The Bradenton Marauders started the 2013 season as one of the most exciting teams to follow in the system. That was largely due to the presence of the top two hitting prospects in the system — Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson — and one of the top pitching prospects in Nick Kingham. By mid-season, Polanco and Kingham were promoted to Altoona, and Hanson was soon to follow. What remained was a roster filled with talented players who hadn’t lived up to their potential yet, along with players who had the chance to make the majors, but only in a bullpen or bench role. Below is a recap of the hitters and pitchers at the level, followed by the top ten prospects this year.
In 2012 the West Virginia Power had one of the most exciting teams in the system, largely due to the breakouts of Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson. In 2013, both players moved up to Bradenton, with the big question of whether they could repeat their strong seasons at a higher level.
Gregory Polanco answered the challenge with ease. The center fielder had a .312/.364/.472 line in 218 at-bats in his time with Bradenton. He wasn’t hitting for a lot of power, but Polanco was showing amazing plate patience, and very few flaws on the field. The only downsides to his game were that he had trouble judging balls that were hit to straightaway center, and had some issues where his base running wasn’t as smooth. Neither of those are long-term concerns, and should be ironed out with more experience. As for what Polanco does well, you could take up an entire article on that subject, which is what Jake Oswalt did last week. I can’t add much more, except to mention that scouts raved about Polanco in his time with Bradenton, with one scout noting that he’s constantly improving different parts of his game.
The road for Alen Hanson wasn’t as smooth in Bradenton. There were questions coming into the year about his defense and his ability to stick at shortstop. Looking at the 25 errors, you’d think that Hanson’s chances of sticking at the position were poor. That’s not the case. Hanson actually showed great tools on the field, with a lot of range — especially to his right — and a strong enough arm to stick at the position. The strange thing about the errors is that a lot of them came on routine plays. Hanson would relax on those plays, dropping his arm slot, and leading to wild throws. You might be able to chalk that up to age, as Hanson was one of the youngest players on the team, and one of the youngest in the league. His bat started slow, but quickly picked up after a two week slump to start the season. One weapon Hanson added this year was the bunt. Hanson would keep infielders guessing, dropping a bunt for a hit in the first at-bat, then faking a bunt and hitting in to a drawn in defense in later at-bats. He got so good at this that the defense didn’t know what was coming. Hanson profiles as a strong leadoff hitter with a ton of speed, and if he continues to improve with this skill, he’s going to make it hard for opponents to defend against him.
Willy Garcia is a guy who has all of the raw tools that Gregory Polanco has, and the ability to be an impact player. He shows off a ton of power, but lacks plate patience and the ability to draw a walk. That is his main drawback, and it leads to him being a streaky hitter. His power is legit, and can lead to some impressive hot streaks. That was shown in June when he hit eight homers in 91 at-bats, with a .340 ISO that month. Garcia has a plus arm and the power to be a right fielder. He might move up to Altoona next year, but he’s going to have a hard time making it past Double-A without improving his plate patience.
Jose Osuna is another young hitter with a lot of potential, although he hasn’t seen that translate to results. He’s a first base prospect, and has as much upside as any other first base prospect in the system. He didn’t do well this year in Bradenton, hitting for a .244/.298/.357 line in 454 at-bats. By the end of the season he was serving as the DH, with Stetson Allie getting time at first. Osuna didn’t do enough to warrant a promotion to a higher level next year, and neither did Allie, so the Pirates might go into next season with the same plan of one player DHing, and one at first.
Stetson Allie crushed the ball in the South Atlantic League, but his bat went cold when he arrived in Bradenton. He only hit for a .697 OPS, with a modest .127 ISO in 236 at-bats. Allie looked over-matched at the plate, with a 28.9% strikeout rate. He did draw a 14.4% walk rate, but this was a case where the walks weren’t that encouraging. Allie wasn’t showing a good ability to be selective, and he wasn’t showing the ability to lay off bad breaking pitches. He was struggling against off-speed stuff, and benefitting from the lack of control that lower level pitchers will show. He’s still new to hitting, so there’s room for further adjustments. Right now, if Allie moved up, he would be completely over-matched at the plate, with the strikeouts going up and the walks dropping against pitchers with better command and better off-speed stuff.
One young hitter that surprised in the second half was Elias Diaz. The catcher has always displayed strong defensive skills behind the plate, highlighted by a strong arm. He’s also shown some potential with the bat, although that hasn’t translated to the field. Diaz had a decent season at the plate, and finished strong. In the second half he had a .325/.361/.390 line in 77 at-bats. In the final month of the season he posted a .386/.438/.455 line in 44 at-bats. He’s got the frame to hit for power, although it didn’t show up this year. This was his best season at the plate, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he moved up to Altoona next year. The Pirates have better catching prospects above and below Diaz, but he’s got the potential to at least be a backup in the majors one day.
Outside of the players mentioned above, there weren’t a lot of Marauders who impressed at the plate. Dan Gamache showed some poor defensive skills at second base, and didn’t do enough with the bat to make up for that. Gift Ngoepe had an impressive OPS, but his strikeout rate at the level was out of control, especially for his second run through the league. Jacob Stallings showed good defensive skills and a strong ability to work with a pitching staff, but doesn’t do much with the bat. Carlos Mesa showed some potential at times with the bat, but he was too inconsistent, lacked plate patience, and is too old for the league. After Polanco and Hanson left, the offense was pretty weak overall, especially since Allie was struggling, and Garcia and Osuna weren’t close to their full potential.
The Pirates had a lot of impact pitchers in their system in 2013, but not many of those pitchers were in Bradenton. In fact, the only pitcher this year who could be a number three starter or better was Nick Kingham. The right-hander dominated the level for half a season, then was promoted to Altoona for the second half of the year. Kingham showed great fastball command, plus a strong curveball and changeup. He’s got some of the best command in the system, and really improved the quality of his breaking pitches, after admitting that they had gotten a little rusty in previous seasons. Kingham was just as impressive in Altoona, and could be making his way to Indianapolis and possibly even Pittsburgh, in 2014.
After Kingham, the Marauders had starters who could make a major league rotation. However, not a lot of those starters had good numbers this year. Some of the poor numbers could be chalked up to the poor infield defense at the level for most of the season. The differences can be seen with the lower FIP totals.
The guy with the best numbers was Joely Rodriguez. The lefty made his way up to Bradenton in the second half, after Kingham was promoted to Altoona. Rodriguez had an impressive stat line, showing much improved command. I’ve been high on Rodriguez since I saw him at the end of the 2010 season. He was 18 years old, and hit 94 MPH in that outing. The problem with his game was that he lacked fastball command. He dealt with injuries the following seasons, and finally made his way back this year. When I saw him in the second half, he was throwing 91-94, but he was actually commanding the pitch this time around. He could use more strikeouts than he had in Bradenton, but Rodriguez is definitely a guy to watch.
Adrian Sampson had some poor numbers this year, and those numbers don’t really reflect the quality of his stuff. In terms of pure stuff, he probably ranks second from this year’s staff, behind Kingham. Sampson throws his fastball with good velocity, getting it up to 94 MPH at times. He’s got a nice curveball which can be a strikeout pitch. The problem this year is that people were hitting the fastball too often. One surprising thing was that the Pirates moved Sampson directly to high-A after being drafted out of college last year. Normally he would have started in West Virginia to work on his fastball command. Sampson showed some improvements in the second half. They were hidden by a few horrible outings, but nine of his last 15 starts were quality starts, with only one being the 6 IP/3 ER variety.
Robby Rowland showed some potential heading into the year as a sinkerball specialist. He didn’t have a strong season, and it wasn’t completely due to the infield defense behind him. Rowland struggled with his velocity at times at the end of the season. He also wasn’t as effective with his sinker, getting just a 1.25 GO/AO ratio, after a 1.71 ratio last year. There was also a weird trend with Rowland’s starts being impacted by rain. He had 16 starts that were either delayed or postponed due to rain, which probably made it hard to keep to a normal schedule.
Orlando Castro also saw a second half promotion, after dominating in the South Atlantic League. Castro is a lefty with great off-speed stuff and good control. That usually works at the lower levels, but doesn’t work as much in the upper levels. Castro is a bit different than most lefties in that he can throw with some decent low-90s velocity. However, he still saw struggles in his time with Bradenton, as hitters in high-A were a bit more used to lefty pitchers with good command. It’s also important to note that Castro was getting up there with his innings totals. He should return to Bradenton next year, but like most lefties, I remain skeptical until he can have success in Double-A.
The Marauders pitching staff featured two of the prep pitchers from the 2009 draft. Zack Von Rosenberg posted some good numbers, although his advanced metrics suggested he wasn’t that good. This was mostly due to a lack of strikeouts and too many walks. He also only threw 23 innings due to an ankle injury. Zack Dodson didn’t have strong numbers, and the advanced metrics didn’t suggest any improvements. From a pure stuff standpoint, Dodson looked like the better prospect, and still looks like he could have the potential to make the majors. He will definitely get plenty of opportunities, since he’s left-handed with good velocity and a good curveball.
The rest of the Marauders pitchers looked like future relief options at best. Pat Ludwig showed some promise at the end of the year, moving into the rotation and making a few strong starts. Joan Montero throws with mid-90s velocity, but lacks control. Emmanuel De Leon is another hard thrower who also lacks control at times. Matt Benedict is a sinkerball pitcher who was impacted by the defense behind him. He also had some bad luck, losing a lot of low scoring games and getting very little run support. Eliecer Navarro dominated the level, but he was also on the old side, and didn’t continue his numbers once he moved to Altoona. Zach Thornton, Quinton Miller, and Jhonathan Ramos all had success out of the bullpen in a brief time in Bradenton before being moved up to higher levels.
Top 10 Prospects
The cutoff for eligibility on this list was 140 at-bats, 40 innings pitched, or 20 relief appearances. Guys who are no longer in the organization were also excluded. There weren’t many key players left off the list, and anyone who was left off would have been competing for one of the final spots on the list. There was a big drop off after number three on this list. The guys after that were either rated because of potential over performance (Stetson Allie, Jose Osuna), or rated lower because they are still in the process of breaking out (Joely Rodriguez).
1. Gregory Polanco
2. Alen Hanson
3. Nick Kingham
4. Stetson Allie
5. Willy Garcia
6. Joely Rodriguez
7. Jose Osuna
8. Adrian Sampson
9. Elias Diaz
10. Zack Dodson