The Pirates expanded their minor league system back in 2014 to include a team in the advanced-rookie level Appalachian League. They did it as a development tool for prep pitchers, with their better prep pitching draftees going to Bristol the year after they were drafted. The rest of the team has been largely an afterthought, generally a mixture of organizational depth guys and lower level players who just haven’t shown the ability to advance out of rookie ball. The result has been a W/L record of 93-174 over the team’s first four years. The Bristol Pirates’ best record was 29-36 in 2015.
Bristol may or may not have a winning season this year, but the team should be very different from previous seasons. Between one thing and another, the Pirates actually have some hitting prospects at the level. Of course, the usual prep pitchers are there, too.
It looks like the Bristol catchers will be Gabriel Brito and Manny Bejerano. Brito got a $200,000 bonus in 2014 and has advanced only slowly. He’s a line-drive hitter who’s shown some ability to hit for average, but he doesn’t have much power and his defense is still developing. Bejerano is a lower-level organizational player. The team also has Mikell Granberry, who was originally a catcher and still appears behind the plate occasionally, but who is mainly a first baseman now.
The starters at first and third will be Mason Martin and Sherten Apostel, respectively. Martin had a huge year in the GCL in 2017, but struggled at West Virginia and was demoted when the short season teams began play. He takes an all-or-nothing approach at the plate, which may not play at higher levels. He’s also had defensive issues at first. Apostel is a big guy with a lot of power who had a strong season last year in the DSL. The Pirates are skipping him over the GCL. Bristol also has Granberry, who can play first, and Johan De Jesus, who can play first or third.
The middle infield will probably be shared amongst Dean Lockery, who’s primarily a second baseman, and Victor Ngoepe and Chase Lambert, who are primarily shortstops. Gift’s younger brother probably has the best glove of the group, but he hasn’t hit much so far. Lockery was the team’s 32nd round draft pick; he put up good hitting numbers at Central Connecticut State the last three years. Lambert was drafted in round 31 this year as a college senior. He’s a glove guy who didn’t hit much in college. The team also has Francisco Mepris, who looks like a lower level utility player.
The headliner here is Conner Uselton (pictured). The Pirates picked him in the supplemental first round last year, but his debut season was wiped out by a hamstring injury. He has a high ceiling as a hitter. The other outfielders are interesting for different reasons and may rotate until somebody steps forward. The most promising arguably is Jonah Davis, this year’s 15th round pick. He’s not a big guy, but hit for a lot of power in college. Yondry Contreras was the team’s most expensive international signing in 2014. He’s very toolsy and a good center fielder, but he’s had massive contact issues and is repeating the level. Jeremias Portorreal got a big (by Pirate standards) bonus all the way back in 2013 and finally started to hit two years ago, but he also has trouble getting the bat on the ball. Christian Navarro signed out of Mexico last summer and is making his debut this year at age 22. Brendt Citta was drafted in round 38 this year out of the University of Kansas and may have some power potential that hasn’t shown up yet.
The headliners are, obviously, the team’s first and second round picks from 2017, Shane Baz and Steven Jennings. The original plan called for Baz to go to West Virginia and Cody Bolton to be at Bristol, but Bolton impressed the Pirates this spring and is impressing everybody with the Power now, while Baz had trouble with inconsistent control. Baz probably has the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the system, possibly including Mitch Keller (who struggled at Bristol), so it’s hardly reason to get discouraged. Jennings was hampered during the off-season by a cracked rib, but pitched well in his first start.
Beyond Baz and Jennings, none of the pitchers really stand out. There won’t even necessarily be a rotation as such. The Pirates will probably try to find innings for Oliver Garcia, Leandro Pina, Roger Santana and Yeudry Manzanillo. Garcia was the DSL Pirates’ best pitcher last year and he’s skipping over the GCL at age 20, so the Pirates must think fairly highly of him. Pina is a finesse righty who got great results in the DSL in 2016, then had a mediocre season last year in the GCL, part of which he spent not pitching for non-performance reasons. Santana, a finesse lefty, and Manzanillo both were modestly prominent signings, but both made mediocre showings in the GCL.
A handful of 2018 draftees will be with Bristol (draft round in parentheses). Will Kobos (19) was the Pirates’ annual pick from George Washington University. He gets up to 95 mph but has had control issues. Will Gardner (21) had some very high K rates as a college reliever. Lefty Joe Jacques (33) put up good numbers as a starter at Mahattan College. Colin Selby (16) was also a starter, at Randolph-Macon, and had very good numbers there.
One other pitcher of interest is Austin Shields. He was an above-slot signing in 2016, a fallback when the Pirates didn’t sign Nick Lodolo. He’s had significant command issues so far and hasn’t made much progress.
OF: Uselton, Contreras, Davis, Portorreal
Rotation: Baz, Jennings, Garcia, Santana, Selby
Key Relievers: Pina, Gardner
Top Prospects: Baz, Uselton, Jennings, Martin, Apostel