As we saw in the look back at the top ten prospects from West Virginia in 2017, it wasn’t a strong group or particularly deep. Almost all of those players were with Bradenton to start the 2018 season. This team wasn’t that bad early in the season because they also received some players who were with Morgantown in 2017, so that helped them from the prospect stand point. However, the starting pitching was decimated by in-season promotions to Altoona and the Marauders finished the season with a 56-74 record, while losing ten games off the schedule due to poor weather.
The Marauders actually had a winning record more than halfway through the season and they didn’t miss the playoffs by many games during the first half. Those starting pitching promotions helped lead to a 10-31 finish to the season.
Bradenton used a total of 52 players during the season, but this season recap will be much shorter than that number would indicate. That’s because the Pirates had a lot of pitchers with the team very briefly and also filled vacancies short-term with players over from the GCL. Eight pitchers combined for just 43 innings and six batters combined for 45 at-bats. There were also three players released during the year. So immediately 1/3rd of the list won’t be mentioned in this recap. The best of the rest are highlighted below, beginning with the starting rotation.
The top prospect coming into the season was right-handed pitcher Luis Escobar. He led the South Atlantic League and all Pirates in strikeouts in 2017, but that didn’t carry over to 2018. He posted a 3.98 ERA in 92.2 innings, with 85 strikeouts and a 1.23 WHIP. He started pitching better right before a promotion to Altoona. Three other starters were pitching better than him and also received promotions to Double-A.
Eduardo Vera was off to a fast start and by late May, he was no longer with the Marauders. He had a 2.95 ERA in 58 innings, with a 1.00 WHIP. He likely received the quick promotion due to the fact that he was in his final season before minor league free agency, but the performance in his nine starts also helped make the decision easier. He was clearly ready for the next level from the start.
Lefty Cam Vieaux would be the next starter promoted after Vera and it was just a week later that he joined him in Altoona. Vieaux made just ten starts with Bradenton, posting a 3.81 ERA in 56.2 innings, with 52 strikeouts and a 1.21 WHIP.
Bradenton didn’t immediately crumble after losing their two best performing starters, but it wasn’t too long afterwards. That’s because Escobar started pitching better and James Marvel really stepped up and pitched well. He led the Marauders with 134.1 innings before being promoted to Altoona right after Escobar. Marvel had a 3.68 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP and he led Bradenton with 100 strikeouts.
The Marauders actually lost their fifth starter during the season, but he wasn’t injured or promoted. Southpaw Oddy Nunez was pitching so poorly that they sent him to West Virginia. He had a 4.70 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP in 99.2 innings. He was the most disappointing player on the team. As a young, 6’8″ pitcher with a huge frame, he was expected to continue to add velocity, just like he did in 2017. Instead, he not only lost velocity (about 4-5 MPH), he also had worse control. The stats rebounded in West Virginia, but not the velocity.
With a team losing five starters during the season, two of them early in the year, that left 57 starts to fill. Some went to rehab players, but there were also 24 starts for the Wallace brothers and neither had success. The older Mike Wallace had a 5.56 and a 1.59 WHIP in 110 innings, while making 14 of those 24 starts. Gavin Wallace had a 6.32 ERA and a 1.70 WHIP in 57 innings. The Marauders also saw Pedro Vasquez, Adam Oller and Evan Piechota struggle as fill-in starters, while 20-year-old southpaw Domingo Robles had one poor start before putting together four solid performances to finish the season. Robles is the top prospect in this group and should be a big part of the 2019 Marauders.
On the relief side, it was a pretty bad year, but I don’t blame the Pirates for their thinking. They had four pitchers in Blake Cederlind, Deivy Mendez, Angel German and Jake Brentz who throw 95+ MPH and German led the group with a 6.92 ERA. All four had major walk issues. They weren’t taking innings away from anyone, so it’s not a bad idea to try to develop plus velocity.
There were some success stories in relief, starting with Scooter Hightower, who was promoted to Altoona after a 1.47 ERA, an 0.88 WHIP and 35 strikeouts in 30.2 innings. All he did after the promotion was get named as our Pitcher of the Month in August. Blake Weiman didn’t start or end the year with Bradenton, but the lefty did pitch well after a couple of poor outings shortly after joined the team. He had a 3.90 ERA, 37 strikeouts and a 1.21 WHIP in 32.1 innings. Ronny Agustin had a 3.33 ERA in 46 innings, despite some major control issues. The walks were very high, but he was helped out by a .199 BAA, with one home run allowed and no hit batters.
On the offensive side, center fielder Jared Oliva had a huge breakout in the middle of the season, before leveling off at the end of the year. He had a .778 OPS in 108 games, with strong defense and 33 stolen bases. His first half power/speed/defense trifecta was the highlight of the season for the Marauders. The first half also saw big offensive numbers from catcher Arden Pabst, who had always been a glove-first player. Not only was the defense great in 2018, he posted an .832 OPS before being promoted to Altoona.
It really went downhill after those two players. Third baseman Hunter Owen was the lone bright spot due to the power that he showed, with 18 homers in a pitcher-friendly league. The problem was a .317 OBP due to a sharp decline in his walks (which were low to begin with) and an uptick in his strikeouts.
Adrian Valerio was the top prospect on offense going into the season for Bradenton. The 21-year-old shortstop played strong defense and added some value on the bases. He even finished with 26 doubles, which was tied for fourth most in the league. The problem was that he batted .242 and walked 15 times, leading to an unacceptable .267 OBP. He wouldn’t outrank Oddy Nunez for the most disappointing player on the team, but it was a bad season at the plate.
Catcher Jason Delay was similar to Valerio this year, except there weren’t many expectations for his offense. Delay is a strong defensive backstop, but as someone who is 23 years old and came from a major college, his .247/.325/.301 slash line doesn’t give you a lot of hope that he could be an MLB starter one day.
Outfielder Bligh Madris came with some expectations after looking strong at Morgantown last year. All of his value comes from the bat, so his .664 OPS in 103 games was definitely a disappointing output. Casey Hughston repeated the level and posted a .579 OPS in 105 games. Mitchell Tolman also repeated the level, though his repeat was due to his 50-game suspension over the off-season. He saw a decline in his stats, which is one of the reasons why he stayed at the level all season. Both Hughston and Tolman finished the 2017 season with Altoona, then couldn’t make it back there this year.
Utility fielder Alfredo Reyes posted an .810 OPS before being promoted to Altoona. First baseman Albert Baur put up solid stats until falling off late, finishing with 13 homers and a .738 OPS. Brett Pope and Raul Siri each provided some late season offense for the Marauders after beginning the season in Extended Spring Training. Tyler Gaffney returned to baseball after a five-year layoff and had an .861 OPS early in the year, earning a promotion to Altoona.