Normally there aren’t many questions about who will make the jump from West Virginia to Bradenton in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor league system. The Pirates prefer to have younger players spend an entire season in West Virginia before moving up. Older players in college might go to West Virginia for a few months, and move up in the middle of the season when a roster spot opens. And players who struggled in West Virginia, or who missed part of the season, will often repeat the level, rather than getting a promotion, especially if they are on the young side.
The latter raises two interesting situations for the 2015 Bradenton Marauders and the West Virginia Power. Reese McGuire was strong defensively last year, but the bat struggled in low-A ball. Austin Meadows missed half the season with multiple hamstring injuries, but looked great during the time he was in West Virginia. Looking specifically at the players, you could make a case for either one returning. It might benefit McGuire to return to Low-A and work on his offense. And it might benefit Meadows to get a full season at the same level, just like the Pirates did with Josh Bell in a similar situation a few years ago.
Then there’s the macro look at the two teams involved. The catching position is thin in Bradenton, and loaded in West Virginia. If McGuire goes to West Virginia, he would be the primary catcher, which would prevent 2014 4th round Taylor Gushue from getting regular time. It would also make it nearly impossible for compensation round pick Connor Joe to get any time behind the plate. By moving McGuire up to Bradenton, the Pirates would challenge him at the plate when the numbers are already weak, but would create much more playing time for all of the lower level catchers.
It’s a similar situation for Meadows (and Harold Ramirez, who also missed half the season and could easily be swapped in for Meadows in this scenario). Bradenton doesn’t have many outfield prospects, while West Virginia projects to have a lot of outfielders. The scenario here is a little less extreme, especially if Kevin Krause gets a push to Bradenton (more on that in a bit). But if Meadows does stay down, that means playing time will be cut for Jerrick Suiter, Michael Suchy, and Elvis Escobar. None of those guys are top 50 prospects, but they rank higher than the guys in Bradenton who would benefit from extra playing time if Meadows stays down in West Virginia. The bigger impact would be restricting potential playing time in right field for Connor Joe.
As a note, I’ve talked to both Meadows and McGuire recently, and neither player has received his assignment yet.
The placements of Meadows and McGuire this year will be a big story to watch, and one that could impact a lot of playing time and placement situations in the lower levels. As for the rest of the team, it’s pretty straight forward as usual. For simplicity sake, I put McGuire and Meadows in Bradenton in the following projection, although that isn’t guaranteed. Here are the projected rosters, along with analysis on where there might be position battles.
C – Reese McGuire
1B – Edwin Espinal
2B – Erich Weiss
SS – JaCoby Jones
3B – Wyatt Mathisen
LF – Barrett Barnes
CF – Austin Meadows
RF – Kevin Krause
DH – Danny Collins
Bench – Jin-De Jhang, D.J. Crumlich, Chris Diaz, Raul Fortunato
Battling For a Spot – Taylor Lewis, Justin Maffei, Ashley Ponce, Beau Maggi, Maximo Rivera, Jeff Roy, Francisco Diaz, Jordan Steranka, Wes Freeman
Analysis – I outlined the situation with McGuire and Meadows above. I’d expect Espinal, Weiss, Jones, and Mathisen to move up, as all four spent an entire season in West Virginia last year, posting some decent numbers. Out of the four, Jones seems most likely for a mid-season promotion to Altoona, although that will depend on how his defense at shortstop looks, and how his strikeout issues look.
The interesting scenario here is Kevin Krause. He showed some surprising power last year for a ninth round pick. He’s also on the older side, so it wouldn’t hurt to give him an aggressive push. He was drafted as a catcher, although it’s hard seeing him getting playing time behind the plate going forward. If he stays in West Virginia, then he’d be behind Taylor Gushue, and possibly Connor Joe. If McGuire stayed in West Virginia, then Krause would have no shot at playing time. Under the current scenario in Bradenton, he wouldn’t see much playing time behind McGuire, and would be competing with Jin-De Jhang for the backup role. In every scenario, he’d lack the playing time needed to really show improvements at the position.
The Pirates had a similar situation with Wyatt Mathisen last year, and they moved him to third base. Krause has played right field, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to move him there full-time. This would allow him to focus entirely on the bat, and show whether the power in 2014 was legit, or just a “college guy in the lower levels” thing. Keep in mind that even if he does go to right field full-time, that could very well take place in West Virginia. But with his age, it makes more sense to push him to Bradenton.
As for the DH spot and the bench, outside of Jhang, there aren’t many locks for the team. You could pick any 3-4 players from that list to fill the final bench spots and the DH role.
SP – Luis Heredia
SP – Clay Holmes
SP – Cody Dickson
SP – Tyler Eppler
SP – Felipe Gonzalez
Analysis – I think Heredia, Holmes, and Dickson are locks for the team. Heredia has spent parts of two seasons in West Virginia, and it only makes sense to move him up. Holmes was ticketed for Bradenton last year before his injury. Dickson spent a full season in West Virginia, and it’s only natural for him to move up to the next level.
I’ve got Eppler getting an aggressive push due to his strong performance in short-season ball last year. The Pirates have taken the same path in recent years with guys like Adrian Sampson and Chad Kuhl.
With the final spot, I listed Felipe Gonzalez. This is basically an organizational spot, although it could be filled by one of the bullpen guys like Justin Topa, or even someone who didn’t make the cut in Altoona. One of the college guys in West Virginia could move up (I’ll profile them tomorrow). I also wouldn’t be surprised if Jameson Taillon makes a few starts in Bradenton early in the season as part of his rehab process. Finally, there’s the possibility that the PTBNL in the Travis Snider trade could be an option for the final spot in the rotation. Right now I’ve got it projected as filler, and this will be something to watch as the Bradenton roster takes shape.
RP – Ryan Hafner
RP – Henry Hirsch
RP – Isaac Sanchez
RP – Brett McKinney
RP – Jhondaniel Medina
RP – Justin Topa
RP – Jared LaKind
Battling For a Spot – Andy Otamendi, Clario Perez, Oderman Rocha, Miguel Rosario, Rinku Singh, Josh Smith, Jerry Mulderig, Zack Von Rosenberg
Analysis – Just like the bench, these spots are entirely up in the air. I feel a little bit better about projecting these spots than I do the bench spots. That’s mostly because the guys projected above are mostly hard throwers, while the guys listed as battling for a spot are either soft tossers, hard throwers with bigger control issues, or hard throwers who don’t have a fastball as good as the guys on the list.