Most of the talk for Bristol this season centered around their horrible win-loss record and very poor fielding. The team was supposed to have two more pitching prospects, but Max Kranick and Austin Shields both had injuries at the end of Extended Spring Training and that hurt the pitching depth for this club. They still had a few arms of interest, as well as a possible breakout hitter, so it wasn’t a lost season. It’s not the deepest group of prospects, but also not the worst one we have seen at this level. Depending on how the Pirates handle promotions next season, Bristol could be an interesting club to follow. Here is our end of the year rundown of the best prospects at the level.

TOP 10 BRISTOL PROSPECTS

The cutoff for eligibility on this list was 70 at-bats, 20 innings pitched, or 10 relief appearances. The biggest name who missed the list was 2016 11th rounder Max Kranick, who joined the team late in the season and made two solid starts. Most of the list is based on upside, rather than the results this year. These players are so far away that even their upside is hard to peg.

1. Braeden Ogle, LHP – There wasn’t much of a discussion for the top prospect at this level. Ogle was the clear choice once Max Kranick wasn’t with the team on Opening Day, and he improved his stock as the season went along. The 6’2″ lefty was the fourth round pick of the Pirates in 2016, but he immediately looked like someone who should have been drafted higher. He was topping out at 96 MPH last season and bumped that up to 98 this year, while showing better stamina. He also worked hard on improving both his changeup and his slider, showing progress with each pitch. Ogle had his best two starts in early August, throwing a combined ten shutout innings with 12 strikeouts, but he was then shutdown with minor knee surgery. He has already began his return from the injury, rehabbing the last few weeks at Pirate City before heading home for the off-season. It shouldn’t be an issue going into next year and Ogle appears to be ready for the West Virginia rotation in 2018.

2. Domingo Robles, LHP – Behind Ogle, the Pirates had another 6’2″ southpaw at Bristol, who has a lot of projection. Robles turned 19 shortly before the season started, making him the youngest player on the team. He made some strong strides this season and still has plenty of room to grow, both physically and as a pitcher. Robles sat high 80s with his fastball during his first two seasons of pro ball, although we heard that he hit 92 MPH before signing. This year, he was sitting 91-92 MPH, while showing improvements with his curveball and his changeup. The changeup in particular got some nice praise for the separation in velocity from his fastball. That gives him potential for three average or better pitches going forward, along with the ability to throw strikes and keep the ball down in the zone. Robles had a 4.83 ERA this year, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him skip a level to West Virginia due to his upside, along with his ability to throw strikes and go deep into starts.

3. Edison Lantigua, OF – Lantigua put up big numbers for Bristol as a 20-year-old in his fourth season of pro ball. He had a very strong rookie season in the DSL in 2014, as his line drive lefty swing led to an .823 OPS. He moved up to the GCL in 2015 and had a lost year due to a thumb injury that limited his playing time and affected his swing. He rebounded with a decent season in 2016 back in the GCL, then put together a strong .307/.411/.477 slash line in 48 games this year. Lantigua was able to accumulate those numbers despite a high strikeout rate, going down on strikes in 30% of his plate appearances. That’s much higher than any of his three previous seasons and something to watch going forward. Lantigua is a solid corner outfielder with a decent arm. He also used his speed better on the bases, picking up a career high eight steals in ten attempts. He should be able to skip Morgantown and go right to West Virginia next year, although that team appears to have a crowded outfield situation that needs to be sorted out.

4. Travis MacGregor, RHP – MacGregor had a very tough season in Bristol, posting a 7.84 ERA, a .339 BAA and a 1.96 WHIP. He allowed just one run over nine innings in his first two starts combined, then things went downhill from there. As the second youngest player on the team behind Domingo Robles, this was more of a development season for MacGregor and there are some positives to take away. He was focusing on fastball command and improving his changeup while at Bristol and made strides in both areas. He also cleaned up his mechanics during Extended Spring Training, at one point being removed from game action while he could work on the new delivery. MacGregor showed a solid velocity on his fastball, sitting low-90s, with reports of him hitting 94+ MPH. His 6’4″ frame gives him plenty of room to continue to add velocity and stamina. He spent the 2016-17 off-season adding muscle to his lean frame and there is still more room to grow.

5. Alex Manasa, RHP – Manasa was taken in the 11th round by the Pirates this year and signed for a slightly over-slot deal. He was drafted out of college, but he’s still just 19 years old. Manasa was a two-way player in college and played outfield in high school, so he’s as raw as you get on the pitching side, but the Pirates saw a lot of potential. He started off slow with Bristol, getting hit around in most of his early outings, before finishing very strong. In his final 14.1 innings this season, he allowed just one run and one walk. The first time we saw him this year, he was sitting 87-88 MPH with his fastball. A month later, when he was getting better results, he was sitting 91-92 MPH. The Pirates gave him a new changeup grip when he joined Bristol, going from a two-seam to a four-seam grip to match his fastball. The new pitch immediately showed promise with some cutting action. Due to his inexperience, he’s likely to be at Morgantown next year. He will probably start in the future, but the Pirates will need to limit him somewhat in 2018 as he builds up his innings.

6. Jason Delay, C – At 22 years old and coming from a major college (Vanderbilt), Delay had no business being in the Appalachian League. That’s especially true as a four-year starter at that college with three years of summer ball in the Cape Cod League. The Pirates had two great reasons to send him to Bristol though. One is that fifth round pick Deon Stafford was the regular catcher at Morgantown and the better prospect. The other reason is the work he did with the pitching staff. The pitchers I talked to about Delay’s defense raved about him, with two of them saying that he is easily the best catcher they ever worked with in their life. When Delay was drafted, he had a lot of the qualities we saw in Jacob Stallings when he was drafted. Neither were known for their bat, and both were seniors from a major college with standout defense. Stallings developed some as a hitter and has now seen action in two seasons with the Pirates, while Delay could be on that same path to the big leagues. He could either follow the young pitchers to West Virginia next year, or go a step higher to Bradenton.

7. Hunter Stratton, RHP – The Pirates took the 20-year-old Stratton out of Walters Community College in the 16th round this year. He’s a big kid, with a 6’4″, 225 pound workhorse frame. He had average results with Bristol, looking strong at times, while struggling with control at other times. He held batters to a .228 BAA and had 38 strikeouts in 43 innings. Stratton was mostly a two-pitch pitcher in college, working with a fastball and a slider. His first order of business after joining the Pirates was finding a new changeup grip that worked for him. He appeared to adapt quickly to the new grip, which showed decent separation from his fastball and some late drop. Stratton’s fastball sits low-90s, but there could be some more velocity in there. His slider sits low-80s. He could end up at Morgantown next year, where he can work on fastball command and improving his secondary pitches.

8. Ben Bengtson, 3B – Bengtson was taken in the 23rd round out of Hartford, where he was a three-year starter at shortstop. He immediately moved to third base with the Pirates and stayed there all season. In college, he was described as a solid defender with a strong arm, which plays well at the hot corner. He noted that he bulked up for third base during college in anticipation of the position move after he was drafted. Bengtson put up decent results on offense for Bristol, with the obvious caveat being that he was a 22-year-old college player in the Appalachian League. His stats actually looked much better due to his final three games in which he reached base nine times and had two extra-base hits, raising his OPS 77 points. While he only attempted four stolen bases, his scouting report said that he had decent speed and he was a lead-off hitter during his first season in college. He also showed some pop in his bat after he bulked up, so along with his defense, there are tools to work with here.

9. Yondry Contreras, CF – The Pirates continue to push Contreras despite the fact that he hasn’t had success at any level yet. Now in his third season at 19 years old (he turned 20 after the season), he has gone from the DSL to the GCL to Bristol and his .613 OPS this season was his best. The Pirates clearly believe in the tool set, which includes a very strong arm in center field, decent speed and some raw power. Strikeouts were a major issue before this season, but he had his worst year in 2017, going down on strikes 37.3% of the time. It will be interesting to see if they continue to push him, or if he returns to Bristol next year. I can’t see West Virginia being a possibility, even though the defense and arm in center field would help the pitching staff, but they may try him at Morgantown if he shows signs of improvements during Extended Spring Training.

10. Drew Fischer, RHP – Fischer didn’t have the best results, but he’s on this list because he hits 95 MPH with his fastball and a top nine list just seems odd. The 21-year-old, 6’3″ right-hander, showed a lot of improvements at Amherst College as a junior this year. That got him drafted in the 35th round. Fischer had 30 strikeouts in 25.2 innings in college this year and 31 strikeouts in 27 innings with Bristol. He also had control issues at each stop, so how he progresses with throwing strikes will dictate where he ends up next season. He’s a lottery ticket as a late round pick, but they had a nice fastball to work with as a starting point.

Other Notable Players: Usually we try to limit this section to about five players. Sometimes we put extra and sometimes it’s too much of a stretch to find five of them. Max Kranick had a 1.11 ERA in 24.1 innings over five starts, splitting his time between the GCL Pirates and Bristol. He dealt with some shoulder tightness late in Extended Spring Training, but he finished the season strong and continued putting in work during the Fall Instructional League, which could allow him to move up to West Virginia next season. Melvin Jimenez finished the season very strong after a slow start and saw time at second base, third base and shortstop. He has put up decent numbers in the past, though he has also dealt with some injury issues. Jimenez had a 22:15 BB/SO ratio.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. I’m curious as to why Evan Piechota is not on this list. He had some of the better numbers for Bristol pitching this year with 51 strikeouts in 58 innings pitched, and only 6 walks on the season. He had the same number of strikeouts as Robles, with 11 less innings pitched, and 10 less walks.

    I’ll be curious to see how Stratton does with some rest over the off-season. I know he already pitched a full college season before being drafted, and he looked to be getting tired toward the end of the season. It will be interesting to see how he does while fresh, especially after the instruction he has gotten during his first season, and the instructs in Florida.

    • Piechota had a strong season, but it’s a case of stats not telling the entire story. If you want to use Domingo Robles as a comparison, since you mentioned him. Piechota is 4 1/2 years older than him at the same level. He has a 6’1″ frame that has already filled out and he sits mid-to-high 80s with his fastball. Robles throws on average about 4-5 MPH faster, with a 6’2″ frame that still has room to fill out.

      Basically, at 24 years old, Piechota doesn’t have a lot of room for growth as a pitcher, while Robles is all about projection.

      • The lack of room for growth makes sense. I do think Piechota has amazing command, even though his fastball is lacking. I’d like to see how he does against batters at a higher level.

        • His control is clearly his strong point. Also his ability to be used in any situation helps. It’s just a long way from being a soft-tossing righty in Bristol at age 24, to being a prospect. He could have probably put up solid stats at West Virginia this season, but would run into trouble in High-A without improvements.

  2. Why don’t they teach these young pitchers the cutter? Do any of our pitchers throw a cutter? It just seems like a good pitch to have in their arsenal?

    • They typically teach that pitch in Double-A. The lower levels is more about developing fastball command, then finding a breaking pitch that isn’t such a threat to the arm health. If the pitcher can’t develop a standard curve or slider that is an out pitch, they go to the cutter.

      The cutter leads to more strain on the arm, so it’s preferred to try out other options first.

  3. Glad to read this write up. Based on the teams win/loss production I thought you would be hard pressed to name anyone to the top 10 prospect list. I see potential here and maybe Contreras will put it all together and stop striking out. Seems like the old adage of you don’t walk of the island (DR) remains true in his case, but someone needs to tell him he has to hit the ball to succeed.

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