The Pittsburgh Pirates send a lot of their college draft picks to Morgantown each year, especially the early round picks. Some of the later college guys and junior college players head to Bristol, while the GCL club gets mostly prep players, though college guys will occasionally begin the season there before moving up. This year’s Morgantown team already has 12 draft picks from 2018 and more will be on the way there once they sign.
Because we haven’t seen many of these players firsthand, we don’t put together a top ten prospects list like other clubs. Instead we give players of interest on the team and this year is almost exclusively a draft recap.
If we were to do a top ten, the obvious top player would be first round draft pick Travis Swaggerty. He signed on Friday and will join the Black Bears today. Within a few days, he should be in the lineup because it hasn’t been long since he played his last game. The Pirates tend to leave players at this level for their first season in the pros, although some players occasionally go up to West Virginia during the season. Swaggerty, like other college picks, use the level to get acclimated to pro ball and playing a longer season than normal. He will also attend the Fall Instructional League in September, just like every other 2018 draft pick for the Pirates.
The Pirates assigned a total of 18 players to Morgantown who were already in the system. The group included just one top 50 prospect, and he only made it during the season this year after other players lost their prospect status in the majors. Alex Manasa was last year’s 11th round pick. He showed a lot of improvement quickly while at Bristol last year, but the recent reports from Extended Spring Training were not strong. He wasn’t throwing as hard and was giving up a lot of hard contact.
One of our players to watch from the Dominican Summer League last year, made huge strides this year and jumped right from the DSL to Morgantown. Pitcher Osvaldo Bido throws hard, but didn’t have control most of the time last year. This spring he has been throwing more strikes and putting up terrific starts, so he’s likely the top prospect right now among the players who were already in the system. That will only remain true if the strikes continue once the games count. We have seen players dominate in Extended Spring games, then do nothing when the games count.
Two pitchers to watch are hard-throwers returning from surgery. John Pomeroy and Shea Murray have both hit upper 90s in the past and both needed elbow surgery last year. They will likely be limited in their work, but if the velocity returns (it hasn’t yet for either) then they are both interesting projects. Both have had control issues in the past, so I wouldn’t expect big things from either. It’s more about them getting work right now and seeing if the high-90s stuff returns.
Edison Lantigua has been on or near the back of our top 50 list for years due to his potential with the bat. He put up strong numbers with Bristol last year, albeit with too many strikeouts. He is an average runner and has his problems time to time in the outfield, so the value will come from his bat. It will be interesting to watch how much he plays with Swaggerty, seventh round pick Brett Kinneman and 14th round pick Daniel Amaral in the outfield too. Former prospect Michael de la Cruz also returns to the level, but his prospects day are gone at this point. It’s a crowded outfield, but Lantigua should still get time out there.
I will mention Raul Siri is there in the infield and I had multiple people say that he was the best player in Extended Spring Training. Keep in mind that he played this level last year and he’s 23 years old, so best player and best prospect aren’t the same thing.
When we do our top 50 update in July, Aaron Shortridge will have a good shot at being on it and possibly being the second best prospect on this team. Other draft picks like Kinneman and the unsigned Connor Kaiser (third round) and Grant Koch (fifth round) could challenge him for that spot. Shortridge was the fourth round pick and he was inserted right into the starting rotation for the Black Bears after Manasa and Bido.
The pitching staff also has sixth round pick Michael Flynn, eighth round pick Zach Spears and ninth round pick Logan Stoelke. Their roles are undefined at this point, but even if they are in the bullpen to limit their innings instead of in the rotation, they will still be players we watch closely before updating our top 50 list.
Zac Susi, who was drafted in the 12th round out of UConn, should see about half of the time behind the plate. At this point he’s splitting it with Paul Brands, who played for Bristol last year, but Susi and Grant Koch will likely split the playing time once the latter signs. Koch is currently playing in the College World Series. Mike Gretler, the tenth round pick should join Morgantown this year, but he is also still playing in the College WS. If Gretler signed with the Pirates last year when they took him in the 39th round, he probably would have ended up at Morgantown then, so he will eventually get to the team.
You’re basically looking at a team led by Travis Swaggerty, who will be somewhere in our top ten prospects obviously, then after that it’s players trying to establish their prospect status. Last year we saw some interesting things from a college heavy group that included Deon Stafford, Jared Oliva, Bligh Madris, Blake Weiman and Gavin Wallace among others. This season could be very similar with nine picks from the top ten rounds sent here. We also saw late round pick Tristan Gray put up big numbers and establish himself as a top 50 prospect.
It’s not currently the most exciting group for top prospects, but you’re talking about a solid group that will likely produce some Major League players besides Swaggerty.