2011 Bradenton Marauders Preview: Bullpen
Today we wrap up the 2011 Brdenton Marauders preview with a look at the bullpen. So far we’ve covered the infielders, outfielders, and the starting pitchers. When you get as low as A-ball, you’re not going to have a lot of top bullpen prospects. Most of the top arms, even ones that are projected as future bullpen pieces, are in the rotation to maximize their innings. The guys who are in the bullpen might have a shot at being a middle reliever one day, but for the most part they project as organizational depth. There are a few exceptions, which we will cover first.
There is really only one pitcher at the level who is strictly a relief pitching prospect, and that’s Victor Black. Black missed almost all of the 2010 season due to injuries, and as a result, will move to the bullpen full time in 2011. He is expected to start off in high-A, and could make the jump to Altoona, depending on how he rebounds in Bradenton this year. Black projects as a late inning reliever in the majors. He throws 92-94 MPH, touching 96. He previously threw a hard slider that ranged from 82-84 MPH, but will be making the switch to a curveball this year. That switch could determine how long he will be in Bradenton, depending on how hard it is for him to make the change.
There are a few guys who have previously been starters in the minors, but who should move to the bullpen due to the amount of starting depth in the lower levels. I went over those guys in the preview of the Bradenton starting pitchers. Hunter Strickland is one of those options, and could be one of the first to move back to the rotation when a need arises. Jeffrey Inman missed all of the 2010 season due to injuries, and should pitch out of the bullpen to ease back in to things. Eliecer Navarro and Gabriel Alvarado could both see time in the rotation this year, although they profile more as emergency starters, rather than top rotation options, which should keep them in the bullpen most of the year.
Returning to Bradenton
The guys who will be returning to Bradenton could include Matt McSwain, Noah Krol, Tyler Cox, Casey Erickson, and Duke Welker. None of them profile as top relief prospects, and if any of them happen to make the majors, it would only be as middle relief depth. Erickson and Cox have the best chance of advancing beyond the high-A level this year. Welker has the best tools of the bunch, with a fastball that can get up to 98 MPH, although his horrible control might prevent him from ever making it above the high-A level. If he can get his control numbers back to where they were two years ago, and maintain the velocity he showed last year, he could potentially be a future back of the bullpen pitcher in the majors. That would be a long shot, but not impossible.
Arriving from West Virginia
The Pirates could see a few guys arriving from West Virginia this year. Maurice Bankston could arrive at the start of the year, or at some point early in the season. Tyler Waldron and Brandon Cumpton both profile long term as relievers, and both pitchers might be forced to the bullpen early due to the amount of top pitching prospects that are expected to start off in West Virginia. Jason Townsend has good velocity on his fastball, throwing in the mid-90s, but lacks control. If he can fix his control issues, he could also be a candidate to move up to Bradenton this year.
Opening Day Projection
The estimated opening day bullpen:
CL - Victor Black
RP - Tyler Cox, Casey Erickson, Hunter Strickland, Gabriel Alvarado, Duke Welker, Jeffrey Inman
Candidates to join the bullpen in May/June: Maurice Bankston, Tyler Waldron, Brandon Cumpton
Could pitch in the AA bullpen in 2011: Victor Black, Casey Erickson, Tyler Cox.