Yesterday I previewed the 2012 West Virginia Power. Today the season previews continue with a look at the 2012 Bradenton Marauders.
The Marauders will open the year with the top two prospects in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system: Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. They will also feature Colton Cain and Alex Dickerson, who both ranked as top 20 prospects in the Pirates Prospects 2012 rankings. Other top prospects to watch are Mel Rojas Jr., Drew Maggi, Gift Ngoepe, and Quinton Miller.
C – Carlos Paulino
1B – Alex Dickerson
2B – Drew Maggi
SS – Gift Ngoepe
3B – Stefan Welch
LF – Evan Chambers
CF – Mel Rojas Jr.
RF – Dan Grovatt
DH – Wes Freeman
The top prospect in the lineup is Alex Dickerson, who hits for power to all fields, and has a huge frame. During Spring Training, the first baseman was dominating high-A pitching. Baseball America rated him the 42nd best prospect in the 2011 draft before he fell to the Pirates in the third round. He was ranked high because of his bat. There’s a chance that high-A won’t be much of a challenge for his advanced bat. If he gets off to a strong start, we could see a Matt Curry-like promotion to Double-A by mid-season.
Carlos Paulino is feeling the effects of Tony Sanchez remaining in Double-A to start the year. Paulino is a good defensive catcher, with possibly the strongest arm in the system. He hit for a .299/.351/.439 line last year in Bradenton. Because Sanchez is starting at Double-A, there’s no room for both Ramon Cabrera and Paulino to make the jump. Paulino could make that jump by mid-season if Sanchez gets promoted to Indianapolis.
The middle infield will feature a ton of speed with Gift Ngoepe and Drew Maggi. Gift will see more time at shortstop, as he’s the better defender of the two, but the two could switch places on occasion. They’re both very fast players, some of the fastest in the system, and will likely add speed to the top of the lineup, while providing a strong defense up the middle for the Bradenton pitching staff.
At third base, Stefan Welch will get the majority of the playing time, although Benji Gonzalez and Andy Vasquez could also factor in to the equation. Welch has spent the last two years in high-A, and was signed by the Pirates over the off-season as a minor league free agent. The 23-year-old hit for a .271/.361/.438 line in 436 at-bats last year, with 16 homers.
The outfield features a lot of raw players with high upsides. Mel Rojas Jr. leads the group as a five tool talent. He will get most of the time in center field, occasionally giving a start to Evan Chambers. Rojas is a switch hitter with a good build who shows flashes of power. His main issue is consistency, and taking his approach from practice to the game.
Evan Chambers returns to Bradenton for the second year in a row. His minor league career has been similar at every level. He doesn’t hit for average, usually sitting in the .230-.240 range. He draws a ton of walks, which puts his on-base percentage in the .350-.400 range, despite the low average. He has some pop in his bat, with double-digit home runs in each of the last two years. He also has speed, despite his stock 5′ 11″, 210 pound frame. That speed led to 55 stolen bases over the last two years. The downside is that he strikes out in a third of his at-bats. He needs to cut down on the strikeouts and bring the average up to move on to the next level.
Wes Freeman will get time in the outfield, and when he’s not playing he’ll serve as the designated hitter. The Pirates drafted Freeman in the 16th round of the 2008 draft, giving him a $150 K bonus. He struggled in his first two years in the system, including a horrible run in West Virginia at the start of the 2010 season, followed by an injury. In 2011 he went to State College, and by the middle of the season he made an adjustment to attack any fastball that was thrown. The adjustment worked well, and led to a big turnaround in Freeman’s game, with a .363 average and an OPS over .850 in his final month in State College. His push to Bradenton is a bit aggressive, although this is his fourth full year in the system, and skipping him over full season low-A after success in State College isn’t a huge jump.
Dan Grovatt was taken in the 11th round of the 2010 draft. He’s similar to Robbie Grossman, although he’s more of a Grossman-lite. Grovatt hits for average, draws an above-average walk rate, has some speed, and hits for a lot of extra base hits. However, he doesn’t have the power you’d want from a corner outfielder. He’s got a plus arm, which profiles well for right field. He would need to see an increase in his power to have a shot at being a starting outfield prospect down the line. For now he profiles more as a strong number four option.
Francisco Diaz, Benji Gonzalez, Justin Howard, Andy Vasquez
Justin Howard could get some playing time at first base, left and right field, and as the designated hitter. If Alex Dickerson moves up mid-season, Howard could see a playing time increase, similar to what happened in West Virginia last year after Matt Curry was promoted.
Benji Gonzalez should split time at third base with Stefan Welch. Gonzalez doesn’t do much with the bat, but is a strong defensive option with a lot of speed. He could also fill in at the middle infield positions.
Andy Vasquez can play all over the infield, has speed, and put up good hitting numbers in West Virginia last year.
Francisco Diaz has shown some good defense behind the plate this spring. He will back up Paulino when the starting catcher needs a break.
Colton Cain, Gerrit Cole, Hunter Strickland, Jameson Taillon, Quinton Miller/Tyler Waldron
The main event here is the combination of Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. Not only are they the top prospects in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system, but they’re two of the top prospects in the game, consistently ending up in the top 20 overall prospect rankings.
Taillon will spend more time at the level than Cole, since Cole is further developed. Both pitchers have similar issues to work on. They tend to elevate their pitches, making their dominant stuff easier to hit. For Cole, the issue is that he often tries to over-power his pitches, which elevates his fastball and flattens out his slider. For Taillon, it’s more an issue with his drop and drive delivery, which can make it hard for a pitcher to throw his fastball at the knees.
Both are highly talented pitchers, and there’s not a lot to worry about in either case, as these are both small issues in their overall game. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Cole move up to Altoona by May, once the weather starts heating up. It would be a surprise if he isn’t in Altoona by June. Taillon probably isn’t as much of a guarantee to make it to Altoona this year, since he’s a year removed from high school. He would have to absolutely dominate high-A hitters to make that jump this year.
Colton Cain is the only member of the 2009 prep class to make the jump from West Virginia to Bradenton at the start of the year. The left-hander will work on increasing his innings this year, while improving his change-up and focusing on his new slider. There is some concern with Cain’s velocity. He was working in the 90-94 MPH range at the start of the year last year, but has since been in the upper 80s, touching 90. There are no signs of an injury, and it remains to be seen whether the lefty can get back to that higher velocity.
Hunter Strickland missed the entire 2011 season with a forearm injury, and will make his way back to the rotation this year after combining for just 57 innings the last two years. Strickland looked good at times in Spring Training, working consistently in the 90-94 MPH range, and topping out at 96. He also featured a good slider, throwing the pitch in the 85-87 MPH range. He was inconsistent, which should be expected due to his layoff. The 6′ 5″, 200 pound right-hander is still a prospect to watch, as he’s only 23 this year. He’ll have to remain healthy if he wants a shot at retaining his prospect status.
Tyler Waldron and Quinton Miller will piggyback in the final spot of the rotation. Waldron profiles best as a reliever in the long-term, with a good fastball that he throws harder in shorter outings. Miller showed a good fastball in Spring Training, working in the 92-95 MPH range pretty consistently. His issue has always been a problem staying healthy. If he stays healthy for the entire 2012 season it would mark the first time he has done so in his four year pro career.
Zach Foster, Porfirio Lopez, Eliecer Navarro, Jhonathan Ramos, Casey Sadler, Jason Townsend
The Marauders have three very similar left-handers in Lopez, Navarro, and Ramos. All three have good breaking balls, but don’t have much of a fastball. Lopez is the exception to that last part, as he’s consistently gotten his fastball in the low-90s, topping out at 92. He commands the pitch well, which puts him as the leader of this group, and a candidate to get multiple innings.
Jason Townsend has touched 96 MPH in the past, but has been throwing in the low-90s while he works on continuing to improve his control and command. He’s got good movement on his fastball.
Casey Sadler pitched 66.2 innings last year in West Virginia, and was consistently 91-93 MPH with his fastball in the second half. He’s the top rated bullpen prospect of this group.
Zach Foster is a sidearm pitcher who throws in the mid-80s. He pitched 37.2 innings in Bradenton last year, seeing a spike in his walk rate, with a 4.3 BB/9 ratio.
Jeff Inman will start the year on the disabled list, nursing a sprained ankle. When he is healthy enough to pitch, he will return to the Bradenton bullpen. The right-hander has great stuff, with a fastball that touched 98 MPH during the fall instructional leagues. If he manages to stay healthy, he could move quickly through the system and be a dominant reliever in the majors one day.