amedee was with them all last year and had a 2.80 ERA with ten strikeouts per nine innings. He doesn’t have great velocity and relies heavily on a slider. He also had some control problems. Lefty Jordan Jess throws in the low-90s and put up very similar numbers to Amedee’s with West Virginia last year, but he got hammered after a late-season promotion to Bradenton.
Finally, Bradenton will have two pitchers who served in swing roles last year with West Virginia. Matt Eckelman made a few starts, but mostly pitched in long relief while putting up subpar numbers. Mike Wallace got better results while switching from relief to the rotation. He relies heavily on off-speed stuff.
C: Pabst, Delay
1B/DH: Baur, Tancas
OF: Oliva, Madris, Gaffney
SP: Escobar, Hinsz, Nunez, Vera, Vieaux, Marvel
Key Relievers: Schultz, Agustin, German
Top Prospect: Escobar
Breakout Candidates: Madris, Hinsz