The weakest team in the Pirates’ system this year, as far as full-season teams, will be the Bradenton Marauders. The prospect depth at the level is thin, with very few players who could eventually become impact prospects, or even starters one day in the majors.

The strength of the team is easily on the pitching side, with an interesting starter every single night, along with a few interesting relievers. Luis Escobar leads that group, providing possibly the only impact prospect on the team. Adrian Valerio is the standout on offense, and the only potential starter of the group.

There won’t be much help coming from the young West Virginia group this year, so this looks to be a down year for the Bradenton group, at least from a prospect standpoint.

To prepare for the 2018 Bradenton Marauders season, here are our top ten prospects at the level, and what you should expect from each player. The rankings come from our 2018 Prospect Guide, which you can get for just $19.99 in eBook form. We also have a very limited amount of paperback books remaining, and once they’re gone, they’re gone.

Now, here are the rankings:

1. Luis Escobar, RHP – Escobar is the highlight of the team this year, leading an interesting pitching staff, while providing one of the few potential impact prospects on this roster. He’s got a fastball that can sit mid-90s and touch upper 90s, along with some lively movement on the pitch. He also has a hammer curveball that is a plus out pitch, and a changeup that has really improved over the last two years, and could be considered another weapon. His biggest drawback has been a lack of fastball command, which comes from a lack of repeating his delivery. He can speed up his delivery and rush through the process, causing him to fly open, which leads to his fastballs getting wild. If he can tone down the control issues, then Escobar has the fastball and secondary stuff to be a top of the rotation guy. He would need a big improvement in control to reach that upside. Even if he sees a smaller improvement, he could be a starter in the majors, and more than a back of the rotation option.

2. Adrian Valerio, SS – Valerio is the best position prospect at the level, and perhaps the only option on the team who could have a shot at starting in the majors. His issues in the past have been due to consistency. On defense, he has the skills to play shortstop, but has taken plays off and gotten careless in his earlier years. He has tried too hard to hit for power on offense at times, especially after hitting a recent home run, leading to him getting away from his game of being a speedy guy who hits for average and gets on base. He improved his consistency on both sides of the ball last year, looking the best he’s looked in his young pro career. If he carries that consistency over to Bradenton, he could emerge as a legit shortstop prospect, joining the growing mix of guys above him like Cole Tucker, Kevin Newman, and Stephen Alemais.

3. Eduardo Vera, RHP – Vera was a non-prospect following the 2016 season, but saw a big increase in his velocity in 2017 that put him on the radar. He was sitting mid-90s, and touching upper 90s, while mixing in a good curveball that turned into an out pitch last year. He also showed improvements with his changeup, getting good downward movement on the pitch. Vera emerged as a prospect last year, and will get a chance this year to show whether he can take the next step and emerge as a future starter in the majors. His fastball/curveball combo give him a good chance to at least be a reliever one day, but his progression this year could make him more valuable in a future rotation.

4. Gage Hinsz, RHP – Hinsz saw some promising upward progression in the early part of his career, showing good velocity with his fastball, along with a curveball that was turning into a plus pitch. He was also showing better fastball command, eliminating one of his biggest issues early in his career. That all came to a halt last year, as he suffered a rare shoulder/scapula injury, lowering his velocity and hurting his control. He has since recovered, and showed good velocity this spring, which alleviated some of the concern from last year. The Pirates returned him to Bradenton, where he will need to show that he’s fully recovered and back on the right track. If he does well, he could be a mid-season promotion to Altoona, joining the rest of the 2017 Bradenton starters.

5. Oddy Nunez, LHP – Nunez was the other big breakout pitcher from the West Virginia rotation last year, taking a similar path as Vera. He was a non-prospect following the 2016 season, due to mid-80s velocity. He saw a big increase, getting to the low-90s and topping out at mid-90s. He’s got one of the biggest frames in the system, with a build similar to a young Ivan Nova. He could still add velocity going forward, mixed with a deceptive delivery where he hides the ball effectively behind his head. He’s got some promise with his secondary stuff, with his changeup being ahead of the slider. Nunez could really move up this list, and move up the overall prospect list in general, with another velocity increase and improvements to his secondary stuff. The velocity isn’t hard to imagine, considering his 6′ 8″ and over 200 pound frame. The secondary stuff will be a thing to watch this year.

6. Bligh Madris, OF – Madris was taken in the ninth round last year out of a smaller school, but looks promising with a lot of raw power. The lefty crushed right-handers last year, while still showing a high OBP against left-handers. He doesn’t run well, and his defense is limited to corner outfield, with the arm strength to play right field. He’s going to need to hit well in order to drive his value as a prospect. He has good plate patience and the raw power, which is a good starting point. He could emerge as a guy to watch this year, and due to his age, he could end up in Altoona by the end of the year if he hits well in the first half in Bradenton.

7. Hunter Owen, 3B – Owen is older for an A-ball prospect after being drafted in the later rounds out of college. He has shown the potential to be a prospect due to his raw power and ability to at least handle some tougher positions. He moved to third base last year, and looked at least passable at the spot. This year he’s learning catcher, a position he’s never played in a game, but has handled in bullpens. He’ll primarily play third, but will get a few starts behind the plate. His driving tool is power, and will be what makes him a prospect going forward. If he can play third and catcher, along with the corner outfield spots, then he could emerge as an interesting utility player in the future.

8. James Marvel, RHP – Marvel has one of the best sinkers in the system, sitting low-90s with good movement on the pitch and a lot of ground balls. He’s got a tall, projectable frame, so there’s a chance he could add more velocity in the future. For now, he doesn’t need it as much, with good control of the pitch, and a smart approach on the mound. His curveball can be a strikeout pitch, but hasn’t always been consistent in that regard. His changeup improvement has also been a focus the last few years. He’s got a chance to reach Altoona by mid-season, and has a shot at being a future reliever in the majors as a ground ball specialist.

9. Cam Vieaux, LHP – Vieaux made the jump to Bradenton in the second half last year, although he was hit pretty hard. He’s got a low-effort delivery and the chance for a velocity increase. He usually sits upper-80s to low-90s, but at times last year was getting his fastball up to 92-93 MPH while touching higher. He doesn’t have a strikeout pitch, but does have excellent control. He could be a LOOGY in the majors one day, with a chance to increase his value if he improves his velocity or adds a better out pitch.

10. Jared Oliva, OF – Oliva was drafted by the Pirates in the 7th round last year. He didn’t hit well in college, but showed improvements his senior year with his strikeout and walk rates, while showing improved numbers. His results in Morgantown last year were decent, with decent strikeout and walk rates, plus good speed that made him a good defensive option in center field and a threat on the bases. He doesn’t have much power, and is limited to gap power. He’s an interesting project, with his speed driving a lot of his value. He’s going to need to show a good ability to control the strike zone, along with the ability to hit for average in order to become a prospect in the future. His upside could be a bench player who can play defense at all three outfield spots, while adding speed off the bench.

Just Missed (In No Particular Order): Trae Arbet was a big bonus guy a few years ago, but has been derailed either by injuries, poor hitting, poor defense, or a combination of all of those things. He looked good this spring, hitting the ball well, and showing improvements with his defense. He could be a guy to watch this year to see if those improvements carry over to the regular season. Tyler Gaffney returned from the NFL to give baseball another shot. The Pirates will give the outfielder plenty of time in Bradenton at the start of the year to see what he’s got. He crowds the plate and gets hit with a lot of pitches. In the past he also did well drawing walks and limiting strikeouts, while hitting for average. Albert Baur adjusted his stance last year to get more narrow and try to hit for more power, which he did successfully. However, he’s very old for A-ball, and blocked at first base in the upper levels, which could prevent a promotion, even if he hits well. Angel German is a fireball reliever who can pump 97-98 MPH fastballs, but has poor control. He was the second piece in last summer’s Tony Watson trade. The catching position will be interesting. Jason Delay was advertised as having good defense, although showed some alarming throwing issues during Spring Training. John Bormann has the defense to get to the majors, and could be an emergency option again for the Pirates this year. Those two should split time, with Hunter Owen getting a few starts throughout the year.

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