BRISTOL, Va. – When I go to a baseball game, I am there to observe, evaluate, and analyze. But please don’t let that fool you into thinking I don’t enjoy a good story.
Hunter Stratton, the Pirates 16th round pick in June’s amateur draft, was born and raised in Bristol, TN, and starred for Sullivan East High School. He then attended Walters State Community College for two years, located just an hour down the road, cementing his draft stock with two consecutive no hitters in 2017. And now he plays for the Bristol Pirates, in front of friends and family in his hometown.
“It’s awesome,” Stratton said. “I came to this park as a kid. It’s wild. I didn’t think the Pirates were going to draft me, and then I heard from the area scout and ended up here.”
Stratton is more than a good story of the hometown kid getting a shot. He opened with a 92-93 MPH four-seam fastball with average command in the first, settling in at 90-92. At 6’ 4”, 225 pounds, I could see him adding a bit to the pitch, not to mention that he just pitched a full-season in Walters State’s rotation.
He’s been throwing his slider since the 6th grade (“just like a football, with no wrist snap”), and he throws it with confidence and conviction at 80-82 MPH. It gets slurvy, but he mixes it well.
Like all of Bristol’s starters, Stratton is working to improve his change-up, which I anticipate will be better than the slider at maturity. He tinkered with the pitch in college but didn’t start throwing it with any regularity or confidence until arriving in Bristol this June. It has late drop at 84-85 MPH, and even though the staff is still just seeing what the tall righty has, he’s already sought guidance in improving the pitch.
“I got here, and I asked our pitching coach,” Stratton said. “I said, ‘I need a changeup; I need a changeup’. He showed me a grip; in college we threw it differently, but here you just let the grip do the work. It’s helped a ton.”
Ultimately, I like Stratton’s chances best as a relief arm. The hope is that with a pro throwing program and some growth, he could add some velocity in short stints, pairing his heater with the better of slider and changeup (the latter is my projection, but it’s one brief look).
Joining Stratton in the “straight from community college to the draft to Bristol” path is 11th round pick Alex Manasa, a 6’ 4”, 195 pound right-handed pitcher. Similar to Stratton, the coaching staff is still just learning what Manasa ‘has,’ and is getting a sense of his pitches, approach, and delivery.
Unlike his teammate who was throwing sliders in elementary school, Manasa was a two-way player in his lone season at Jackson, and is still new to pitching. He’s a very good athlete who played outfield and was also a star basketball player in high school.
Unfortunately, I only saw 2.1 innings of work from Manasa, who is on a limited pitch count coming off his college season. He showed a fairly straight 87-88 MPH fastball and decent low-80s slider that could be tightened up. His changeup was raw and inconsistent, but these things are quite normal for a kid in Manasa’s position — new to pitching, picking up a pro routine, and coming off a full-season of college ball. His size and athleticism make him a bit of a project, but one with a high upside.
Another look in Spring 2018 should give us a more telling portrait of these new members of the Pirate franchise.