Last year’s West Virginia group started off slow, and didn’t look like a strong team. By the end of the season, there were some interesting prospects, due to a few breakouts on the pitching side, and a few strong position player performances.

I’ve been giving an early look to all of the minor league rosters next year, focusing on the depth for each team, and which players could move up. The Bradenton squad should see most of those players from West Virginia, including all of the breakout pitchers. They will also get some of the most interesting players from Morgantown.

Overall, this group is weaker than last year’s group, which featured top prospects like Mitch Keller, Taylor Hearn, Cole Tucker, and Ke’Bryan Hayes, to name a few. But there will be some prospects to follow, with the hope that there are additional breakouts this year that make this group look better by the end of the season.

Here is a look at the projected Bradenton roster for 2018.

Position Players

C – Deon Stafford

1B – Albert Baur

2B – Stephen Alemais

SS – Adrian Valerio

3B – Dylan Busby

OF – Lucas Tancas

OF – Jared Oliva

OF – Bligh Madris

DH – Hunter Owen

Bench – Arden Pabst, Logan Ratledge, Brent Gibbs, Clark Eagan

The catcher position is tough to figure out in the A-ball levels. The Pirates drafted two college catchers in 2017, taking Deon Stafford and Jason Delay. Stafford is more offensive minded, while Delay has stronger defense. They put Stafford ahead of Delay, keeping the defensive catcher with a stronger, younger group of pitchers. I went with the same thing in my 2018 projections, since the West Virginia group has a strong pitching staff, as you’ll see tomorrow. Beyond Stafford, I think Arden Pabst and Brent Gibbs will compete for bench roles.

The biggest issue in the infield would be the shortstop competition between Adrian Valerio and Stephen Alemais. I put Alemais at second base, but I think there will be a split here, at least until Alemais moves up to Altoona. The Pirates have Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer at the top level, and Cole Tucker and Mitchell Tolman in Altoona. They are pretty stocked up with middle infield prospects. Alemais could find an opportunity later in the year at second base, challenging Tolman, but he’s the best defensive shortstop in the system, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to move him off the position completely. Any time at second would be more about getting his bat some work.

Albert Baur is old for this level, but did start tapping into his big frame for power in West Virginia last year. It’s hard to take that seriously until it happens in Double-A, but he’s currently blocked by Will Craig from moving up.

Dylan Busby didn’t have a great pro debut, but he’s a high college pick, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him skip over to High-A ball. He could get some competition at third base from Hunter Owen.

The outfield continues a trend throughout the system where the Pirates don’t have a lot of depth. They do have some interesting prospects here. Madris brings a lot of power potential, Oliva brings athleticism, and Tancas had a strong finish to the year last year in Morgantown, with a lot of power, although he is on the older side at 24.

Pitchers

Rotation Candidates – Luis Escobar, Eduardo Vera, Oddy Nunez, James Marvel, Cam Vieaux, Adam Oller, Matt Anderson

The rotation in Bradenton will be more straight forward than the rotation at other levels. Escobar, Vera, and Nunez will look to follow up on big years in West Virginia, while Marvel and Vieaux should return to Bradenton after being promoted to the level in the second half of 2017. I could see both of those guys moving up early in the year as rotation spots open. I think that Escobar would need to be on a faster track as well, now that he’s on the 40-man, but that would largely depend on him improving his control next year. Vera seems more likely to have instant success in Bradenton, and will need to move quickly as well, since he’d be more likely to be a Rule 5 candidate with another strong year next year.

The problem is that the Pirates don’t have a lot of rotation spots available in the upper levels, and too many guys competing for those spots. They’re going to have to make hard commitments to certain players moving to the bullpen, as the alternative of having players return to the rotation later in the year will stop the flow of promotions from the lower levels.

I put Adam Oller and Matt Anderson on this list, but I see them in spot starter roles, and likely pitching longer innings out of the bullpen.

Bullpen Candidates – Angel German, Blake Weiman, Pasquale Mazzoccoli, Blake Cederlind, Adam Oller, Dylan Prohoroff, Matt Anderson, Logan Sendelbach

Most bullpen guys in the lower levels don’t stand out as legit prospects, since the team usually puts the best arms in the rotation. There are some good arms here, led by the hard throwing Angel German, who does come with serious control issues. Blake Cederlind, Dylan Prohoroff, and Blake Weiman were all top ten round picks. Mazzoccoli put up good numbers last year in West Virginia, but that is expected from someone who will be 26 years old on Opening Day in 2018.

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