The 2015 minor league season begins today. To prepare for the start of the season, we have previews of all four of the full season affiliates of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Here are the previews for each team:

Indianapolis Indians

Altoona Curve

Bradenton Marauders – READING

West Virginia Power

Who Are the Breakout Players in the Pirates’ System For the 2015 Season?

Here is a look at the 2015 Bradenton Marauders, who will feature top prospects Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire on their Opening Day roster.

Lineup

C – Reese McGuire

1B – Jose Osuna

2B – Erich Weiss

SS – JaCoby Jones

3B – Wyatt Mathisen

LF – Barrett Barnes

CF – Austin Meadows

RF – Justin Maffei

DH – Edwin Espinal

The Marauders have the best lineup in the system when it comes to prospects. Things will only get better when Harold Ramirez eventually joins the team. At that point they will have guys at every position who have a shot to reach the majors, which is rare for an A-ball team.

The top prospects at the level are Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire, who are both getting a bit of an aggressive push to High-A. Meadows missed a lot of time last year with two hamstring injuries, but hit well in his time at the level. The Pirates usually keep guys in West Virginia for a full season, but decided to promote Meadows earlier. McGuire has the best defense behind the plate in the system, but struggled offensively. The Pirates are moving him up despite those struggles. Both players made similar adjustments this off-season to lower their hand position and shorten their swings. This will allow McGuire to make solid contact on a more consistent basis, while Meadows will have more time to recognize off-speed pitches and hit for more power.

First base will be a split between Jose Osuna and Edwin Espinal, with the other usually playing as the DH. Osuna is in his third year in Bradenton, and will also get time in right field. Espinal will get some time at third base, although his size pretty much limits him to being a first base/DH type. Both players have a lot of raw power, but their upsides are limited due to a lack of strong defense.

The rest of the infield will continue the experiments the Pirates started last year in West Virginia. JaCoby Jones will continue at shortstop, after moving from playing the outfield and second base in college. Jones has shown some good abilities at the position, and seems athletic enough to be able to stick. That should make him a strong option at the position due to his hitting, although he’s going to need to improve on his strikeouts in order to have the same offensive success in the upper levels.

Wyatt Mathisen moved to third base from catcher last year. The move allowed him to stay healthy all season, and improved his offense. He has a chance to further improve his offense now that he’s more comfortable at the third base position. Mathisen has good hitting tools, with strong plate patience, and that could show through this year in his jump to Bradenton.

The final position change last year was Erich Weiss moving to second base. The Pirates drafted him as a third baseman, but moved him to second, where his bat plays better. He doesn’t have the upside of Jones or Mathisen, but will be an interesting guy to watch if he can add some power to his ability to hit for average and get on base.

Barrett Barnes will play left field, and should get some time in center. His development has been derailed by injuries, but he’s got a lot of raw power, and looked good at the plate this Spring. If he can stay healthy, which is a pretty big “if”, then he could be primed for a big breakout season.

Justin Maffei will play right field at the start of the year, until Harold Ramirez joins the team. Maffei posted some decent numbers last year in Bradenton, with a .303/.376/.413 line in 174 plate appearances. He doesn’t profile as more than an organizational guy who could reach the upper levels, but the early season opportunity will be good to see if he can build on those numbers and possibly elevate his status in a similar way to what guys like Alex Presley have done in the past.

Bench

Jin-De Jhang, Chris Diaz, Michael Fransoso, Jordan Steranka

It will be hard for anyone to crack the lineup and get a lot of playing time. Jhang should get the most time from this group as he looks to rebound from a down season in Bradenton last year. His defense hasn’t looked strong this Spring, so it appears he will need to rebound on both sides of the ball. Fransoso is the other standout here. He’s athletic and can play both middle infield positions, so he should get some time off the bench as the primary backup.

Starting Rotation

Steven Brault*, Cody Dickson*, Felipe Gonzalez, Henry Hirsch, Frank Duncan

The Marauders’ rotation will look strong by the end of the year, but it will start out with a few organizational guys or guys who profile as relievers in the early part of the season. By the end of the year they will have Tyler Eppler, Clay Holmes, and Luis Heredia joining the mix. Holmes is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, and should join the team by mid-season. Heredia is working on conditioning, and started throwing off the mound at the end of Spring Training. It could take him a month to get built up for the season. Eppler was shut down for a brief period with elbow tenderness, but is back to throwing and should return during the first half of the season.

The guys to watch at the start of the year are Brault and Dickson. Brault was acquired from the Orioles in the Travis Snider trade. He works with a four seam and a sinker, but seems to be leaning more on the sinker with the Pirates. The pitch sits in the upper 80s, but is consistently down in the zone with late sink. Dickson is a harder thrower, who sits in the low-90s and can touch the mid-90s. He needs to continue improving on his control, while also improving his changeup. He’s got a chance to develop into a middle of the rotation starter in the future.

Frank Duncan and Henry Hirsch profile better as relievers, but will be used as starters to begin the year, likely in piggyback roles to start the season. They will eventually move to the bullpen, where they could pitch in long-relief roles. Hirsch has better velocity in the bullpen, and could be a middle relief option in the future. Gonzalez is an organizational arm who should provide starting depth throughout the year when needed.

Bullpen

Ryan Hafner, Brett McKinney, Andy Otamendi*, Clario Perez, Isaac Sanchez, Justin Topa, Julio Vivas

Most relievers in A-ball don’t go on to become relievers in the majors. The exceptions here could be Ryan Hafner and Isaac Sanchez. Hafner struggled last year in Bradenton, but has looked good in the past with a low-90s sinker and a slider that he has used as an out pitch. Sanchez has good velocity, sitting 90-93 and touching 94, with an above average curveball. That combo should play well in the bullpen.

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