BRADENTON, Fla. – Yesterday at Pirate City, I got a chance to see the lower level teams in action. I’ve seen those groups several times already this spring, but with recent cuts from the MLB roster leading to a trickle down effect, the lower-level teams are starting to take better shape. Early in camp, you had Bradenton guys playing on the Altoona squad, and West Virginia guys playing on the Bradenton squad, with short-season guys in West Virginia. Now, pretty much everyone is in their place, pending any further moves.

I’ve written about how the Pirates are currently in a rebuild in several ways. They’re trying to get their MLB team back to being contenders. They’re also trying to get their farm system back to being a top system, rather than the current middle of the pack status. For that to happen, they’re going to need some breakouts from the lower levels.

Fortunately, from what I’ve seen, they have the talent in the lower levels to produce some breakout prospects.

The Bradenton roster that I will be covering this year isn’t as strong as the group in years past, especially when you look at last year’s group that had Mitch Keller, Taylor Hearn, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Will Craig, and so on. This year’s Bradenton group doesn’t have much impact on the position player side, but does have some interesting pitchers.

On the position player side, Adrian Valerio looks like the only potential MLB starter. When I’ve seen him in the past, he’s shown strong defense at shortstop, along with good hitting ability. He hasn’t been consistent with either at times in the past, but started showing more consistency last year. If he can carry that consistency over in High-A, then he could take a big step up in the prospect rankings by this time next year.

There are a few other interesting position players. I’ve seen some good things from Trae Arbet this spring at the plate, although his defense has been horrible when I’ve seen him in the past. Hunter Owen is a guy to watch for his power, although it will be hard to take his numbers seriously until he jumps to Altoona, due to the age. Bligh Madris is in the same boat. He shows a lot of power potential, but as a guy out of college, his stats won’t be telling until he reaches Double-A. And that’s the story for almost everyone else on the roster, since the Bradenton position player roster looks to be made up of middle round college guys from the last two or three drafts.

The better prospects are on the pitching side. Luis Escobar leads the group, and I’ll get to him in the next section of this article. Oddy Nunez and Eduardo Vera both had smaller breakouts last year in West Virginia, showing that they could be actual prospects. This year will determine whether they can be future starters in the big leagues. Gage Hinsz is returning from a rare shoulder injury, but has been showing good stuff, reaching 94 MPH when I saw him last week. He’ll be a guy to watch, since he was showing good potential prior to the injury. And the final rotation spot will likely come between James Marvel and Cam Vieaux, with both likely getting starts throughout the year, and both having a shot at being an MLB reliever in the future.

The bullpen has some interesting guys as well. Blake Cederlind should be there, and was pumping out 97 and 98 MPH fastballs consistently when I saw him the other day. Angel German is another hard thrower who can sit in the upper 90s, although his control has been bad in the past, and I haven’t seen enough of him this year to say whether that is behind him. Dylan Prohoroff is another guy who has been a hard thrower in the past, although like most low-level relievers, he’s held back by control problems.

I’ll be watching the lower level teams again today, and will have a similar article tomorrow breaking down why West Virginia has so many players to watch.

Luis Escobar Leads the Way

The top prospect in Bradenton this year will be Luis Escobar. He was on the mound yesterday, showing a fastball that was sitting 93-94 MPH consistently, and reaching as high as 96. Escobar has had control issues in the past, but looked pretty good yesterday, as seen in the video below. He’s a guy with top of the rotation stuff (his in-season stuff usually ticks a few MPH higher than yesterday’s velocity), along with a good changeup and a plus curveball. If he can figure out the control on a consistent basis, he would become another potential top of the rotation guy in the system.

One side note about the video: Jason Delay was the catcher behind the plate, and had a few bad throws early in the video. The first one might have been wind aided. The throw down to second looked off, but the wind was extremely strong, blowing from first to third, which probably didn’t help. The second was a swinging strikeout in the dirt, where he rushed the throw and over-threw to first base. This is not the first I’ve seen of Delay having throwing issues. Last week, while watching Gage Hinsz, he had the same issue with a throw down to first after a swinging third strike in the dirt. In that same game, he sailed a practice throw down to second over the second baseman’s head and into center field, where there was a player backing him up. Delay is a defense-only catcher, so seeing throwing issues from him on two separate occasions is a concern for his future.

Now, here’s Escobar:

Pirates Sign a Third Baseman Out of Curacao

By John Dreker

Pirates Prospects has learned that the Pittsburgh Pirates signed their 58th international amateur free agent since July 2nd. Third baseman Tilsaimy Melfor, from Curacao, was signed earlier this week. He is the third player from Curacao in the farm system now, following third base prospect Sherten Apostel and his younger brother, first baseman Shendrik Apostel, who will play in the Dominican Summer League this season.

Melfor turned 17 on Valentine’s Day. He has an extensive track record in international games for Curacao and has already shown easy power in games from the right side of the plate. In a conversation with Sherten Apostel, he noted that Melfor has some real pop in his bat.

Melfor has been listed as an infielder at various times, but he was announced as a third baseman at his signing. Pirates Director of International Scouting Junior Vizcaino was the signing scout and told the local media that he believes Melfor has a lot of potential at the plate and as a third baseman. He will make his pro debut with one of the two DSL affiliates this season.

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