BRADENTON, Fla. – Spring Training wrapped up in Bradenton a few weeks ago. The Pirates went north to Detroit at the beginning of their 9-4 start to the season. Most of the minor leaguers went to one of four full-season clubs — Indianapolis, Altoona, Bradenton, West Virginia — in order to begin their seasons.
But what about all of the guys who will be playing in Morgantown, Bristol, and the GCL this year?
Those players are still in Bradenton, participating in Extended Spring Training. The camp runs the same way that minor league camp runs at Pirate City, with daily workouts and games against other organizations. There is a big focus on development in these games, as most of the players are on the younger side.
The camp not only includes younger players, but includes rehabbing minor league guys, suspended guys like Nik Turley, Mitchell Tolman and Montana DuRapau, and sometimes any MLB players who need some work before starting an official rehab assignment.
We can’t really do a top prospect list for this group like we’ve done with other previews, as most of these guys haven’t even gone through our ranking system. But here are the prospects to watch at the level. I’ll be providing updates from camp every weekend as part of our regular coverage.
The Draft Picks
The Pirates went very prep-heavy with their 2017 draft, and while a few of those picks have gone on to West Virginia, there is still some talent left behind at Pirate City.
Leading the group is Shane Baz, whose time in extended will be short. Baz is following the same path as Jameson Taillon, spending a month in extended to restrict his innings during his first full season. He is expected to go to West Virginia at the end of April or early May, where he will be the top prospect at that level for the Pirates.
Baz came into camp looking stronger after working on his conditioning over the offseason. He showed good stuff in the times I’ve seen him so far, with a focus on continued improvement of his changeup and focusing on one breaking pitch to get outs. He’ll have a better test of his development when he moves to West Virginia, as he’s been making easy work of the guys in the lower levels when I’ve seen him.
The Pirates also drafted prep pitchers Steven Jennings and Cody Bolton in 2017, with both right-handers expected to go to Bristol at the end of extended. Jennings is coming off a rib injury, which kept him out during Spring Training, and is just getting him back on the mound. He could end up losing some velocity in the short-term due to this, and will need to add some weight and muscle back to reverse any losses.
Bolton looks promising, and we rated him above Jennings before the injury, despite Jennings being drafted higher. The reason for the ranking is the potential for better stuff, with Bolton having a better breaking pitch right now, along with more velocity, with the chance to get up to 93-94 MPH at his young age.
Outfielder Conner Uselton had his pro debut cut short last year with a hamstring tear, and is being held back in extended to get some playing time and experience, rather than joining fellow 2017 prep hitters Calvin Mitchell and Mason Martin in West Virginia. Uselton will likely go to a short-season team, possibly going to Bristol to keep him with other 2017 prep guys. He’s got some raw power, and will get a chance to show how he’s returning from the injury over the next two months.
Alex Manasa wasn’t a prep pick last year, but was taken in the 11th round and paid an over-slot signing out of the JuCo ranks. He has primarily been a position player in the past, but the Pirates drafted him as a pitcher. The experiment is going well so far, with Manasa showing a highly projectable frame, some promising early velocity, and the potential for some good secondary stuff. He’ll be a guy to watch this spring to see how much he can develop, and whether the Pirates push him into a starting role.
Finally, there’s 2016 11th round pick Max Kranick, who somewhat surprisingly was left behind in extended while his fellow pitchers Braeden Ogle and Travis MacGregor moved to West Virginia. Kranick hasn’t seen a consistent velocity increase, and as a result has been working on a new slider this spring in order to add a second breaking pitch to the mix. His stock would go up if he saw a velocity increase, although I’ve talked to scouts who have said that isn’t necessary for him to have future success, due to the angle and control of his fastball. Having a four pitch mix with good control can keep him as a starter, but would also limit his upside.
Bae gets his own section, separate from the other international prospects, as he is a special case. The Pirates signed him for around $1.25 M, making him one of their highest paid international amateurs in franchise history, second only to Luis Heredia.
The scouting reports on Bae say that he’s got a lot of speed, can play good defense at shortstop, and makes good contact with the ball. I’ve seen all of that so far, backing up the promising reports. I could see him being a speedy leadoff guy and a strong defender at shortstop, although I wouldn’t rule out him hitting for some power with his line drive approach and the chance to hit a few home runs.
My views of Bae have been limited so far, and I don’t have enough to say where he’d rank in the system. I know that he’s going to the GCL this year, and will get a big chance to move up the prospect ranks by mid-season if he continues showing what he’s shown in the limited views I’ve had of him so far.
By John Dreker
The Pirates brought a group of three Dominican Summer League players over to the U.S. this year who stand out above the rest. That doesn’t mean they will end up being the best from the entire group of 20+ players, but right now they are easily the top prospects. The list is led by Jean Eusebio, who won’t turn 18 years old until the end of the GCL season. Expect the potential five-tool outfielder to man center field regularly for the GCL Pirates this year.
Eusebio showed off excellent speed last year, both on the bases and in center field, where he covered a lot of ground. He has an above average arm as well. He showed an advanced approach at the plate last year, which led to 35 walks in 50 games. Eusebio also showed the ability to use the entire field. He didn’t put up the best stats, but he was the youngest player on the team and he received a lot of praise for his abilities. That’s somewhat similar to what we heard about Lolo Sanchez when he was in the DSL, with the mediocre results and same set of tools.
Sherten Apostel had a breakout season in the DSL last year after looking over-matched in 2016. He cut down his strikeouts, his walks increased dramatically and he had 25 extra-base hits in 61 games, all while seeing very little to hit. Apostel has filled out his 6’4″ frame since signing, adding 28 pounds, while also improving his defense at third base. He was slowed by a hamstring injury this spring, but he should provide a lot to watch and write about during Extended Spring Training.
Catcher Samuel Inoa had a similar story to Apostel. They are both 19 years old now and were two of the bigger signings during the 2015-16 international signing period for the Pirates. Both struggled a lot as rookies, then returned to the level looking like completely different players. Inoa had two injuries in 2017 that limited him to 34 games. When he did play, he put up a .921 OPS and showed extreme improvements behind the plate, which included him becoming a team leader on the field. In talks I had after the 2016 season, there was no praise for Inoa on offense or defense from the same people, so it was quite a turnaround.
The new group of pitchers has some intriguing arms such as Luis Arrieta, Noe Toribio Santiago Florez, Oliver Garcia, Osvaldo Bido and Pablo Santana. They are players who could potentially breakout this year as they continue to fill out and get more experience on the mound. On the international side, you also have names such as Jeremias Portorreal, Edison Lantigua, Yondry Contreras, Yeudry Manzanillo and Leandro Pina among players at Pirate City right now.