The Bradenton Marauders had a strong debut season in the Florida State League, finishing with a 39-31 record in the first half, which fell 4.5 games short of the first half division title, then winning the second half with a 37-31 record. Bradenton lost in the playoffs to Charlotte, but by the time the playoffs came around, most of the top prospects had either graduated to the next level, or were injured.
Injuries were the big story this year. Several of the top prospects suffered major injuries, with most of those prospects being on the hitting side. As a result, Bradenton didn’t have many hitters record over 300 at-bats, and those who did see more than 300 at-bats didn’t have an all-around strong season.
Bradenton also saw a few top prospects graduate to the next level, specifically pitchers like Bryan Morris and Jeff Locke. It’s likely that injured players like Tony Sanchez and Starling Marte would have graduated to Altoona had they not had their seasons cut short, showing just how much the injuries hurt the farm system.
Here are the stats for everyone who played in Bradenton in 2010. One thing to keep in mind is that Bradenton plays in a very pitcher friendly league, although they play their home games in a park that is known to be hitter friendly.
Almost every player in this group can be considered a prospect. On the pitching side, you could make a case for every player. Hunter Strickland and Tim Alderson both had disappointing seasons. Strickland struggled in West Virginia, and continued those struggles in Bradenton. Alderson struggled in Altoona, and his numbers didn’t look good after his demotion, although he was working on new mechanics.
Jeff Locke is one of the best success stories in the minors this year, with a great run in Bradenton, and possibly better numbers in his jump to Altoona. Nathan Adcock emerged with a great season, but remained in Bradenton all season. Locke and Adcock both need to be added to the 40-man roster in the off-season, or risk being selected in the Rule 5 draft. Both are strong candidates to be added with the seasons they had.
Nathan Baker had a strong year in West Virginia, and did well in his jump to Bradenton. Baker doesn’t have above average stuff, but his numbers have looked good, leaving the chance that he could add to the Pirates rotation depth one day. Kyle McPherson is an interesting story. He had one of the best strikeout ratios this season in the minors in West Virginia, and looked good in his jump to Bradenton, although it was during limited appearances. McPherson should start next season in Bradenton, and might even make it to Altoona by the end of the year.
The hitting side had two of the top five prospects in the organization in Tony Sanchez and Starling Marte. Both had their seasons shortened by injuries. Marte was hit in the hand with a pitch and had the hook of his hammate bone removed, while Sanchez was hit in the face with a pitch, breaking his jaw and ending his season in June. Brock Holt joins those two as another talented position player who had his season cut short. All three hitters performed well when healthy.
Robbie Grossman and Quincy Latimore both have some tools to work with, but they also have their draw backs. The biggest issue for these two come with the high strikeout totals. Latimore has power, and Grossman draws some walks, but I doubt I’d have either player in my top 30 prospects when looking at the entire system. McClune is probably the only non-prospect in this age group.
Bryan Morris stands out as the top prospect from this group, with an amazing season in his time in Bradenton to start the 2010 season. The numbers were especially impressive when considering the poor performance Morris had at the level in 2009. Aaron Pribanic had good numbers, and has a good sinkerball, but he’s not a guy I trust as a top pitching prospect until he gets his strikeout totals up.
There were several relievers with potential here, like Diego Moreno, Tom Boleska, and Michael Colla. All three put up strong numbers and advanced to AA this season for some playing time at the next level. Brian Leach has some potential as a starter, but really hasn’t lived up to his tools so far, with just average to slightly above average results.
The big surprise on offense came from Jeremy Farrell, another player who had his season shortened by injuries. Farrell doesn’t project as a third baseman long term, but if he can continue his 2010 hitting, the Pirates could definitely find a spot for him, or use him as trade bait. Calvin Anderson had somewhat of a disappointing season when considering his size. Anderson didn’t hit for much power, and really struggled in the second half of the season.
The biggest names of interest on the pitching side are Ramon Aguero and Craig Hansen, who were both at the level doing rehab work. On the hitting side, most of these players were either demoted from AA, or added to replace the injured prospects from the first two groups. The biggest name of note is Eric Fryer, who had a great season at the plate. Fryer is strong defensively, but his offensive numbers get put in question due to his age. I don’t see Fryer as more than a backup catcher, so a quick timeline to the majors is really not that important.
Top Hitter: Starling Marte is easily the best pure hitter at the level. Tony Sanchez is my top prospect, but he gets the edge due to the fact that a strong defensive catcher is more valuable than a strong defensive outfielder. Marte hit for a .315/.386/.432 line in his debut at the level. Sanchez and Holt had slightly better numbers, but they’re each a year older than Marte, and both players played college ball, so they’ve played talent that is similar to this level. Marte is an international player, and outside of his time in West Virginia last year, this is his first exposure to players of this talent level, making his numbers even more impressive.
Top Pitcher: Bryan Morris was the top pitcher at the level this year, both in talent, and in numbers. His 0.60 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, and 1.4 BB/9 ratios were unreal. Jeff Locke and Nathan Adcock should also be mentioned here, as they each pitched more innings than Morris, with Adcock putting up a strong season while staying on the roster the entire year.
Biggest Surprise: Jeremy Farrell would have to be the biggest surprise for me. I was a big believer in Morris and Locke, so their strong numbers didn’t surprise me. We knew that Holt was a good hitter, and the only surprise there was that he made the jump to high-A with such ease. Farrell wasn’t on the prospect lists prior to the season, and now is being considered as a prospect with his 2010 performance.
Biggest Disappointment: The biggest disappointment this year came with the amount of injuries the Bradenton team saw. Tony Sanchez could have been in Altoona by the end of the 2010 season, with a chance to be on the fast track to arriving in Pittsburgh by June 2011. His injury this year could have pushed his major league arrival back until 2012. Brock Holt and Starling Marte could have been locks to start the 2011 season in Altoona. Now each player might be at risk of spending time in Bradenton to start the 2011 season. The same can be said for Farrell.
Top five prospects:
1. Tony Sanchez – Sanchez is the top offensive prospect in the system in my opinion. His defense is already major league ready, and if his 2010 hitting was an example of his skill level at the plate, then he could be a future All-Star catcher.
2. Starling Marte – Marte is a five tool outfielder who just needs to develop power. Like Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata, Marte hasn’t developed that power yet, although he’s still at a young age. Marte could be in the majors by 2012, giving the Pirates a very exciting outfield to watch.
3. Bryan Morris – Morris had a huge bounce back season compared to his 2009 performance in high-A. His numbers were outstanding, showing his potential as a future top of the rotation starter. If Morris can stay healthy, I see him as a #2 starter in the majors one day.
4. Jeff Locke – Locke also had a bounce back year, after a down year in 2009. Locke might have been even better in his jump to AA, and profiles as a 2-4 starter in the majors.
5. Brock Holt – Holt had a great season, after an unexpected jump to high-A in his first full season as a pro. That season was cut short by a knee injury, which might have cost Holt the chance to start the 2011 season in Altoona. Holt has some power potential, and is an interesting middle infield prospect, although he might be stuck behind Neil Walker on the second base depth charts in the future.
The story of Bradenton’s season was injuries. The Marauders opened the season with an 18-3 win, took their first five games, and garnered considerable attention by flattening opponents with a powerhouse lineup. Then they got derailed by injuries that took out most of their lineup. Starling Marte, Tony Sanchez and Brock Holt all missed well over half the season. Jeremy Farrell and Eric Fryer missed nearly half. The Pirates were forced to sign several castoffs and demote players like Jose de los Santos and Shelby Ford to fill out the roster. Bradenton also lost its best pitchers, Bryan Morris and Jeff Locke, to promotions, although the addition of Nate Baker partly made up for the loss. The team got a big boost when Marte, Fryer and Farrell returned late in the season. The latter two continued to miss time, but the Marauders still reached the post-season.
Bradenton started the season depending on huge offensive outbursts, as Marte, Sanchez, Farrell, Quincy Latimore and Robbie Grossman all got off to blistering starts. Holt joined the team in mid-April after a spring training injury. He posted the highest BA of all before going out for the season with a knee injury that occurred in an infield collision with Adenson Chourio. The offensive fireworks didn’t continue; at its low point from an injury standpoint, the team had to play for an extended period without Marte, Sanchez, Fryer, Holt, and Farrell. In addition, Latimore cooled off and Grossman slumped badly. Latimore, however, continued to knock in runs and Calvin Anderson got red hot in May and June before slumping in the second half. Despite all the injuries, the Marauders still finished as the FSL’s top offensive outfit by a comfortable margin.
While the offense lost some of its steam, the pitching eventually picked things up. Aaron Pribanic and Brian Leach turned things around after bad starts. Nate Adcock pitched well most of the year, as did Locke before his promotion. The bullpen was up and down, especially when Diego Moreno wasn’t around, but Tyler Cox, Tom Boleska (before he, too, moved up to Altoona) and Mike Colla (who also moved up) pitched well at times, as did Casey Erickson as a swing man. Organizational guy Noah Krol was solid as closer.
Top hitter: This is a tough choice. Holt, Sanchez, Fryer and Farrell all had outstanding seasons when they were able to play, and Quincy Latimore piled up RBIs despite just fair slash stats. But I’d have to give the nod to Marte, who not only had a stellar season but offers the greatest upside of all the team’s position players. If he improves his patience at the plate and starts to drive the ball more, he could become a star. It’s not just the bat, either. I assume by “top hitter” we’re really saying “top position player.” Marte has a huge upside defensively, due to his speed and very strong arm.
Top pitcher: This is another tough choice. The team’s best pitcher, without question, was Morris. He was almost unhittable, but he made only eight starts before heading to Altoona. Reliever Diego Moreno was also nearly untouchable, but he got an early promotion to AA and then returned only after missing time due to injury. I’m going to go with Nate Adcock, who pitched as well as Locke and was with the Marauders longer. He was more consistent than Aaron Pribanic, who made tremendous strides in the second half. Adcock is more of a finesse guy, which no doubts accounts for him not being promoted as Locke was.
Biggest surprise: Bradenton was loaded with many of the Pirates’ best prospects, so the large number of impressive, if abbreviated, seasons wasn’t a surprise. Morris, Locke and Adcock all turned themselves around dramatically, but this wasn’t a huge surprise, either, as all three had been highly regarded. Farrell improved substantially over his 2009 season, but I’d say the biggest surprise was Fryer. He showed little with the bat in 2009, but had a big 2010 season while also showing excellent defensive ability behind the plate and even decent speed. The big question will be whether he can move up quickly, as he was old for the level, turning 25 about a week before season’s end.
Biggest disappointment: Robbie Grossman. He’s shown signs of life. His K rate, which was frightful in 2009, was merely high this year and he’s continued to draw a lot of walks. He’s made some progress with his struggles against RHPs, so maybe it’s not time yet for him to consider giving up switch-hitting. He also improved dramatically after mid-season; in 2009 he went in the opposite direction. Still, the overall numbers aren’t great and the power hasn’t developed. It’s not time to give up, though. Grossman played the entire season at age 20, which is young for the level, so there’s still a realistic chance he’ll start to justify the well-above-slot bonus that the Pirates paid him.
Top five prospects:
1. Starling Marte, OF. He still needs to improve his plate discipline, power and consistency in the field, but Marte has the highest ceiling of any prospect in the system not named Taillon.
2. Tony Sanchez, C. Sanchez continues to draw raves for his defense, which is a little odd because base stealers ran wild on him before a fractured jaw ended his season. The cause may have been shoulder problems, which do present a long-term concern. Still, with the solid bat he’s shown, he profiles as an above-average major league catcher, which is a valuable commodity.
3. Bryan Morris, RHP. Despite hitting a snag after a strong start in AA, Morris still has the highest ceiling among the Pirates’ upper-level pitching prospects.
4. Jeff Locke, LHP. Locke righted himself at Bradenton and then made even bigger strides after his promotion to AA. Some observers are ranking him ahead of Morris now.
5. Diego Moreno, RHP. With upper-90s heat, Moreno has an upside in the bullpen that the Pirates see about once every millenium.
Honorable Mention: A top five isn’t nearly enough for this team, although the five guys I listed rank easily ahead due to their ceilings. There are, however, plenty of others deserving recognition: Brock Holt, Eric Fryer, Quincy Latimore, Robbie Grossman, Nate Adcock, Brian Leach, Aaron Pribanic, Nate Baker.
Top Hitter: Quincy Latimore, OF – Hard not to name the best hitter on the team as the guy who led the entire FSL in RBI’s with 100. He also led the team in homers, doubles, runs and hits and was in the lineup a team high 134 times, quite an accomplishment on this team. His 19 homers were eight more than anyone else on the team and ranked him second in the FSL, just two behind the league leader.
Top Pitcher: Nathan Adcock, RHP – Tough call between Adcock and Aaron Pribanic but I gave it to Nate based on the fact he won 11 games which was four more than Pribanic. Nate led the team in wins and strikeouts while finishing second to Pribanic in both innings pitched and ERA. Adcock also had the second best WHIP on the team trailing Jeff Locke who pitched 55 less innings.
Biggest Surprise: Brock Holt, 2B – Skipping low-A ball totally, Holt came to the pitching friendly FSL and all he did was hit for two months straight. I really didn’t expect Holt to bat .351 over his 47 game stretch in the league and look like someone who should be promoted before an injury cut his season short. He had 68 hits in those 47 games and his average was 6 points higher than the league leader.
Biggest Disappointment: Injuries, almost everyone – Normally reserved for a player, this seems like the most obvious choice when I was going through the players trying to figure it out. I was disappointed Tony Sanchez got hurt, disappointed Starling Marte got hurt, disappointed Jeremy Farrell got hurt in what looked like a breakout season. Same goes for the aforementioned Brock Holt. Plus they had injuries to Eric Fryer who was hitting well, Hunter Strickland who was pitching well and Diego Moreno who needs to be added to the 40 man roster this offseason or be exposed to the Rule 5 draft. The reason I didn’t do an intro for this team is because this basically sums up their season. They still made the playoffs despite all of these injuries but the postseason could’ve been better with a much stronger lineup in place.
Top five prospects:
1. Starling Marte, CF – His season stats won’t show how good he really is due to the hand injury that robbed him of half his season and any power potential, but he is a legit five tool player. The major concerns with Marte are the fact he gets hit by pitches more often than anyone in the organization and he doesn’t have much plate patience. You could have a concern that he won’t hit much once he gets higher up and sees less to hit but for now you have to focus on what he can do well, that’s hit the ball, catch the ball, throw the ball and run the bases. The power is the only tool that hasn’t shown up yet but most scouts who see him agree that it will. He’s a decent sized kid who makes solid contact often.
2. Tony Sanchez, C – He was known for his strong defense when drafted and they expected him to hit well enough to be a solid major leaguer but his bat has shown to be better than they expected. Sanchez was likely headed for Altoona by the all-star break before the beaning cut his season short, but with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League I could see him still being on the fast track to the majors. He has shown strong plate patience, some power and a good average since being drafted, keeping him high on most people’s top ten lists despite missing so much time and falling behind his planned quick schedule.
3. Nathan Adcock, RHP – My choice for the team’s pitcher of the year, Adcock is still just 22 years old and he had a very strong season repeating high-A ball. He had a nice groundball rate (1.42 GO/AO), batters hit just .243 off him and his K/BB ratio was an impressive 3:1. I truly believe his numbers would’ve been a little better if the team didn’t alter his pitching routine for a rehab start by Chris Jakubauskas in June. Adock pitched poorly in relief that game then didn’t pitch well for a couple weeks following that. He finally got back on track late July and was very impressive overall his last eight starts,allowing three earned runs or less in every game.
4. Robbie Grossman, OF – His overall stats weren’t the best but he finished the season much better and he’s still very young for the league just days from his 21st birthday now. His .744 OPS in 72 games after the all-star break was a 129 point improvement over the first half of the year. He also finished second in the league in walks with 66,just two behind the league leader. He has good speed,good defense and cut down on his high K total from last year,one of the things most people worried most about with him. In 19 more AB’s this season he had 46 less strikeouts. I expect him to repeat the level,at least to begin the year but at 21 he is still young for the league.
5. Aaron Pribanic, RHP – Aaron might not strikeout guys at a rate that you would like to see from a prospect but he put on quite a display for more than half the season. Including his great playoff performance he had 13 quality starts in his last 16 starts and the 3 games that didn’t qualify as a quality start he gave up a combined 1 earned run over 15.2 IP. He led the team in innings pitched, ERA and has an outstanding 1.90 GO/AO ratio while walking just 33 batters in 27 starts. Those numbers over a long period of time are just too hard to ignore.
Honorable mention goes to Jeff Locke and Bryan Morris who both will be ranked on Altoona, Nate Baker who made the West Virginia prospect list and Quincy Latimore who fell just short due to his low walk/high strikeout rate.
The Pirates got to unwrap one of their Christmas presents in April this year and it was…a new High-A affiliate. And this one was in Bradenton right by Pirate City so the brass could have easy access to one of their teams all year. Bradenton plays in the Florida State League, which as a league has a reputation as being a pitcher’s league, mostly due to the heavy, humid air in the summer. Well, at least in 2010, many Marauders felt quite at home and posted big home/road splits. It was a successful debut season for the Bradenton Marauders, even if no one saw it. The Marauders had the 2nd lowest attendance in the FSL with only 823 fans per game. Pa-thet-ic.
Top Hitter: Brock Holt, SS — Holt only played 47 games until ripping his ACL apart, but while he was on the field Holt put up a .351/.410/.438 (848 OPS) line with a 10% walk rate and a 15% strikeout rate. Holt was promoted aggressively from State College in 2009 to Bradenton in 2010, so the Pirates see something in him. Here’s hoping he rebounds well in 2011 and starts off in Altoona, although a return trip for half a year to Bradenton wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
Top Pitcher: Jeff Locke, LHP — Locke wins in the non-Bryan-Morris portion of tonight’s program. Morris dropped a 0.60 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and 40 K’s with only 7 BB’s in 44 IP before being promoted to AA. But take a look at Locke’s stats. In 17 starts over 86 IP, Locke had 83 K’s and 14 BB’s for a 1.11 WHIP. Basically double Morris’s stats and you have Jeff Locke’s, but Locke did it over a longer period of time and didn’t have the video game-level ERA (Locke was at 3.54).
Biggest Surprise: Tim Alderson, RHP — I’m sure this could also go in “Biggest Disappointment”, but I’m saving that for something else. Seeing Alderson finish 2010 at this level was a surprise, especially since all indications at the start of the season may have pointed to him finishing at AAA. Alderson is at his nadir. He has completely lost all confidence in himself and his delivery is a complete mess. He can be rebuilt. The Pirates have the technology.
Biggest Disappointment: Injuries to everyone — It was a weird time in Bradenton this year as this team HAD to league the FSL in hit by pitches and injuries to key prospects. Brock Holt, Tony Sanchez, Starling Marte, Jeremy Farrell, and Hunter Strickland all missed significant chunks of the season due to injuries. I think Strickland is in the Witness Protection Program, actually. The first four all had huge breakout seasons going before their injuries, with only Marte returning to try and recapture the magic. I would think that all of the first four would go up to AA at the start of 2011, though.
Top 5 Prospects
1. Tony Sanchez, C — Two fastballs to the grill and a mysterious shoulder ailment ruined 2010 for Sanchez, but he was making believers of some with the bat prior to going down for the count. In his 207 AB’s, he had a .314/.416/.454 (870 OPS) going with a nice 15% BB rate and 20% K rate. Strangely his defense, thought to be his meal ticket, eroded due to the aforementioned shoulder problem. He should still see Pittsburgh by June 2012.
2. Bryan Morris, RHP — It’s a little weird tossing Morris in here at this level, since he only threw 44 IP, but he left his mark. I downgraded him one spot because of his age for this level, as he was 23. There is a strong chance that with a quick start in Indianapolis in 2011 that Morris could be in Pittsburgh by the All Star Game.
3. Starling Marte, OF — The Golden Child. Mister 5 Tools. Littlefield’s Latin Legacy. Marte is all of these things and none of these things at times. Right now Marte is exhibited all of the 5 tools, except for power. And his freakish hit by pitch injury resulted in a broken hamate bone in the hand, which is known to sap power for a year. Good news is Marte didn’t have power to start with. But he has a cannon for an arm and lightning in his legs. His line for the year, which included a cameo at the end of the year after returning from the broken hamate, was .315/.386/.432 (818 OPS) with 22 SB in 30 attempts.
4. Jeff Locke, LHP — Locke was, in my opinion, the key piece in the Nate McLouth trade. Charlie Morton was the immediate piece, Gorkys Hernandez was the wild card, but Locke was the one that was the key (seriously, I just realized the pun with key and Locke after typing it twice). As I mentioned in the Top Pitcher section, Locke had the same peripherals as Bryan Morris, but over a longer period of time. Locke is a lefty that works in the low 90’s, which is plenty good enough for a lefty. Locke is a little bit behind Morris and Rudy Owens on the development chart, but could surpass all of them as soon as 2011.
5. Diego Moreno, RHP — Moreno is a pure reliever, but he put up a stunning body of work at Bradenton before being promoted to Altoona. Moreno in his 38 IP had 57 K’s, 5 BB’s, 14 hits allowed, for a 1.17 ERA and 0.50 WHIP. The opposing managers in the FSL all chipped in to buy him his plane ticket to Altoona.
Top 10 Prospects at the Level
The Bradenton top ten is probably the strongest top ten in the system. All ten players could end up in the top 30, with most of the players ending up in the top 15 prospects throughout the whole system.
1. Tony Sanchez
2. Starling Marte
3. Bryan Morris
4. Jeff Locke
5. Brock Holt
6. Nathan Adcock
7. Diego Moreno
8. Robbie Grossman
9. Tim Alderson
10. Aaron Pribanic