The West Virginia (Morgantown) Black Bears begin their season tonight in the New York-Penn League. This is the first game in franchise history for the Black Bears, who replaced the Jamestown Jammers this year as the NYPL affiliate for the Pirates. The team in Morgantown will feature some of the top Pirates draft picks from 2015, including first rounder Kevin Newman, second rounder Kevin Kramer, and third rounder Casey Hughston. Here is a look at the roster, along with notes on the key players, what they should do this year, and their upsides in the system.

Pitchers

Dario Agrazal, J.T. Brubaker, Eric Dorsch, Julio Eusebio, Hector Garcia, Bret Helton, Nick Hibbing, Sean Keselica, Marek Minarik, Jonathan Minier, Jerry Mulderig, Dovydas Neverauskas, Luis Paula, Cesilio Pimentel, Edgar Santana

At this level, if you’re not in the rotation, then you’re most likely not a prospect. There aren’t many lower level relievers who have gone on to become MLB relievers. That’s especially true in the Pirates’ system where they put the best arms in the rotation, even if those arms project as relievers in the future.

There are a few guys who could get priority innings here, and the list will go beyond five starters, as Morgantown should use a piggyback approach to split up innings. The list isn’t complete yet, as fifth round pick Brandon Waddell is going to eventually join the team once he signs with the Pirates.

Fellow 2015 draft picks J.T. Brubaker and Bret Helton will almost certainly get spots in the rotation. Brubaker is a tall, projectable pitcher with a fastball that tops out at 94 MPH. He lacks control at times, but posted some nice strikeout totals at Akron this year, with a 3.63 ERA and a 72:30 K/BB ratio in 89.1 innings. Helton is a big framed pitcher who throws his fastball in the 93-94 MPH range. He struggled as a starter with Utah this year, moved to the bullpen, and then moved back to the rotation and had success at the end of the year. Both Brubaker (6th round) and Helton (9th round) were top ten round picks, so they will both end up as priority arms for Morgantown.

Dario Agrazal and Hector Garcia are the two most interesting arms out of Latin America. Agrazal posted decent numbers in the GCL, showing a ton of control and getting a lot of ground balls. He throws in the 87-93 MPH range, holding his velocity early and seeing it drop in the later innings. He might have better results this year with a better infield defense than the one he saw in the GCL last year. Garcia is a lefty who can hit 92 MPH and got a push last year from the DSL to Bristol, spending most of the year in the rotation. He should continue getting a lot of innings, which he should as a lefty who can touch 92 MPH at the age of 19.

The other two notable arms here are Marek Minarek and Dovydas Neverauskas. The Pirates have given both a push in the rotation in previous years, due to their impressive stuff, and despite their lack of control. The fact that both find themselves back in the short-season leagues again is a bad sign, but they could still get a lot of innings.

There is a possibility that someone like 33rd round pick Sean Keselica could fill in for the rotation until Waddell arrives. The Pirates have done this in previous years with late round picks, with the most notable guy being Matt Benedict, who was a 30th round pick and a college senior, and has made it as high as the Double-A rotation on a regular basis.

Overall, the pitching group doesn’t look strong. There are some guys who could be MLB relievers or back of the rotation starters, but you don’t have anyone who could be a breakout guy with the chance to end up a top or middle of the rotation pitcher.

Catchers

Danny Arribas, Deybi Garcia, Chris Harvey, Christian Kelley

The Pirates stress defense with their minor league catchers, and that is definitely apparent with this group. Christian Kelley was the 11th round pick this year, and will probably get the bulk of the playing time behind the plate. Danny Arribas is a catcher first, but can also play a few other positions around the field, so expect him to get a good amount of playing time. Deybi Garcia and Chris Harvey are both solid defensively, and should factor into the mix as well. The biggest upside here would be with Kelley, although that upside is limited to a future backup in the majors.

Infielders

David Andriese, Albert Baur, Erik Forgione, Kevin Kramer, Ulises Montilla, Kevin Newman, Mitchell Tolman

The heart of the 2015 draft class will be playing in the Morgantown infield. First round pick Kevin Newman expects to take the bulk of the starts at shortstop, while second round pick Kevin Kramer could play second and third base. I’d expect him to primarily play second, with seventh round pick Mitchell Tolman playing third. I could see those two switching off, with Tolman getting some time at second and Kramer getting time at third. Meanwhile, 28th round pick Albert Baur will probably get the bulk of the work at first base.

The first three are similar hitters. They hit for average, control the strike zone, draw a good amount of walks, play solid defense and while they don’t have much home run power, they can hit for gap power. That seems to be a growing formula for the Pirates, with less focus on traditional power if the tradeoff means better defense, a better average, and better on-base skills. Baur saw his power explode this year, hitting 16 home runs in 206 at-bats, although it came at a small school in a small conference. It will be interesting to see how that power translates over to pro ball. He does have the disclaimer that he was a college senior who went in the 28th round, so expectations should be low, even if he has impressive numbers this year.

The big guys to watch will be Newman and Kramer. Newman is the only player on this team with a shot at the top ten in the system, while Kramer is one of a few players with a shot at the top 30.

Outfielders

Alexis Bastardo, Logan Hill, Casey Hughston, Ty Moore, Maximo Rivera

The Pirates should go with some sort of a rotation in the outfield, although I’d expect third round pick Casey Hughston to get the bulk of the work and as close to an everyday role as the Pirates would give at this level. Hughston has a lot of raw power, but struggles at times with strikeouts and can get too pull happy. He might even get the priority in center field, since he has the speed to play the position. He was an over-slot signing, and will likely end up in our updated top 30 when the list is finalized.

The other two outfielders who stand out here are Alexis Bastardo and Ty Moore. Bastardo posted some impressive numbers in the GCL last year, showing off a good ability to make contact, along with some power and speed. He played mostly right field, which is where I’d expect him to play this year. Moore was taken in the 12th round out of UCLA, and was teammates with second round pick Kevin Kramer. He’s another guy who shows great contact skills and good plate patience, but doesn’t have a ton of home run power. He would fit best in left field due to a lack of arm strength.

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18 COMMENTS

  1. John, what are your thoughts on players like Schwarber and his rapid ascent through the minors…and will we see a player like that with the Pirates, maybe an advanced hitter like Newman?

    • I don’t like moving hitters too quick because you could get something like Bryce Harper. He’s finally breaking out now and he already has 2+ years of service time before this season. Sure he did good, but wouldn’t you want more peak years from a player? Look at Barry Bonds with the Pirates. Imagine if 1990-92 weren’t his 5-7 years and they took it slower with him. You’d be trading 1-2 of those slow starter years for 1993-94 Bonds.

      I think the earliest you see Newman is two years from now and that is if everything goes right. He is a little older for a college junior(turns 22 in six weeks) so he can move quicker. People want to move Josh Bell up this year and you would get an unfinished product, both on offense and defense.

      • That is a different argument (Bryce Harper argument) than I have previously heard/considered before about the rapid ascent of prospects. Because, yes, while Bryce Harper was still a pretty good player his first few years he was nothing like the player he is this year and, certainly, you would rather have more years of THIS player under control than of the first type of player. That is an argument I not only would buy, but will buy. Nice! Haha.

        I wonder, though, if that approach still would not allow for prospects to be more aggressively challenge/developed in the minors. Look at Bell (I am one who wants him moved up): he is essentially coasting through AA hitting. You look at the box score and he has a hit every single night and really does not seem challenged in the least. Wouldn’t it be better to expose him to a challenge and get him AAA development? My same argument with the high school arms. The high school arms mentioned are considered the “elite” high school arms from our draft last year. Wouldn’t they be better challenged, especially Keller, pitching in the NYPL?

        • I think the case with Bell is that his glove is so far off right now that they don’t want to really challenge him at the plate too. He will get plenty of AAA at-bats next year before we see him. With the pitchers, that is just their approach and the reason they wanted a level between GCL and NYPL. As I said in another comment, the focus with the prep pitchers this year is fastball command and getting innings. If you’re throwing 90% fastballs in the NYPL and opposed to APPY Lg, you’re going to have tougher innings, which will lead to lesser innings and that goes against the main goal this season.

            • Yes and no. Most people will say he is being kept down for super-2 reasons next year, but he is going to need all of that time at 1B to be serviceable. It’s not like Alvarez moving across the infield, Bell is getting used to grounders too. There are some former MLB pitchers in AA and plenty of minor league veterans, so it’s not a huge step. High-A to AA is a bigger step, which is why they usually refer to players needing upper level experience, meaning AA and AAA.

          • At least we’ve got some lively discussion out of all this. I haven’t seen Bell at all this year at 1B, but the way his D is described it’s starting to scare me. One other commenter mentioned that he doesn’t even know how to position himself to receive a throw or where to put his foot on the bag. He’s got a lot of reps over the fall league, spring, and this season to not see much more progress than that, honestly. It would, certainly, be nice to have his switch bat available, but if he’s ever going to take over 1B he’ll need to be able to at least be serviceable and now it sounds bad.

            • He still has plenty of time. You figure even if they called him up early June next next, he will get 120 regular season games, another Fall Instructional League and all of Spring Training. He will be in the MLB Spring Training next year, so that means he will be in early. It’s a lot of time still, just he hasn’t progressed as quick as you would like to see.

        • That argument might work for Harper, but it doesn’t work for Mike Trout, Manny Machado, or Kris Bryant.

          • It’s not going to work for everyone, but there are plenty of examples of why not to rush people, Harper is just an extreme one. Polanco is good, Homer Bailey is good, you could find hundreds looking through the years. It’s better to judge players individually as opposed to pointing to examples to make your case, but if someone says “rush”, it’s never a good idea

          • Trout is a freak (not a bad thing) Machado had/has his problems. Bryant was a college player and best hitter in collage, but they will probably switch him to left field. He’s worst than Pedro at third. John is right, there are some that don’t need a lot of minor league, but they are rare.

        • Again I post….Look at Polanco. 150 ab in AA and 200something in AAA. Everyone was screeming for him in Pittsburgh. And look at him now..he is learning in the majors, while his clock keep ticking. His swing is terrible, should have stayed down for the whole season. I think the Pirate brass has learned from the Polanco experience.

        • They could all be with the Power next year, depends on what happens between now and the start of next season

          • What would be the reason for them to be in Bristol over A- NYPL this year? There are a lot of college hitters in the NYPL and it seems like a good challenge, even a better challenge, for them to face NYPL hitters and then make the jump to full-season A ball next year, than to be in Bristol.

            • The Pirates added Bristol to help ease HS pitchers into their first full year of pro ball. This league is more their speed. They really want to concentrate on fastball command and building up innings. A heavy fastball approach in the NYPL could lead to lesser(and tougher) innings

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