The Bristol Pirates looked like they would have a strong team coming into 2018. At least stronger than we are used to seeing at this level. By the time the season was over, the top two prospects were traded from the system and some of the top remaining prospects had disappointing seasons.
When Shane Baz and Sherten Apostel were named as the players to be named later in trade deadline deals, it did a number on the top ten prospect list for Bristol. Instead of having six players out of our top 50, which would be the average amount for a team, they were down to four players and none of them were in our top 20. There were some positive signs from the team though, as you will see in the recap.
Bristol used a total of 44 players, with 24 pitchers and 20 position players. Four of those players are no longer in the system, with Johan De Jesus and Adonis Pichardo released mid-season, joined later by Baz and Apostel leaving. With 40 players left, you would think there would be a lot of potential. There was actually by the end of the season, but many of the players who arrived late were there just briefly, failing to qualify for our top ten prospects list, which will be out tomorrow.
The Pirates had pitchers Luis Nova, Lizardy Dicent, Denny Roman and Brad Case, as well as infielder Pat Dorrian, all join them at the end of the year. That’s a group that should produce something down the line, but they weren’t with the team long enough to really include them in the season recap. You also had a potential breakout pitching prospect in Leandro Pina, go down with a shoulder injury that limited him to 11.2 innings. Jacob Webb struggled in seven relief appearances, but he was flashing a 93-94 MPH fastball that we didn’t see last year.
As for the players who actually did put in time, we start with outfielder Jonah Davis because he had the best season on the team. Davis was the 15th round pick this year and hit from the start, showing power and a high average at first, then just power at the end. He has a lot of tools, though none of them would be considered plus tools, but it’s a package that could work if he cuts down on his strikeouts. He finished with a .306/.398/.612 slash line in 51 games, leading the league in extra-base hits (33) and slugging.
Staying in the outfield, there was a lot of disappointment with this group. Conner Uselton only missed having the worst OPS in the league because he fell nine plate appearances short of qualifying. He would have got those nine PAs and more if he wasn’t benched multiple times for indifferent play. He was also said to be an athletic player, who could handle center field, but every report I got said that was far from true. He had trouble in the corner spots. He hit well in Extended Spring Training at times and he showed off a strong arm, so there were some positives, but not enough to overshadow the poor showing all season.
I paired up Yondry Contreras and Jeremias Portorreal because they were both high bonus international players who did very poorly, but they are very different players. Contreras has never hit well at any level, although he makes hard contact when he isn’t swinging and missing too often. He’s a very athletic player, with strong defense and a cannon for an arm. Portorreal has had some success in the past at the plate. He’s not athletic at all and has a lot of trouble on defense. Both hit poorly (Contreras in his second year at the level) and neither played full-time.
Brendt Citta is a rare player, getting selected out of college in the 38th round, yet he received a $125,000 bonus. A college player worth that amount usually doesn’t end up being selected in the 38th round unless they’re a draft-eligible sophomore who is young for the draft class. Those type of players usually wouldn’t sign for that amount because they have a chance to improve their stock as juniors. Citta was just short of his 22nd birthday when he signed, so he wasn’t young for his draft class. He put up solid numbers, but nothing spectacular for a college player in the Appalachian League.
Christian Navarro didn’t see a lot of player time, but he was interesting because he was an international signing, who debuted in Bristol. Usually he would play in one of the two lower levels first. They only used him in 22 games and he was healthy, so it was odd usage for someone who just signed. Eddy Vizcaino was the other outfielder and he barely played as well, plus he didn’t hit much.
To the infield and when Jonah Davis wasn’t leading the offense, Mikell Granberry picked up the slack. He hit .305/.415/.490 in 43 games. He turned 23 at the end of the season, so that takes away a bit from those stats. He has missed some time in the past due to a back injury, a broken hand from a hit-by-pitch, a hamstring injury this spring and a knee injury last year. It’s a long list, but it’s been spread out over five years and the only real long-term one was the hand injury. The others were just bad timing injuries. The missed development time leaves the door open for some hope, plus he probably should have been in Morgantown or West Virginia this year. The stats back that up.
The Pirates also had some really nice hitting from Chase Lambert, who put up a .348/.433/.455 slash line, while also playing solid defense at second base. The problem is that it came from a 22-year-old from a major college, who played less than half of the time. He will have to prove himself at higher levels before you take those hitting numbers seriously. Dean Lockery is basically the same story as Lambert. Older player, solid stats, not full-time. The difference was that Lockery got a handful of starts at three different positions, so that versatility could help him move up quicker. It’s also possible that having one position gives Lambert a chance for a starting job.
Victor Ngoepe had a tough season, on offense and defense. His brother started to show signs of progress by this time in his career, while the younger Ngoepe seems to have stalled. The defensive struggles were the most disappointing part, but he also hasn’t learned to use his speed well on the bases. He has the tools, they just aren’t translating to on field success.
That leaves first baseman Mason Martin, who joined this team after struggling with the jump to West Virginia early in the year. Martin showed off some early power with Bristol, hitting five homers in his first eight games. He finished with five more homers over his final 51 games. He hit .130 in August, striking out in exactly half of his at-bats (46 K’s in 92 ABs). He also committed 15 errors in 95 games in 2018. The bright side is that he will be 19 years old well into the 2019 season and he still has some of the best raw power in the system.
Behind the plate, it wasn’t a good season. Zac Susi was a 12th round pick this year, who was sent down from Morgantown. Gabriel Brito was a high bonus international signing, who has mostly struggled as a pro. Manny Bejerano was a late round pick, who received little playing time. None of them hit, but their defense was better than their hitting. Mikell Granberry has been a catcher in the past, but he was only used in one game and his only other catching was in the bullpen.
On the pitching side, not everything of interest was a late arrival or gone once Shane Baz was traded. Steven Jennings was last year’s 42nd overall draft pick and he was a regular in the rotation. He posted a 4.82 ERA, with a 1.45 WHIP and 53 strikeouts, while leading the team with 65.1 innings. Jennings seemed to get killed by one bad inning in a lot of his starts. The bad side to his season was the lack of velocity gain over last year, but he showed some improvements with his curve and slider. Once his speed doesn’t dip into the high 80s as a starter, then we could see his stock rise.
Roger Santana had stats similar to Jennings, with the same WHIP and a nearly identical strikeout rate, but an ERA one run high. The 20-year-old lefty had a few rough starts, though he showed a nice three-pitch mix, with control over a low-90s fastball that touched 95 MPH, and a changeup that was described as a plus pitch. They might not have top of the rotation upside, but Jennings and Santana each have potential.
Colin Selby was the 16th round pick this year out of smaller college and he was young for the draft class, turning 21 next month. He pitched fairly well, although he was dealing with some minor soreness in early July and had back-to-back poor starts during that stretch. Selby got some good reviews, as he mixed a low-90s fastball, with a nice slider and curve combo for his breaking pitches. He also received high marks for his pitching smarts.
Oliver Garcia had a strong season in the DSL last year, showing a lot of improvements, while filling out his 6’3″ frame nicely. The Pirates believed that the 20-year-old right-hander from the Dominican was ready for the jump over the GCL to Bristol, but the stats say otherwise. He had a 7.28 ERA and a 1.77 WHIP, while his walk rate was much higher than last year.
Yeudry Manzanillo was a top international pitcher signing for the Pirates in 2015. He’s now pitched three seasons and three levels and struggled three times. He’s got a 6’3″ projectable frame and he’s still 19 years old, so maybe he hits his stride next year, or a repeat at a level he hasn’t mastered yet would probably be good for him.
Bristol got some strong pitching from Argenis Romano before he was moved up to Morgantown. I asked about his success this year over some poor stats in the past and the scouting reports were exactly the same. Couldn’t find a single person who saw an improvement, so I have no clue how to explain him having success this season.
Will Kobos received $125,000 to sign in the 19th round and then he went out and struck out 42 batters in 31.2 innings. Unfortunately for the 21-year-old right-hander, he also had a 7.11 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP, so it was not a great debut. Austin Shields had 29 strikeouts in 21.1 innings, but he also walked 27 batters and gave up far too many hits. Will Gardner dominated in eight relief appearances and moved up to Morgantown first among this group. Vince Deyzel was pitching great early in long relief, then finished with a few rough outings.