Earlier today I wrote about how the addition of the Bristol Pirates led to an older team in Jamestown, which didn’t feature a lot of top talent. The Bristol roster wasn’t much younger in respect to the average age in the Appy League, and also didn’t have many top prospects. They did have a clear strength, and that was pitching. However, their two top pitching prospects saw big struggles, and another missed most of the season with an injury. Below is a recap of the hitters and pitchers at the level, followed by the top ten prospects this year.
Trae Arbet was another over-slot signing last year, taken in the fifth round. He didn’t do well this year at the plate, despite working on a new swing during Spring Training and prior to this season. The Pirates like his potential as a middle infielder, but he’s another guy who is very raw on both sides of the game. Because of this, he should return to short-season ball next year, likely ending up in Morgantown.
Pablo Reyes had a nice season, making the jump from the DSL to Bristol, and skipping over the GCL in the process. Reyes finished strong, with a 1.158 OPS in the month of August, including an eight game hitting streak to finish off the year. Reyes played mostly second base, but spent some time at shortstop, which is where he originally played when signed. He could make the jump to West Virginia next year.
The other notable Bristol hitters were all older for the level, which means they don’t qualify as legit prospects in the system. Danny Arribas is very athletic and can play behind the plate. He put up a .768 OPS, but that came at the age of 21. Jerrick Suiter was drafted out of college this year, and put up a .760 OPS in a league that probably profiles closer to a weaker college conference, or at best, what Suiter was used to at TCU. Chris Harvey had some of the best numbers on the team, but that also comes with the disclaimer that he was 21 years old, and coming out of college.
Two interesting older players were Ulises Montilla and Enyel Vallejo. Montilla looked good during the first week of the season, but went down with an injury. He showed promise in the GCL last year, but the injury, combined with his age, could limit him. Enyel Vallejo also showed promise last year in the GCL at the end of the season, and got regular playing time this year. He didn’t perform well the entire season, and due to the fact that he’s 23 years old, he probably shouldn’t be considered a prospect at this point.
Roth is a projectable right-hander who was hitting 92 MPH at times last year. Baseball America called him the best late-round pick in the 2013 draft. He didn’t show that this year, displaying some poor control in his time with Bristol. The focus for the Pirates in the lower levels is fastball command, and obviously that’s still an area where Roth needs work. He still has a lot of potential, but appears to need a bit more work before we start seeing results. The potential out-weighs the poor results right now, keeping him as one of the top prospects at the level.
Sandfort had a very up-and-down season. He had three starts with four innings or more and one run or less. He also had six outings where he gave up at least an earned run per inning. He’s got a good fastball that usually sits in the upper-80s to low-90s, and can touch 95. He also features a nice changeup and curveball. Unlike Roth, his control numbers were fine, but his stuff was a bit too hittable at this stage. He’s got a good frame, and a good mix of pitches, which keeps him as a top prospect for at least another year.
One pitcher who emerged this year was Hector Garcia. The lefty got a bit of an aggressive push, being promoted straight from the DSL. He put up impressive numbers, with a strikeout per inning and decent control. Garcia has gotten his fastball up to 92 MPH, which is good for a lefty. His numbers at this level and at this age were also impressive. He has a real shot of overtaking Roth and Sandfort as the best pitching prospect in this group, but needs to show that he can maintain this success in the upper levels, and consistently throw with good velocity.
Beyond those three starters, there were a few interesting relief pitching prospects. John Sever was the most impressive, being drafted in the 20th round this year. Sever posted amazing strikeout numbers, and even carried his success into the rotation at the end of the season. He can hit the low 90s at times, and has a good frame at 6′ 5″, 190 pounds. It will be interesting to see where he ends up next year. He could be a candidate to go to West Virginia and pitch either out of the rotation or as a long reliever.
Luis Paula is a hard thrower who has touched 95, and usually sits 88-91 MPH. He’s got a good frame, with the ability to add velocity in the future. Paula came out of a good program for pitchers at UNC. He could move up to pitch out of the bullpen in West Virginia next season.
Adrian Grullon was one of the most anticipated pitchers at this level, with a huge frame and a good fastball that touches 93. Unfortunately, he went down early with an injury, limiting his season. The Pirates could give him an aggressive push next year and send him to West Virginia, or play it safe and go with a promotion to Jamestown. A lot of that will likely depend on how he recovers from his injury, which was listed as a right elbow sprain.
Top 10 Prospects
The cutoff for eligibility on this list was 70 at-bats, 20 innings pitched, or 10 relief appearances. Adrian Grullon and Ulises Montilla both missed the list due to early season injuries. This list was highly ranked on potential and tools, and not as much on results at this level. The top two prospects performed horribly, but still maintained high rankings due to the potential they’ve shown before this season.
1. Billy Roth
2. Jon Sandfort
3. Hector Garcia
4. Nick Buckner
5. Pablo Reyes
6. John Sever
7. Trae Arbet
8. Luis Paula
9. Danny Arribas
10. Jerrick Suiter
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.
Roughly how many of these players would be in the top 50?
When I make my own top 50, I list all the possibilities(so the list is usually 70-80 long to start) and the top eight on the Bristol list will all be on the possibility list. None of them will be in the top 30 though, which means there is a great chance that all eight won’t be in the top 50. So basically, somewhere between 1 and 8 of them will be in the 31-50 range and it’s probably closer to one than it is to eight.
I personally have Garcia as the highest ranked player from Bristol and he seems like a 31-35 range. I’d definitely have Reyes, Buckner and Roth in the top 50, but I am much more down on Sandfort than others are. He’s played three years and shown nothing as far as results and this year was a disaster. I’m not sure a pitcher can recover from a .401 BAA in his third year while playing in rookie ball. His strikeouts were down, his ground balls were down too, he was just bad, no way around it. That doesn’t mean he won’t make the top 50 when we average out everyone’s rankings and it doesn’t mean all the others will make the top 50 either.
Thanks John! Awesome work as usual. It’s always nice to have some context when talking about these lower level prospects.