Over the off-season, the Pittsburgh Pirates added a new short-season team, joining the Appalachian League with the franchise in Bristol. The Appalachian League uses the MLB team names, and thus, the Bristol Pirates were born.
The Pirates will only have one DSL team this year, rather than two in previous years. Because of this, they have essentially moved their second international team to the US. This can be shown by the large number of international players who will be playing in Bristol this year. Most of these guys are organizational fillers, which means their only role will be to fill out the rosters of the lower level teams in the minors.
Bristol is a slight step above the GCL, due to the atmosphere of playing in front of fans, and under the lights. The age at the new level is also slightly higher than the age in the GCL, with more college talent. It is a step below the NYPL, with a slightly younger age in the Appy League. It’s interesting to see how the Pirates are using this team in year one.
A guy like Billy Roth probably would have gone back to the GCL this year, or might have gotten a really aggressive push to Jamestown. The presence of Bristol allows the Pirates to go half way with his push, giving the promising right-hander a challenge, but not putting him up against college hitters in his first full season of pro ball. There are a few advanced international guys like Hector Garcia and Jhoan Herrera who will be getting more of a challenge in Bristol than they would have received in the GCL.
For some of these guys, Bristol could be the final stop in short-season ball, with a possible jump to West Virginia in 2015. That jump would be easier to make than the jump from the GCL to West Virginia. Mostly the level is about getting playing time. Without this level, the Pirates probably wouldn’t have had rotation spots for guys like Omar Basulto or Hector Garcia. They might not have had starting spots for Danny Arribas or Ulises Montilla. These guys might not become legit prospects, but they’re on the fringe right now, and this playing time will give them a chance to prove themselves.
The Pirates don’t have any of their top prospects in Bristol, and only one or two currently challenge for the top 30. They do have a few breakout candidates at the level who could end up in the top 30 or the top 20 by the end of the season with a strong performance. It’s hard to predict playing time at this level, so below is information for each player, including their projected roles for 2014.
Omar Basulto, LHP – Basulto is making the jump to the US this year, and skipping right over the GCL. He throws in the mid-80s and touches 89. He relies on his changeup to get outs, and limits his walks, which led to good results last year. The Pirates have had a lot of soft tossing international lefties coming through the system, and none have really done much beyond A-ball. Basulto will need to add some velocity to have a shot at success in the upper levels. For now, he should have good results with his strong control.
Hector Garcia, LHP – Another lefty making the jump from the DSL. Garcia only pitched one season in the DSL, and mostly pitched in relief. He had good strikeout numbers, and decent results, but struggled with his control. The Pirates must like what they see in him, since they skipped him over the GCL and moved him to the rotation. He has gotten his fastball up to 92, and mixes in a curveball and changeup.
Adrian Grullon, RHP – Grullon is a nice sleeper prospect, at 6′ 7″, 197 pounds, with a fastball that ranges 89-93 MPH. He has a nice curveball, leading to a strikeout per inning in the GCL last year. Grullon was inconsistent, and missed time with an injury. He should get plenty of time as a starter this year, and could be a very interesting guy to watch if he can add some velocity with his projectable frame.
Billy Roth, RHP – Roth was an over-slot signing during the 2013 draft. He put up some nice numbers in a limited amount of playing time in the GCL last year, and showed a lot of promise with his stuff. He can hit 92 MPH with his fastball, and has room to add muscle and velocity in the future. He throws a good curveball, and a changeup that needs improvement. He’s probably the top pitching prospect at the level, and with a strong showing this year, he could make the jump to West Virginia next season.
Jon Sandfort, RHP – Sandfort was taken in the 2012 draft out of high school, but hasn’t gotten the aggressive push that the Pirates have given other prep pitchers. He returned to the GCL last year, and had mixed results. His stuff was good, sitting 89-92 MPH early in starts, but dropping a bit in later innings. He’s shown good command at times, but that has been inconsistent. His best pitch is his 12-to-6 curveball, but he also showed improvements with his changeup. An NL scout I talked with last year said that he could be a starter in the majors working in the 89-92 range, just due to the quality of his secondary stuff. He’s going to be another guy to watch this year.
Jess Amedee, RHP – He’s a 27th round pick who has command of four pitches, including a big breaking ball. He moved around a lot between smaller schools, and didn’t get a chance to develop with any individual program.
Palmer Betts, RHP – 36th round pick taken out of JuCo who has hit 93 MPH or higher in college. He’s dealt with control issues. He throws a slider, and could have a nice two pitch combo as a reliever if his control improves.
Michael Clemens, RHP – 17th round pick who throws around 90 MPH and worked as a starter last year at McNeese State. He could be more effective in pro ball as a reliever.
Mervin Del Rosario, LHP – He got a few starts and some extended inning work in the GCL last year, and could get the same this year. He reportedly touched 93 MPH prior to signing, but was mostly 86-89 MPH when I saw him last year.
Miguel Ferreras, RHP – He’s a 6′ 5″, 221 pound right-hander who is making the jump to the US after three years in the DSL. He’s already 22, turning 23 by the end of the year, and has control issues, so he looks more like a lower level filler.
Alexander Gutierrez, LHP – He pitched for three years on the international side, and is now making the jump to the US at the age of 21. He was a reliever in the DSL, and didn’t have great numbers, with horrible control. Unless there have been drastic changes to his game, he looks like a lower level filler.
Christian Henriquez, LHP – He spent three years in the DSL, but made big strides with his game in 2013. That could have been due to the experience and the age, as he was 21 last year. He looks like another organizational guy.
Junior Lopez, RHP – He signed with the Pirates last July, and didn’t play in the DSL. He will be making his debut with Bristol, but turns 23 in a week, and will probably be lower level depth.
Jorge Mendoza, RHP – Another guy who looks like an organizational pitcher. Mendoza spent three years on the international side, and turned 22 a few weeks ago.
Luis Paula, RHP – He’s one of the more promising later round picks from the draft. Paula can get his fastball up to 95 MPH, although he usually sits at 88-91. He’s got a good slider, leading to a strikeout per inning this year at UNC. He needs work on his control, and could have a future as a relief prospect if he can fix that and get his velocity sitting at the higher end of his scale.
Cesilio Pimentel, LHP – Pimentel got some time in the GCL rotation last year, and could be a starter or long-relief candidate with Bristol. He sits 88-91 MPH and has a good slider.
Angel Sanchez, LHP – A very tall lefty at 6′ 7″, 190 pounds. Sanchez doesn’t throw hard, despite the size, and usually sits in the mid-to-upper 80s. He has dealt with control problems before, but made big improvements in that area last year in the GCL. He could get a bigger role out of the bullpen this year in Bristol.
John Sever, LHP – 20th round pick who can get his fastball in the low 90s, but needs to develop a useful secondary pitch and work on his command.
Dan Urbina, RHP – He missed time last year with shoulder problems. He’s spent three years on the international side before making the jump to the US this year. Urbina throws 90-91 with a promising changeup, and is only 20 years old, so he stands out a bit in this group.
Danny Arribas, C – Arribas projects to get the bulk of the playing time behind the plate. He could also play first base on off-days if the Pirates want another catcher getting playing time. Arribas could play anywhere on the field due to his athleticism, but his bat is limited to a line drive stroke with little home run power, making it most valuable at catcher. He threw out 29% of runners last year. He falls behind Reese McGuire and the recently drafted Taylor Gushue on the catching depth charts, but should find time to develop at the position in Bristol. I could see Arribas splitting time here if 2014 9th round pick Kevin Krause gets sent to Bristol.
Andrew Dennis, C – Dennis was a late round pick in the 2013 draft who didn’t get much playing time. He didn’t show much potential in that limited time, and now he has moved down a level. He should serve as the primary backup to Arribas.
Tomas Morales, C – Morales also didn’t get much playing time last year, after moving up mid-season from the DSL. He did bat .303 in 33 at-bats in the GCL, but looks to be an organizational guy for the lower levels.
Trae Arbet, SS – Arbet was given a big above-slot deal last year, signing for $425,000 as a fifth round pick. He didn’t hit well, and looked raw on the field defensively, although you could see the tools that could allow him to stick at shortstop. He has a lot of speed, and plenty of arm strength and range to work out at shortstop. He was working on his swing during Spring Training, and will get a chance to see if the revamped swing will lead to stronger results at the plate this year. He’s very raw, but has a high ceiling, and ranks as one of the top prospects on this team.
Jhoan Herrera, 3B – He’s getting an aggressive push to the US, skipping over the GCL after one season in the DSL, despite poor numbers during that season. Herrera is a promising prospect due to his raw left-handed power at third base. He was described as bat-first when he signed, but made strides with his defense last year, and struggled at the plate. The walk and strikeout numbers were good, showing that he wasn’t overmatched. He could be a sleeper to watch. The Pirates obviously like him, giving him a $300,000 bonus in 2012, and then giving him this aggressive push.
Ulises Montilla, 2B – Montilla was originally with Jamestown, but moved down after two games at the level. He hit well in the GCL last year, and looked like an offensive sleeper prospect at second base. He should get plenty of playing time with Bristol, although this isn’t a very aggressive promotion. If he hits well at this level like he did in the GCL, then it won’t really tell us much about his potential. It’s possible the Pirates just don’t see him as a prospect, despite the promise he showed at the plate last year.
Carlos Ozuna, SS – Ozuna shows some promise on the field at the shortstop position, but lacks a good bat. He’ll be stuck behind Arbet, spending most of his time as a middle infielder off the bench.
Pablo Reyes, 2B – Reyes is making the jump to the US, but will likely be a bench player, playing behind Arbet and Montilla in the middle infield spots. He’s a good pure hitter with speed, but lacks defensive skills.
Maximo Rivera, 1B – Rivera is another guy who started in Jamestown, then was demoted after a few games. He put up great numbers in the DSL in 2012, but didn’t have the same success last year in the GCL. He could get the bulk of the playing time at first base, unless Arribas is moved off the position by someone like 2014 9th round pick Kevin Krause.
Nathan Sopena, 2B – He was signed as a non-drafted free agent last year, and should spend the 2014 season as a utility player for Bristol.
Nathan Tomaszewski, 3B – The Pirates signed him out of independent ball, and he should serve as depth in the infield, as well as in the outfield.
Nick Buckner, OF – Buckner was an over-slot guy in the middle rounds last year. He’s got the arm for right field, and shows some raw power potential, although he’s very raw at the plate and strikes out too often. He’s going to get consideration as a prospect due to his power potential, but as long as the strikeouts are around, he’s going to have struggles at the plate.
Eduardo Figueroa, OF – He’s making the jump from the DSL after just one season. He hit for average last year, getting on base at a good rate, and also played some center field. The latter could be important, as there aren’t many center field candidates on this team. It’s possible he could be getting time in center field this year, as Buckner looks like a right fielder, and Vallejo looks like a left fielder.
Enyel Vallejo, LF – Vallejo was originally with Jamestown, before moving down to Bristol after the signing of several college outfielders. He started getting playing time in the second half of the GCL season last year. He showed a great hit tool, with some power potential, but didn’t draw many walks. He should be a starter for Bristol.
1. Billy Roth, RHP
2. Jon Sandfort, RHP
3. Trae Arbet, SS
4. Ulises Montilla, 2B
5. Jhoan Herrera, 3B
6. Adrian Grullon, RHP
7. Danny Arribas, C
8. Nick Buckner, RF
9. Enyel Vallejo, LF
10. Hector Garcia, LHP