The 2013 Jamestown Jammers season begins today. Some of you may be wondering “Who are the Jamestown Jammers?” The Pirates used to have their short-season A-ball affiliate in State College. The contract with the Spikes ended last year, and the Spikes opted to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals. Thus the Pirates moved their short-season A-ball team to Jamestown. Everything is the same as it was with State College, except for the obvious part about the team playing in Jamestown.
Normally with my team previews I give the lineup, the rotation, the bullpen, and the bench. However, in this situation that’s difficult to project. I’ve seen a lot of the guys already in the system, and have a good idea of what they can do and where they’ll be playing. However, the draft adds a new twist. The roster I had on Friday was out of date a day later after the Pirates made a few signings. Also, I could project a starting rotation, or a starting lineup, but the truth is that a lot of position players will be cycled in and out of the lineup, while a lot of pitchers will get innings, even if they’re not in the rotation.
Therefore, I thought I’d just profile the players, breaking them down by groups, and separating each group into hitters and pitchers. The “Prospects” group will highlight the top guys at the level. That’s not to say anyone not on this list isn’t a prospect. They’re just guys who probably wouldn’t draw consideration for our top 50. The “Draft Picks” group will highlight the new players in the system. Some of those guys could be on the “Prospects” list, but I wanted to keep this group together. I’ll give you an idea of which players stand out. Finally, I’ll group everyone else in the unceremonious “Everyone Else” list.
The Jamestown roster is at 31 right now, out of 35 possible spots. I’d expect more guys to be added to the list in the coming days.
Colten Brewer, RHP - Brewer was taken in the same draft as Tyler Glasnow and Clay Holmes. Both pitchers are ahead of Brewer in West Virginia, but Brewer still has a lot of upside. He’s missed some time in the last two years with injuries, but when healthy he can get his fastball up to 95 MPH. He had good numbers when healthy last year in the GCL, with a 3.24 ERA in 25 innings, along with a 6.5 K/9 and a 3.2 BB/9. Those 25 innings are the only innings Brewer has thrown so far. He needs improvement on his secondary pitches, which makes him more of a project. Despite being a project, he’s a legit prospect due to his good frame, good fastball, and the fact that he’s only 20 years old. Brewer will be in the starting rotation.
Dovydas Neverauskas, RHP - Neverauskas was signed out of Lithuania in 2009. He’s a very interesting pitching prospect who consistently hits 95 MPH. He sits in the 92-95 range, but can also dip down to the 89-91 range at times. He’s been working on his fastball command the last few years, while also getting adjusted to throwing everyday in the pros. Neverauskas played tournament ball in Lithuania, which was a much different atmosphere that didn’t involve throwing everyday. He’s got an easy delivery and the potential to routinely sit in the mid-90s with his fastball as he develops. He also has the potential for a nice curveball. Neverauskas will be in the Jamestown rotation.
Isaac Sanchez, RHP - Sanchez has had a live arm in the past, throwing 91-93 MPH with good arm-side run. His issue in the past has been control. However, he came a long way this Spring, and looks like a sleeper prospect due to the improvements with his fastball and his overall game. The Pirates obviously felt good about his progress this year, as they’ve got him in the starting rotation. He’s the Opening Day starter, which doesn’t carry the same weight in the minors as it does in the majors, since minor league pitchers just throw on their scheduled fifth day out of Spring Training, or extended Spring Training in this case.
Elvis Escobar, OF - Escobar is very similar to Harold Ramirez, and is one of the top prospects at the level. He’s a small outfielder, but has great hitting skills highlighted by a quick bat and a line drive stroke. He hits for gap power, but also can hit homers. He’s got a lot of speed, making him a weapon on the bases, and giving him the range to play center. He’s got a better arm than Ramirez, so he might profile better in center over the long run. The Pirates played Escobar in center field more in 2012, but have been playing Ramirez more at the position in extended Spring Training in 2013. Both hitters should lead the Jamestown offense this year.
Jin-De Jhang, C - Jhang is a sleeper prospect who signed for $250,000 out of Taiwan in 2011. At the time he was a huge catcher, and didn’t look like a prospect because of his weight. He’s slimmed down a lot in the last two years, and while weight is still a concern, he’s now to the point where he looks like a prospect. Jhang’s receiving skills have improved behind the plate, as has his movement due to added agility from the weight loss. The best part about his game is his bat. He’s a great pure hitter, with the potential for plus contact skills, and some power potential. He’s a line drive hitter right now, but could hit for double-digit homers in the future. Max Rossiter could get a lot of time behind the plate this year, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Jhang gets his at-bats as the designated hitter.
Harold Ramirez, OF - Ramirez is the top prospect at the level, edging out Elvis Escobar, who is a very similar player. Ramirez will probably get more of the time in center field this year, and has a lot of range and a decent arm. He’s a great pure hitter with a lot of bat speed that can generate power. He has quick, strong hands and good baseball instincts. Most of the power is extra base, gap power, but he can also hit a few homers. Ramirez has a lot of speed on the bases, and is an all-out player on the field. The Pirates gave him a $1.05 M bonus in 2011, which is their second biggest international bonus behind Luis Heredia.
Cody Dickson, LHP - The final two spots of the rotation aren’t known yet, but Dickson should be a favorite for one of those spots. He was taken in the fourth round this year, and has a lot of upside. He works in the 90-95 MPH range with his fastball, which is great for a left-hander. He also has a good curveball and the potential for a good changeup. The changeup needs improvement, and his biggest issue is a lack of control. Fortunately, those are two things the Pirates stress at this level, which means he should spend most of the year working to improve his two biggest weaknesses. If he can fix the control problems and improve his changeup, he could have the upside of a middle of the rotation starter.
Chad Kuhl, RHP - Kuhl could draw consideration for the rotation, but the 9th round pick will get a lot of innings either way. He throws a low-90s sinker and gets a lot of ground balls. He’s got a curve and a changeup, which are both fringy pitches. His ceiling would be a fifth starter or a long reliever in the majors. If he doesn’t go to the rotation, he should get a lot of innings working in a piggyback role.
Shane Carle, RHP - Carle is in a similar situation as Kuhl. The 10th round pick is a sinkerball pitcher who relies on ground balls. He sits in the upper 80s but can touch 94 with the pitch, throwing from a 3/4 arm slot. He has a slider and a changeup, which are both fringy. If he’s not in the rotation, he should be a 3-4 inning guy out of the bullpen.
Justin Topa, RHP - Topa was a college senior, but has an interesting arm, throwing 91-93 MPH and touching 95. He was taken out of Long Island University in the 17th round. Topa has a good changeup, but had Tommy John surgery in 2011 and his breaking ball hasn’t come back since the procedure. He should be a bullpen option for the Jammers, and could be a multi-inning guy due to his good mix of pitches.
Brett McKinney, RHP - McKinney was a college senior from Ohio State taken in the 19th round. He throws his fastball around 90 as a starter, but can hit 94 out of the bullpen. He moved to the bullpen in his senior year with Ohio State, and should stay in that role with Jamestown, possibly serving as the closer or a late inning guy.
Beau Wallace, 3B - Wallace was taken in the 12th round out of Hinds CC. He added about 11 pounds to his frame in the last year, and saw an increase in his power, going from a .107 ISO to a .212 in 2013. He hits for average and has good strike zone judgement. He was a middle round pick, so he doesn’t profile as a top prospect, but he does have some hitting potential similar to a lot of middle round college guys who have come through the NYPL the last few years. Wallace should get most of the playing time at third base.
Danny Collins, 1B - Collins was drafted out of Troy in the 13th round this year. He put up some big offensive numbers, both average and power, due to his quick bat and good hand-eye coordination. He should be the starting first baseman, and his bat will be interesting to watch. He’s similar to Wallace in that he’s an interesting bat to follow this year, despite being a middle round college guy.
Max Rossiter, C - Last year the Pirates drafted Jacob Stallings, a college senior who was exceptional at working with pitching staffs. Stallings went to the NYPL and was the primary catcher, handling a young staff. This year they did the same with Rossiter, and he should get most of the work behind the plate with a young group of pitchers. Rossiter doesn’t profile as a top catching prospect, as he’s more of a strong defensive guy with a weak bat. That defense could allow him to make it to the majors one day as a backup, but he’s more of a long-shot. For now he will provide a lot of value working with the pitchers, much like Stallings has done over the last two years with guys like Joely Rodriguez, Luis Heredia, Nick Kingham, and Clay Holmes.
Jeff Roy, OF - Roy was drafted in the 18th round out of Rhode Island. His best skill is his speed, with 30 bases in 30 attempts in 2013. That speed makes him a playmaker, and he’s also a guy who gets on base at a good rate. In 2012 he reached base safely in 41 consecutive games. Elvis Escobar and Harold Ramirez will definitely get playing time in the outfield, but Roy could take most of the playing time in the other spot, while serving as a leadoff hitter.
Michael Fransoso, SS - Fransoso was a 27th round pick out of Maine, but seems like an interesting guy to watch. He’s had hip problems in the last few years, leading to a few surgeries to clear cartilage which was torn from his hip bone rubbing the wrong way. He hasn’t missed much time on the field despite the issue, and has been a great hitter in his time in college. He’s got great plate patience, with a 47:46 BB/K ratio in his last two years in college. He might have to eventually move off shortstop due to the hip problems, but if he stays healthy he could be an interesting sleeper to watch, in an Adalberto Santos way.
Lance Breedlove, RHP - Breedlove doesn’t have much of a fastball and worked off his low-80s slider last year. He was taken out of college last year and is in his second year in the NYPL, serving as bullpen depth.
Axel Diaz, RHP - Diaz got a lot of innings in the GCL last year, and should get a lot of innings with Jamestown this year. He throws an 87-91 MPH two-seam fastball, and has added a bit of velocity at times this year to the pitch. He also throws a curve and a changeup, with the curve being the better pitch. He works on the inner half of the plate, and pitches to both sides of the plate. Diaz might not be in the rotation, and if he isn’t he should get a lot of work out of the bullpen.
David Jagoditsh, RHP - Jagoditsh is 6′ 7″, 230 pounds and throws at a steep downhill angle with his height and high arm slot. It almost looks like he’s half way to the plate when he releases the pitch. He’s more of a bullpen option at this point, and not on the radar as a top prospect as a result. However, the height makes him an appealing option, plus the fact that he works 88-93 MPH and has touched 95 in the past.
Kevin Kleis, RHP - Kleis has a huge frame at 6′ 8″, 225 pounds, and added some velocity last year. He was up to 91-94 MPH with his fastball, although he struggles with his control. He should pitch out of the bullpen for Jamestown.
Jared LaKind, LHP - LaKind was moved to the mound this Spring after signing with the Pirates for $400,000 as a 23rd round first baseman out of high school. I didn’t get a chance to see him pitch, so I’m not sure how he’s throwing. Out of high school he was a left-hander who could hit 90 MPH.
Jackson Lodge, LHP - Lodge is a soft tossing left-hander out of Australia, with a fastball in the mid-80s. He has a good breaking pitch and good control, but isn’t going to be much of a prospect without adding to his velocity.
Cesar Lopez, RHP - Lopez was signed out of Cuba for $600,000 in September 2010. He has hit mid-90s with his fastball in the past, but has been in the mid-to-upper 80s in his time in the pros. In the last year he has seen his velocity jump to the 89-92 MPH range, with good downward movement on the fastball. He’s got good command, and throws at a downhill angle. He should get a lot of innings this year, regardless of whether he’s in the rotation or not.
Jovani Lopez, LHP - Lopez has pitched in the international rookie leagues the last four years, and is making the jump over the GCL in his move to the US. He’s a lefty who had a 2.73 ERA in 26.1 innings last year in the DSL. He’s 22 years old, and should be a depth option out of the bullpen.
Kurt Yacko, RHP - The Pirates signed Yacko as a minor league free agent and turned him into a knuckleball pitcher. He has thrown the knuckleball before, but only as a situational pitch. He’s learning how to pitch off of it now. The knuckleball is usually a last-ditch effort for pitchers, and it certainly is for Yacko, who is 25 years old.
Francisco Aponte, IF - The biggest value Aponte brings is that he can play any position in the infield. Other than that, he’s a lower level utility player who is 22 years old.
Yhonathan Barrios, 3B - Barrios received a $250,000 signing bonus in 2008, which was one of the biggest international bonuses for the Pirates at the time. He was signed as a shortstop with power potential, but has since moved to third base and hasn’t shown that power. He’s now 21 and has been passed up by other international infielders like Alen Hanson and Dilson Herrera, who signed 1-2 years after he did. He’ll probably work off the bench this year, but could get some starts at second base.
Jodaneli Carvajal, 2B - Carvajal was signed for $350,000 in 2008, and was highly regarded for his defense when signed. He has spent some time in West Virginia, but mostly has been stuck in the NYPL due to his lack of hitting. He’s still got good defensive skills, but has played more second base in the last year, and should work off the bench in Jamestown, but could get starting time at second base.
Edwin Espinal, 1B - Espinal is more of a prospect than anyone in this group, but he’s also very raw. He’s trimmed down from his huge frame in the last year, but has been playing more first base after being signed as a third baseman. He’s got a lot of raw power, and a strong arm at third, but his size limits his defensive range. He should lose playing time to Danny Collins at first and Beau Wallace at third, but I’d expect to see him in the lineup more than anyone else in this group.
Jimmy Rider, SS - Rider was a college senior drafted last year. He played in the GCL last year and will move up to the NYPL this year, probably serving the same role as infield depth.
Dave Valesente, C - Valesente is on the roster now, but will be heading to the GCL when their season begins. He could be replaced by another catcher, which would allow the Jammers to use Jin-De Jhang as a DH.
Jesus Vasquez, OF - Vasquez has some pop in his bat, with a .202 ISO in the NYPL last year. He’s also a free swinger with poor plate patience, leading to a high strikeout rate and a low walk rate.