Today I wrote up the 2014 Jamestown Jammers and Bristol Pirates season recaps, which you can check out by clicking on each of those team names. From a talent perspective, these two teams were clearly the weakest in the system. Some of that might have been due to the changes the Pirates made, adding an extra short-season team in Bristol this year.
There are multiple reasons a team adds a new affiliate like Bristol. For one, this could allow them to take a more customizable approach with promotions from the GCL to the New York-Penn League. The former is more of a high school league, while the latter is a league mostly filled with college players. The Appy League, which is where Bristol plays, is a mix of both. There are a few college guys, but not the best of the bunch. The average age in Bristol was only slightly higher than the average age in the GCL, but still far below where the NYPL was.
The Pirates did take this approach with a few of their players in Bristol. In previous years, they would have sent most prep players to Jamestown in their first full seasons in pro ball. This was most notably done with prep pitchers. This year they sent those guys to Bristol. Billy Roth and Nick Buckner were both 2013 draft picks who made their debuts in the GCL last year. They both went to Bristol, rather than getting an aggressive push. That conservative approach might have been for the best, as both struggled at the lower level. It’s easy to imagine how much they would have struggled in the NYPL, which is much more advanced.
On the flip side, the Pirates challenged a few younger players who would have normally gone to the GCL. This can be a significant jump, as the DSL is very raw and has no crowd. The GCL has a small crowd, but is still in the daytime and still on the raw side as far as playing. Generally that’s a good transition for players as they jump to the US. The Appy League has fans, is played under the lights, and is a bit more polished. That’s a big adjustment for someone who played day games in front of no one, with most players at the level learning the basic functions of the game.
The main case here is Hector Garcia, who skipped over the GCL and pitched in Bristol at the age of 18, which is two years younger than the average age at the level. The young lefty put up great results, despite that aggressive push. The fact that he fared so well showed that he didn’t really need the transition to the GCL before his stop in the GCL. That could allow him to skip over short-season ball next year in Morgantown (which will be replacing Jamestown) and move up to West Virginia.
The other advantage a team can have with an additional team like Bristol would be the addition of an extra roster. That’s eight extra starting spots and five extra rotation spots in the lower levels. To get an idea of who benefitted here, you’d have to look at each position for all three lower level teams. Overall, this is not going to make a difference on a wide scale. You might see one or two players getting extra playing time, and they might not even be anything more than fringe prospects.
For example, one of the players who benefitted the most from an extra position was Danny Arribas. With top ten picks like Taylor Gushue and Kevin Krause in Jamestown, and big bonus catcher Yoel Gonzalez in the GCL, Arribas had no where else to play catcher without the Bristol team. Bristol gave him a chance to move up to a higher level of play, and keep playing at the catcher position. Arribas is intriguing due to his athleticism, but he’s a fringe prospect, and getting him playing time behind the plate doesn’t rule the new team a success.
A bigger example could be Pablo Reyes. The GCL team had plenty of middle infielders, with Cole Tucker, Nelson Jorge, and Sam Kennelly. Reyes is another case like Garcia where a player went from the DSL to Bristol, and had a lot of success. The Pirates aren’t going to jump a guy like this up to Jamestown, which means that without the Bristol team, Reyes probably gets lost on the bench in the GCL. He’s not a prospect yet, but this assignment at least gave him a chance to impress, and might earn him more of a look to establish himself as a prospect in the future.
Trae Arbet is another guy who would have gotten caught in the infield mix. He probably wouldn’t have made it in Jamestown this year, and wouldn’t have gotten a chance to play much shortstop in the GCL again with Tucker on the roster. The addition of Bristol allowed Arbet to get extra playing time at shortstop, giving the Pirates a longer look to see if he’s a project worth continuing on with.
The rotation is the biggest area where a team can benefit from an extra team. Jamestown had a college-heavy rotation, with Alex McRae, Frank Duncan, Tyler Eppler, Montana DuRapau, and Austin Coley getting starts. McRae, Eppler, and Coley were top ten picks, so they probably would have been starting no matter what. It might have been difficult for Duncan and DuRapau to get work as starters without Bristol, as Billy Roth and Jon Sandfort probably would have been given priority.
The GCL team had several top starting prospects by the end of the year, with Mitch Keller, Trey Supak, and Gage Hinsz pitching out of the rotation. The Pirates also held Neil Kozikowski back for another season in the GCL. Dario Agrazal, Nick Hutchings, and Gerardo Navarro also got starts, with Agrazal looking the most impressive from that group.
Bristol had Roth and Sandfort, plus the previously mentioned Garcia. They also gave a lot of starts to Omar Basulto and Junior Lopez, and Adrian Grullon was in the mix before he went down with an injury.
You can probably live without starts from Basulto, Lopez, Hutchings, Navarro, and maybe Agrazal. But with just one team, the Pirates would have had too many starters. The rotations would have probably been Eppler, Coley, McRae, Roth, and Sandfort in Jamestown, with Keller, Supak, Kozikowski, Garcia, and a few of the other lower level guys getting piggyback roles in the GCL. Adrian Grullon didn’t benefit from this arrangement due to his injury, but he wouldn’t have even been in the mix for a rotation spot with two teams. Garcia wouldn’t have had the chance to get challenged in his jump to the US. Roth and Sandfort probably would have been disasters in the NYPL. Frank Duncan and Montana DuRapau wouldn’t have had the chance to impress in the Jamestown rotation.
Overall, I don’t think the Bristol team made a big impact. The actual impact probably can’t be measured right away. We don’t know if Duncan and DuRapau become actual prospects. We don’t know the benefits that Garcia and Reyes will see from their aggressive promotions, nor do we know any benefits from the conservative approaches with Roth and Sandfort. The new team is definitely not a situation that hurts the Pirates’ system, although I don’t think the initial impact ended up being that great.
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