One advantage Bradenton has now is that there are two Pirates’ affiliates there. The rookie level Gulf Coast League Pirates play at Pirate City, with games generally at noon, and the high A Florida State League Bradenton Marauders play mostly in the evening at McKechnie Field. I made it to both games on Friday. The GCL Bucs went up early but eventually lost, 6-4, to the Braves. The Marauders also got an early lead but made better use of it, scoring five in the first on the way to a 16-5 laugher over Fort Myers, a Twins affiliate.
The Pirates’ GCL team is a very different affair from what it was in the dark days of the Littlefield regime. The GCL is intended as an introductory league for high school draftees and players just reaching the US from the Latin American leagues, but Littlefield and his staff often stocked the team heavily with college draftees, players who were reasonably accomplished but had little to no chance of advancing far. Nowadays, the GCL Bucs field much younger teams; seven of the nine players who took the field in the top of the first today were teenagers and the other two turned twenty recently. The players are often physically more impressive than the GCL entries from a few years ago, but many or most of them are very raw. They may or may not turn into good players, but they at least have the potential to advance much farther.
Several players showed some of their potential today. Willie Garcia fits the profile that the current front office seems to like with young outfielders: tall and lean, with speed and power potential. He showed the power potential by driving one ball to the fence in left even though he didn’t get the fat part of the bat on it, and lining another for a triple to deep right-center. He has good but not great speed. He played center today and showed a good arm, but I can’t see him there long term. He did have one near-mishap, nearly getting conked with a long drive. He turned his back on the ball and stopped watching it, apparently thinking it would be off the wall, but it didn’t go that far.
Jodaneli Carvajal, whom Baseball America cited as one of the top prospects in the Dominican Summer League last year, showed good range at short, making a diving stop in the hole and chasing a foul pop far down the left field line. Like Garcia, he had one blunder in the field, bobbling a grounder with runners on first and third and two out. He still had time to get the batter, but he tried to beat the runner to second, then made a wild throw to first after failing. He had two hits, including a bunt, and also lined out to moderately deep center, but he’s a small guy and seems most likely be a slap hitter.
Jose Osuna is different in build from Garcia and some of the other outfielders, like Gregory Polanco and Luis Urena. Osuna is more strongly built and doesn’t run as well. He swung the bat well, including a HR he crushed to left. Among the other hitters, Alen Hanson doubled into the gap in right center his first time up but did little afterward. He showed a good eye and took a lot of close pitches, but it cost him on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded and two out. Ashley Ponce had a couple hits, but they weren’t that well hit. He showed very good hands and reflexes playing third.
First baseman Jared Lakind, who was an over-slot signee last year, and catcher Joey Schoenfeld, drafted the year before last, both struggled with offspeed stuff. They both had a lot of checked swings, showing that they weren’t picking pitches up quickly. Lakind looked especially bad on offspeed stuff.
The pitching was handled by three lefties: Australian Wilson Lee, Christopher Richardson, and Robbie Kilcrease, who signed as a non-drafted college player. There were no accessible radar gun readings; the Pirates had their observers, including the gun, up in the tower, which is off-limits to visitors. I would guess Lee’s and Richardson’s fastballs were in the upper 80s, which is what Richardson was throwing when I saw him in March. Kilcrease may have thrown just a little harder. Lee’s fastball seems to have some sink, as he got hitters to swing over quite a few of them. When he left it up, though, it got hit hard. He didn’t show much offspeed stuff. The one curve I saw looked pretty rudimentary. Richardson showed a good change that broke down sharply, but he didn’t throw it for strikes with any consistency. He looked like he could turn into a relief prospect if his command improves. Kilcrease wasn’t very impressive. He has a high-effort delivery, and looked like he was overthrowing, as he was wild high a lot. He showed a decent change, but generally got hit fairly hard. Converted catcher Miguel Mendez came on with two outs in the ninth and threw just one pitch, so I don’t have much to say about him.
The Marauders’ game wasn’t terribly instructive, as they effectively took batting practice against a struggling starting pitcher. He eventually got tossed after hitting Adalberto Santos. The relievers who followed weren’t a lot more impressive. Ft. Myers eventually went with former prospect Shooter Hunt for an outing that was painful to watch, as Hunt walked seven while recording only two outs. Ft. Myers’ firstbaseman had to get the final four outs and proved to be their most effective pitcher. The pounding didn’t take long, as Robbie Grossman and Santos started the game with a double and triple. Later that inning Evan Chambers and Carlos Paulino hit back-to-back HRs. Chambers later hit two doubles, Santos and Benji Gonzalez each had a double and triple, and Elevys Gonzalez added a double.
With Jarek Cunningham out of the lineup–he participated in warmups and looked fine, so he may have been just dinged up a little after leaving the previous game early–one of the more interesting players in it was Paulino. He came to the Pirates with a reputation for being a good glove, no-hit catcher. He fits the profile that the current staff seems to prefer in catchers, which is athletic and agile, often with good speed for the position. With today’s game, he’s hitting 298/337/452. Unfortunately, he also got himself tossed for arguing a called strike in the seventh inning. That cost Ramon Cabrera his off day and, with the Marauders leading big late in the game, just wasn’t a cool thing to do. The plate umpire was bad–he had a strike zone that extended down to about the shoetops–but he was bad both ways. Anyway, the Pirates’ catching situation is interesting to see, partly due to the fact that they’ve been able to acquire free talent in Paulino and Kawika Emsley-Pai. Just a year ago their catching depth was Tony Sanchez and pray for rain. Now, Eric Fryer, Paulino, Cabrera, Emsley-Pai and and Elias Diaz give them a large number of catchers who, while not top prospects, all have more than run-of-the-mill ability. Catcher development is unpredictable, so the Pirates could get nothing out of this group, or they could get a coupleof good, major league backup catchers.
Brian Leach, demoted a few weeks ago from Altoona, started the game and dominated for a couple innings with a fastball that ranged from 92-95, depending partly on which radar gun you watched. He started to get hit harder after that. Leach’s control was mostly good, in contrast to AA, where he had a difficult time throwing strikes. He didn’t throw much offspeed stuff. Lefty Tyler Cox replaced Leach with two out in the sixth. His fastball just edges into the 90s. He’s spent most of the season on the DL; this was just his fourth outing. He got hit pretty hard but allowed only one run, plus one charged to Leach. Zach Foster finished. He was throwing sidearm, from an angle just a little higher than the one from which Kent Tekulve threw. I don’t remember that from seeing him before, so I imagine the Pirates are looking for a way to give him an edge.