We posted our season recap for the 2018 Bristol Pirates yesterday, so now it’s time to look at our top ten prospects from the team. Unlike the GCL list, where we lowered the playing time standards because of their shorter schedule, the Bristol list uses our old minimums to qualify for the top ten. Batters need at least 70 plate appearances to get on this list, while pitchers can either get on with 20 innings pitched or ten appearances.
Those minimums left off some interesting pitching prospects who may have made the back of the list. Luis Nova had success in the GCL before coming up to Bristol, and he throws 92-94 MPH in longer outings. Lizardy Dicent can hit 96 MPH and he made it to Bristol in his first pro season, after starting the year in the DSL. Brad Case and infielder Pat Dorrian each made our GCL top ten, but they weren’t here long enough to make this list. In fact, Case finished his season in Morgantown. Jacob Webb is 19 years old and saw a 3-4 MPH increase to his velocity. We also saw Denny Roman make four starts here after he made our DSL prospect list. He left one start early due to back tightness, which was gone the next day. He was thrown out of a second start after hitting a batter who homered earlier. Without those two things happening, he likely would have had enough innings to qualify.
Enough about the players who didn’t make the list, here are the guys who did make the list. The order for the first four spots is based on our mid-season prospect guide and the numbers next to their names below are their current rankings. Six Bristol players made that list before Shane Baz and Sherten Apostel were both traded. They would have been the top two prospects on this list. The 5-10 spots you see below were voted on just prior to the writing of this article. So if you believe that the #5 player should be higher on the list, just realize that we won’t do a total re-ranking of the entire farm system until the 2019 Prospect Guide comes out in December. The previous top ten lists are linked just below.
BRISTOL TOP TEN
1. Mason Martin, 1B – (#27) With Shane Baz and Sherten Apostel traded, Martin moved to the top prospect spot for Bristol. At the time of our mid-season guide, he was putting up strong stats and showing his power at the plate. In the month of August, he hit .130 and struck out 46 times in 92 at-bats, so his prospect status clearly took a hit since the guide was published. Martin’s plate approach is getting exposed at the higher levels where they throw more strikes. He has a tendency to wait for the perfect pitch, which leads to a lot of walks, more strikeouts and the occasional home run. Martin was second in the Appalachian League with 87 strikeouts and first among all Pirates with his 149 total strikeouts. He needs to be more aggressive early in the count when pitches are in the zone. That’s so he doesn’t always get himself behind, setting himself up for the pitcher’s pitch. The power is legit and he will be 19 for the first two months of the 2019 season, so he has plenty of time to get back on track. The defense at first base is still a work in progress.
2. Steven Jennings, RHP – (#28) Jennings was the 42nd overall pick last year and he received a $1.9 M bonus to sign. The Pirates saw a lot of projection in his 6’2″ frame, especially since he was hitting low-90s on the mound while not concentrating on baseball full-time. The hope coming into this year was that he would start to fill out his frame and improve on his velocity. Jennings got sidetracked this off-season by a broken rib and came into camp this spring noticeably lighter, since he was unable to workout. The velocity was the same 88-92 MPH range we saw last year, occasionally touching 93 MPH, with a very slight spike in average velocity at the end of this season. Jennings saw some improvements with his breaking pitches this year, which both needed work. He uses his curveball more often and it’s more consistent than his slider. He also throws a changeup that has potential. His prospect stock stayed about the same since last year, as he made some progress, but it’s been a slow process so far.
3. Roger Santana, LHP – (#40) Santana signed for a six-figure bonus when he was 16 and spent two seasons in the DSL, struggling his first year, before pitching great during his second season. He had some issues in the GCL last and didn’t put up great overall results this season, but he showed enough improvements to make the back-end of our mid-season top 50. His season didn’t start well, as he missed significant time this spring with an undisclosed injury. Santana is a 20-year-old, 6’1″ lefty, who has a slight frame, so there isn’t a lot of projection. The good part is that he already throws low-90s, touching 95 MPH with his fastball this year, which has nice sinking action. His changeup has been called a plus pitch and he has a decent breaking ball that gives him a solid three-pitch mix. He get his share of swing-and-misses, plus he’s a heavy ground ball pitcher, so that’s a nice combo. He got in trouble this year when he got his pitches up in the zone. Some better command from him and we should see much better results. The Pirates have him in the Fall Instructional League now to make up for some lost innings.
4. Conner Uselton, OF – (#47) Uselton had an all-around poor season, with very few highlights. The Pirates drafted him out of high school last year and gave him a $900,000 bonus. His season was quickly ended by a major hamstring injury in his second game. Uselton was described as an athletic player, with raw power and the ability to play center field. The scouting reports this year showed someone who had trouble as a corner outfielder. He struggled mightily at Bristol, finishing with a .530 OPS, which would have been last in the league if he didn’t fall a handful of plate appearances short of qualifying for league leaders. He fell short due to some indifferent play, which had him on the bench more often than planned. Uselton had zero homers and zero steals, with the latter fitting in with what we heard about him showing no range in the outfield. He was also old for his draft class, so you’re talking about someone who was already 20 years old when this season started. The positives were small this season. He was occasionally making hard contact in Extended Spring Training, but the results were inconsistent. He also got high marks for having a strong arm.
5. Jonah Davis, CF – The Pirates drafted Davis in the 15th round this year out of the University of California. He’s an athletic center fielder, who had the best season on Bristol this year and his stock will no doubt rise during our next prospect update. There are some things to be concerned about, so don’t expect a huge jump. His strikeouts were high, which was a carryover from college, where they were very high. He was a college player from a major program in a league full of 19-20 year old players who didn’t have three years of college. It’s a high offense league, so you would expect someone of his caliber to succeed, although not to the point that he did by leading the entire league in slugging and extra-base hits. He has all of the tools you like to see, though I wouldn’t classify any of them as plus tools. That’s a combo that works as long as he can make enough contact as he goes up in levels. You have a center fielder with solid defense, who can give you double digits in both steals and homers. Before he’s declared a legit prospect, he will just need to prove that the strikeouts won’t be an issue at the higher levels.
6. Colin Selby, RHP – The Pirates had four pitchers from Extended Spring Training who were set for the Bristol rotation and they gave the fifth spot to Selby, who was drafted in the 16th round this June. He put in a lot of work this season, throwing 97 innings at Randolph-Macon College, then another 47.2 with Bristol. They skipped one of his starts mid-season due to some mild soreness, which helped him finish up his season while remaining in the rotation. Selby is a 20-year-old right-hander with a solid 6’1″ frame. He throws a low-90s fastball, mixing it with a nice slider and curve, giving him three solid pitches. He had a nice strikeout rate in his first season as a pro, showed decent control along with a high ground ball rate. It’s hard to pinpoint where he could end up next, with West Virginia looking like they could return some young pitchers, plus 5-6 starters trying to make the jump to full-season ball from Morgantown. He would also be competing with Jennings and Santana for a possible rotation spot.
7. Oliver Garcia, RHP – Garcia had a rough season with Bristol this year, but there is still a lot of potential in the 20-year-old righty. The Pirates signed him back in 2015 as a project. He threw high-80s already, but he was 6’3″ and 167 pounds at the time. Over two years in the DSL, they packed on 46 pounds to his frame, giving him a strong lower half and the ability to hold his velocity late in games. He added life to his fastball too, throwing 92-93 MPH. Besides the fastball improvements, he also showed a better slider and changeup, giving him a nice three-pitch mix. The Pirates felt that he was able to skip over the GCL this year, but it now seems that the GCL would have been a better level for him. He may have pitched poorly this year with a 7.28 ERA and a much higher walk rate, but he got experience against advanced hitters and that could help him going forward if he uses this season as a learning tool. He is in the Fall Instructional League to get more innings, which should also help him, especially if he can end on a high not while there.
8. Chase Lambert, INF – Lambert was selected in the 31st round this season out of Pepperdine. Announced as a shortstop, he received most of his playing time with Bristol at second base. He was a college senior at a major program and already 22 years old, so the Appalachian League wasn’t much of a test for him. He was still able to put up a .348/.433/.455 slash line in 32 games, with more walks than strikeouts, plus he went 6-for-6 in stolen bases. He also played solid defense at second base. He should have no trouble making the jump to full-season ball next year, but he may run into a roster number issue that keeps him back at Pirate City to begin the 2019 season.
9. Argenis Romano, RHP – Romano has to be one of the best stories because he showed a lot of improvements in his stats, but when I asked around for scouting reports, I got the same answers as the previous season. No one could explain how someone who never had an ERA below 4.99 could suddenly be dominating hitters. His 3.03 ERA and 1.13 WHIP were actually skewed badly by one really tough outing in a game where the pitcher before him did even worse. Romano moved up to Morgantown later in the season and piled up 18 strikeouts in just 12.1 innings. He was always a control pitcher, so that helps at the lower levels, although it didn’t help him until this season. He has a fastball that sits 89-90 MPH, with a nice curve as his strikeout pitch and a changeup. That’s been the same scouting report since he started in the system back in 2015.
10. Brendt Citta, OF – The Pirates drafted Citta in the 38th round this year out of Kansas and gave him a $125,000 bonus. He had some catching experience in college, though the Pirates announced him as an outfielder and he never went behind the plate. The scouting reports during the draft said that he had raw power and a strong arm, while he was poor defensively and a below average runner. Citta batted .250/.370/.378 in 44 games for Bristol, hitting just two homers. He’s already 22 years old and played at a major college, so it’s tough to see a lot of potential in those numbers. They would play up if he was a decent catcher due to his strong arm, but as a right fielder with below average defense, he’s going to need to show a lot more at the plate to be considered a legit prospect.
Other Notables: A total of nine players got votes for the final six spots, with only Davis and Selby making everyone’s list. The next four players were basically bunched up and there was no real difference between Oliver Garcia at #7, and Mikell Granberry, who would have been 11th if the list went that far. Granberry had a strong season with a .905 OPS and while he spent most of his time at the DH spot, he got work (not all in games) at all four corner spots and behind the plate. Turning 23 last month hurts his prospect status, but he has missed a lot of time over the years with injuries. The bat looked like it belonged a level or two higher, so there could be something there. Dean Lockery put up a .774 OPS in 39 games, with more walks than strikeouts. He turned 22 before the season, so just like with Granberry, age hurts him here. Lockery played three infield spots, so that versatility could help his case. Right-handed pitcher Will Kobos had a high strikeout total and the Pirates liked him enough to give him a $125,000 bonus. The results weren’t there, but the strikeouts and bonus total point to some possible potential.