The Bristol Pirates didn’t have a great team this year from a prospect standpoint. They featured some of the most promising young arms in the lower levels of the system, but outside of the rotation, there weren’t any prospects who could make our top 50. There were a few interesting stories to follow, highlighted by the big breakout season of Carlos Munoz. In some cases, these players have a chance to break through to prospect status. However, most of the guys on the second half of this prospect list will probably end up as organizational guys, with the chance that they might reach Double-A for a short period of time.
TOP 10 BRISTOL PIRATES PROSPECTS
The cutoff for eligibility on this list was 70 at-bats, 20 innings pitched, or 10 relief appearances. This excluded late call-ups Raul Siri and Cristian Mota. Most of the list is based on upside, rather than the results this year. Like the GCL rankings, these players are so far away that even their upside is hard to peg.
1. Mitch Keller, RHP – We cheated a bit here, as Keller actually had 19.2 innings, and just missed the cutoff. But hey, we make the rules and weren’t going to leave the consensus top prospect off the list over the lack of one additional out. Keller missed time this year with a few minor injuries, but pitched during extended Spring Training, where I got to see him a few times. He sits comfortably in the 91-94 MPH range, touching 95. His curveball is a good offering with sharp break, and he commands the pitch well. The pitch helped Keller strike out 25 in his 19.2 innings this year. He’s had fastball command problems in the past, but those disappeared during extended Spring Training. They returned during the season, with 16 walks in 19.2 innings. That will be a big focus for Keller going forward. He could still add some velocity, and eventually sit in the mid-90s due to his effortless delivery and projectable frame. If he adds consistent command to that fastball, along with a good changeup, then he’d have a three pitch mix that could make him at least a middle of the rotation starter in the majors.
2. Trey Supak, RHP – Supak has always been a bit behind Keller in our rankings, despite the fact that both were second round picks who received $1 M signing bonuses. The reason for the gap is that Supak doesn’t have the easy velocity that Keller shows. He can hit the mid-90s, touching 94, but is usually in the 88-92 MPH range throughout his starts. He’s also dealt with command problems in the past, although he walked just five batters in 28.1 innings in Bristol, showing some improvements. Supak is also further along with his changeup than Keller, and has the makings of a good breaking pitch. If the command improvements hold, Supak could end up another high upside starter. Supak dealt with minor shoulder soreness, which limited his innings this year.
3. Gage Hinsz, RHP – Hinsz is a similar story to Supak and Keller. He’s got good velocity for his age, with a fastball that can sit 90-92, touching 93-94 MPH. He’s dealt with some control problems, with 23 walks in 38 innings. This is due to an inconsistent delivery and problems with his timing. When his delivery is on, he can be dominant. When it’s off, he can have some bad outings. Hinsz is learning the changeup, finally settling on a circle change grip this year. He has the makings of a nice curveball, but will need to improve the command of that pitch as well. He missed a bit of time at the start of the year with a shoulder flare up, but it wasn’t a long-term concern.
4. Billy Roth, RHP – I’m probably higher on Roth than a lot of people, and was the highest on him in our group ranking, enough to push him ahead of Munoz. He’s a projectable pitcher who has been consistently hitting 93-96 MPH all season at the age of 20. He cut down on his control issues this season in his return to Bristol, but still has some work to do. He’s a year older than the top three pitchers, but has a lot of the same traits — good velocity, control problems, and a strong breaking ball, which is a curveball in Roth’s case. I saw him several times early in the season, and saw him once in Bristol when he was slowing his velocity down and showing better command of his pitches in the process. He throws from an overhand arm slot and has trouble repeating his delivery at times. He also has shown a tendency to focus too much on the runners on base, to the point where sometimes he’ll be checking the runner in the process of his windup, taking his eye off the plate, and throwing off his control. He does throw down in the zone with good movement on the fastball, and a lot of the control problems could be ironed out with more maturity and experience. He could also maintain that mid-90s velocity over a full season if he manages to add some weight to his tall, projectable frame. The biggest thing that separates Roth from Supak and Hinsz is an extra year. Other than that, he’s a high upside arm who still comes with a lot of risk.
5. Carlos Munoz, 1B – I was impressed with Munoz last season in the GCL, but concerned with two things — his weight and his late-season struggles. Then he went to Bristol and tore up the level, hitting for a massive .325/.427/.587 line in 206 at-bats. Munoz has advanced plate patience and a smart approach at the plate, which sees him change his focus with two strikes and aim to put the ball in play. This leads to a high average and more walks than strikeouts, as he has a good eye and can make contact with pretty much anything close to the strike zone. He showed off some power this year, hitting 11 home runs and 21 doubles, which isn’t easy in the Appy league. The downside is still that he has conditioning concerns for the future, which limit him to first base or a DH role. He’s agile for his size right now, but that might not always be the case. He also faded a bit down the stretch once again, with a .779 OPS. That’s not horrible, but not close to his numbers earlier in the year, and raise more conditioning concerns. Munoz has done enough to warrant a full-season role in West Virginia at first base, although that will be a huge test for his conditioning, which is one of the big things holding back his prospect status right now.
6. Sandy Santos, CF – Santos is a toolsy player with a projectable frame, but very much a project who is raw in many areas. He’s got a lot of speed, but isn’t the most efficient runner on the bases. He’s got the range to play center field, and the arm strength to stick at the position. He hit well this year, with a .257/.338/.466 line in 191 at-bats, despite jumping over the GCL in his promotion to the United States. The Pirates should continue giving him priority playing time in the future, with the chance that he could move up to full-season ball next year in West Virginia. He’s a project to watch, but not quite an actual prospect just yet.
7. Scooter Hightower, RHP – Hightower didn’t have the best stuff, sitting 86-88 MPH and touching 89 when I saw him pitch. In that outing, he went four innings in relief, giving up two runs in a rough eighth inning. It’s possible that his stuff could play up in shorter outings, as he was used often in long-relief situations this year. He put up some nice numbers, with a 3.31 ERA and a 55:7 K/BB ratio in 49 innings. He’s got a tall, projectable frame, which could allow him to increase his velocity going forward. He was regarded as a late bloomer in the JuCo ranks, and the Pirates will probably give him a shot at long relief in West Virginia next year to see if he can follow up his strong performance at both JuCo and in Bristol.
8. Trae Arbet, 2B – The Pirates went over-slot on Arbet in 2013, drafting him as a shortstop. He has since moved to second base, where he has seen some struggles defensively. Offensively, he’s shown potential, but couldn’t put things together until this year. He’s worked the last two years on shortening his swing, and that might have paid off this season, with a .320/.384/.503 line in 147 at-bats. He didn’t draw many walks, and struck out about a third of the time, so there is concern as to whether he can repeat this success in higher levels. The defensive issues are also a concern, although Arbet is athletic enough that he should be able to show improvements in the middle infield. This was his second year in Bristol, which also adds some skepticism to his numbers. Overall, this was a good foundation to build on, but Arbet will need to improve his plate patience and defense going forward, while maintaining his numbers in the upper levels.
9. Julio De La Cruz, 3B – The biggest issue for De La Cruz in the past has been his weight, which has led to poor mobility at third base. He still has issues with the glove, lacking the reaction times and glove work needed to stick at the hot corner for the long-term. He trimmed down a bit this year, but the conditioning will also be an issue going forward. The big focus here is the bat, and that’s another area that is raw. De La Cruz shows off occasional power in the form of doubles, and has the frame and potential to eventually hit for some home run power. He’s going to need to show a lot with the bat, as his likely future will be at first base with his big frame and poor fielding at third.
10. Zack George, 1B – George looked advanced for the level, showing great plate patience and strong hitting throughout the year. He had some of the best results on the team, hitting for a .333/.453/.514 line in 105 at-bats. The lack of playing time is a concern, although partially explained by the presence of Carlos Munoz also on the team. The stats also come with the disclaimer that he was out of college, although his hitting skills were highly regarded for a late round pick. George played first base and DH, but has the frame that could allow him to play a corner outfield spot. It will be interesting to see if the Pirates make that move next year in order to get him more playing time.
Other Notable Players: Neil Kozikowski was an over-slot prep pitcher in 2013, but struggled in his third year in rookie ball, putting up a 4.80 ERA in 45 innings, with a 37:13 K/BB ratio. He has the tendency to flatten out his fastball, making him too hittable. The thing he’s got working for him is his projectable frame, but he’s running out of time for that to be enough to keep him in the rotation. Erik Lunde made an interesting move, going from the infield to catching. He also posted some strong numbers offensively, and even got priority playing time over strong defensive catcher John Bormann, who was one of the better college seniors taken in the 2015 draft. Christopher De Leon is a hard thrower who struck out 47 in 35.1 innings, although he also had some control issues out of the bullpen which could limit him to being A-ball depth. Logan Sendelbach is a sinkerball pitcher who doesn’t have great velocity, and relies solely on a fastball, but has a projectable frame and might do better in a bullpen role one day. Nick Buckner is a toolsy outfielder who has some nice raw power and the arm to stick in right field. He’s a project right now, and that could hold him back from a promotion to full-season ball next year.