Bristol Season Preview: Young Guns in the Rotation

The preview for Bristol is the exact opposite of the GCL Pirates preview from yesterday. That one was all about the huge potential the team has on offense. Bristol has some possible sleeper prospects on offense, but the pitching will be the main focal point this season.

We start with that pitching and the best prospects are known as the “Big Three”, Mitch Keller(pictured above), Trey Supak and Gage Hinsz. All three were prep pitchers that the Pirates drafted last year. They were born within a 57-day span of each other in 1996 and all three received over-slot bonuses. They are tall, projectable right-handed starters. Most importantly for Pirates’ fans, all three have huge upside. Keller and Supak were taken in the second round last year and Hinsz said after the draft that the Pirates called him with an offer in the second round. He ended up going in the 11th round, where the Pirates had to go well over the $100,000 slot to sign him.

The pitching staff also includes Billy Roth, an over-slot signing from the 2013 draft. He struggled as a 19-year-old with Bristol last year, but the reports this season from Extended Spring Training sounded promising. He was called one of the best late round draft picks in 2013 by Baseball America(Hinsz was the best last year) and this year has seen an increase of 5 MPH on his fastball, while also throwing a curve that has the look of an out pitch. If his control is better, that could put him right on the same track as the Big Three, as he is less than a full year older than Trey Supak, who is the youngest of the group.

If that isn’t enough to get excited about, Neil Kozikowski is also there and his story might sound familiar. He’s a tall, projectable, right-handed pitcher that required an over-slot bonus to sign. He hasn’t seen the spike in velocity yet, but he is still young(ten days older than Roth) and the Pirates obviously saw a lot of potential when they paid him $425,000 to sign in the eighth round in 2013. Kozikowski came from a cold weather state, where the prospects tend to take a little longer to develop due to the fact they aren’t playing year-round baseball, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he broke out after a few years in the system.

After those five players, the upside of the team gets a little shaky. The Pirates only sent eight draft picks to Bristol and tenth rounder Logan Sendelbach was the highest pick. This should be an easy assignment for Sendelbach, as he is 21 years old and pitched well in college during each of the last two years as a starter. I’d expect him to start for Bristol and although he could be at a higher level(Morgantown), he should have no issues making the jump to West Virginia next year. The Pirates like to get players acclimated to pro ball in their first year. For someone like Sendelbach, that just means getting used to pitching every five days and building up innings so he can do a full season next year.

The bullpen consists of mostly late round draft picks from this year or last year. Luis Paula has had strong reports in the past and seemed like one of the best late rounders in 2014. We received strong reports on Dan Urbina while he was in the DSL, but he struggled last year at Bristol and has had some injury issues. His dad was his coach with the DSL team and he’s also a former minor league pitcher, so the younger Urbina comes from a good background. Lefty Omar Basulto will probably be used as a starter and he has the stuff to get people out at the lower levels, as most lefties with control do, but he has limited upside. Marek Minarik could also see time in the rotation, as the Pirates seem to like his upside, though the results haven’t been there yet.

As mentioned above, the offense has some potential sleeper prospects, but it also wouldn’t be surprising to see none of them in the top 50 prospects at the end of the year. The outfield has Edgar Figueroa, Sandy Santos and Nick Buckner. All of them have the chance to be good, but the stats haven’t matched the tools yet. When the 2013 DSL team had Tito Polo, Alexis Bastardo and Michael de la Cruz in the same outfield, you had three exciting, young outfielders that could hit, play defense and steal bases. Figueroa was the fourth outfielder and he was rated as just below that group because he could do a little of everything, just not as well. He was the only one from that group that skipped over the GCL last year and went to Bristol. He struggled, but it may have had something to do with the advanced placement, so we will see how he rebounds this year.

Santos didn’t have the best stats last year and he is a little older, so it’s hard to see the potential. The reports we got were very high on him, so it’s not surprise he is making the jump over the GCL. He may just be a late-bloomer, so I wouldn’t rule him out as a prospect yet. Buckner has two tools that stand out, though one of them falls in the potential category. He has a strong arm in right field, and he has terrific raw power from the left side. He also swings and missed a lot, so that is something that needs to be fixed before that raw power can turn into actual power on the stats sheet. Henrry Rosario and Enyel Vallejo will also see time in the outfield.

The infield has the same potential that lacks results. Julio de la Cruz is a 19-year-old third baseman, who will probably end up elsewhere, as his defense is poor at best. The Pirates signed him for $700,000 due to his bat, which has been decent for the level/age, but nothing special yet. On the other side of the infield, Carlos Munoz has some of the best plate patience in the entire system, but he’s strictly a first baseman and doesn’t hit for much power. He also doesn’t have a good baseball body and tends to wear down as the season nears the end. He can hit for average and get on base, but the upside is low due to his position, which calls for more offense. If he adds some power and stamina, then the bat could definitely play at the higher levels.

The middle infield has Logan Ratledge, who was called one of the better late round picks in this year’s draft. Unlike Roth and Hinsz, Ratledge is a college senior and he turns 23 next month. He could probably be playing in the FSL at this point, so nothing he could do at Bristol this year will matter much. He has the upside of a utility infielder in the majors. Trae Arbet signed for $425,000 as a fifth round pick in 2013 and the pick seems as odd now as it did then. He hasn’t shown anything in two seasons and he was old for his draft class. Despite being drafted two years ago, there were many college juniors taken this year that are younger than him. He looks like a bust so far, but you hope whatever the Pirates saw in him back then, finally starts to develop this year.

The other infielders are Carlos Ozuna, who signed as an amateur free agent for $110,000 in 2011 and hasn’t shown much. He was a shortstop, but played more 2B/3B last year. There is also Jose Salazar, who basically has the same story as Ozuna, just a lower bonus and the ability to play first base. Finally, Jordan George should see time at 1B and DH. He was the 35th round pick of the Pirates this year and had a great season at Arkansas State this year. That comes with the caveat that he was a fifth-year senior and will turn 23 next month. Like Ratledge, he is too advanced for this level, but there is nowhere else to put him.

I don’t want it to seem like I’m getting lazy with the catching, but there is just nothing of interest there. John Bormann was the 24th round pick this year and he has strong defense, which the Pirates favor behind the plate. Along with Tomas Morales, they should work well with the young pitchers, so it’s not exactly a bad thing to have two catchers that are older and glove-first players at this level. Erik Lunde took up catching in Spring Training after being drafted as an infielder last year. He looks to be the third string catcher, who might see time at other positions.

  • It’s uncanny to have that many pitchers at a level…especially in short season. Pirates have received heat from their upper SS affiliate in the past for not having enough talent. Not this year.

  • Awful lot of starters here. Will they be piggy backing a lot?

    • John Dreker
      June 23, 2015 7:33 pm

      No one at this level goes more than five innings a game, so there are a lot of innings to go around. They usually have 3-4 guys that are the second pitcher on certain days and then a handful of relievers that pitch when they are needed.