We posted the season recap for the 2018 Bradenton Marauders yesterday. Today we look at the top ten prospects from the team. For each of the first five top ten lists (see links below) we used the mid-season prospect guide for the rankings and we continue doing that with this list. Seven players for Bradenton made our mid-season top 50 and two others ended up just outside the top 50 in the “just missed” group. The last spot was picked just prior to posting this list from all of the other eligible players.
To be eligible for this list, the hitters needed at least 140 plate appearances, while pitchers either needed 40 innings pitched or 20 appearances. The only player of note who didn’t qualify was left-handed pitcher Domingo Robles, who made five late season starts. He ranked eighth on the West Virginia top ten last week and would have ranked fifth on this list if he put in 11.2 more innings.
Before we get into the Bradenton top ten, here are links to the previously released top ten lists:
Bradenton Top Ten Prospects
1. Luis Escobar, RHP – (#9) Escobar had a tough overall season, but still showed why he ranks so high in the system. His mid-90s fastball, swing-and-miss curve and average changeup that occasionally flashes better, gives him an exciting three-pitch mix. The problem this season is that he didn’t show any progress. What he was doing to pile up strikeouts last year, didn’t work as well against the better hitters at the upper level. Once he got to Altoona later in the season, his pitch count was piling up early in games as batters chased less often. The year ended on a team suspension for discipline, though he plans to pitch this winter if the Pirates let him. Escobar needs better control, plain and simple. If he doesn’t make progress in that area, then his upside will drop down to a power reliever.
2. Jared Oliva, OF – (#20) Oliva is a toolsy center fielder, who was looking like a breakout prospect until a slow finish to his season. He was last year’s seventh round pick, who skipped over Low-A this year. Last year he displayed excellent defensive tools and plus speed. He made some solid contact at times, though a lot of it was in the form of line drives. That led to no homers in 254 plate appearances last year. In fact, he didn’t hit his first pro homer until this May. Then he hit a total of nine home runs. There will be plenty of questions about his power surge going into next year because it was fleeting. All of those homers came between May 4th and June 22nd. If you break his season down into three segments, he had a .633 OPS in his first 92 plate appearances. Then a 1.010 OPS during the home run streak (164 PAs), followed by a .665 OPS in his final 201 plate appearances. So on offense, he was doing poorly for almost twice as long as he was hitting well. The middle ground, which was his overall .778 OPS in a pitcher-friendly league, would be quite acceptable to go along with his defense in center field and his plus speed on the bases.
3. Eduardo Vera, RHP – (#30) Vera will also be on the Altoona top ten list, so I will limit his recap here to his time in Bradenton. Last year was a breakout season for Vera, who was in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery. He was always a smart pitcher, who showed control and a decent pitch mix, but limited velocity. He added about 5-6 MPH to his offerings, while throwing a lot of strikes and improving his off-speed pitches. That led to a big season in West Virginia, putting him on the prospect map. His time in Bradenton was limited, as he made nine starts before being promoted to Altoona. He lost a tick off of the fastball compared to last year, but he also added a slider that was an effective out pitch, to go along with a strong changeup that he uses often. His strikeout rate was low until very late in the season, when everything came together for an outstanding finish. Vera had a 2.95 ERA in 58 innings, with a 1.00 WHIP while with Bradenton.
4. Cam Vieaux, LHP – (#32) Vieaux will also be on the Altoona top ten list, so I will limit his recap here to his time in Bradenton. He spent half of the 2017 season in Bradenton and it did not go well, with a 4.69 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP in 13 starts. He was having success in West Virginia early in the season, but he saw an increase to his walks, hits and home runs with the promotion. In 2018, Vieaux was limiting the hits and striking out more batters, which led to a promotion to Altoona in June. He has always shown excellent control and the ability to mix his pitches well, but his velocity was better this season. He was sitting 93-94 MPH when we saw him right before moving up to Double-A. At times last year, the 6’4″ southpaw wouldn’t break 90 MPH in starts.
5. Arden Pabst, C – (#38) Pabst wasn’t with Bradenton for long this season, but he was very impressive during that time. Before 2018, he was known as a strong defensive catcher, who probably would never hit enough to get to the majors. That thinking changed this year when he put up an .832 OPS in 46 games for the Marauders. He hit eight homers in that short time, which was twice as many as he hit in his first two seasons combined. During a rash of catching injuries, Pabst actually went to Indianapolis for a few days, then went to Altoona for the rest of the season not long afterwards. His playing time was limited in Double-A due to Christian Kelley and Jin-De Jhang also being there, but Pabst is headed to the Arizona Fall League and has been in the Fall Instructional League, so he will make up for lost time. Behind the plate, the defense was excellent, including him throwing out 46% of base runners. He should see plenty of playing time at Altoona next year.
6. Adrian Valerio, SS – (#44) Valerio dropped in the rankings due to a poor season at the plate. In 2017 for West Virginia, he missed time on three separate occasions due to injuries. Despite the inconsistent playing time, he put up a .743 OPS and had a better approach at the plate than we have seen in the past. That did not carry over to this season in Bradenton. Valerio finished with a .608 OPS and never really hit well, with his best month being a .767 OPS in May. He drew just 15 walks all season and struck out 101 times. There were some positives that kept him in the top 50 prospects. His 26 doubles were the fourth highest total in the league. He ran the bases better and his defense is above average at shortstop. At 21 years old, he was also young for the level. That all being said, he won’t get anywhere if he doesn’t show major improvements in the hitting area next year.
7. James Marvel, RHP – (#49) Marvel has been a work in progress recently and it came together well in 2018. He led the entire system in innings pitched (167.1) while finishing the year in Altoona. When he first signed in 2015, he was in the middle of recovering from Tommy John surgery. He came back as a low-90s sinkerball pitcher with a curve and a changeup that needed work. Marvel added a four-seam fastball to his repertoire and improved his velocity to the 93-94 MPH range. He also changed his changeup grip, which led to better results. He already had average command and the ability to keep the ball on the ground, so the better velocity, improved changeup and added fourth pitch has made him a better prospect. While it’s unlikely he makes it to the majors as a starter due to a lack of a swing-and-miss pitch, he should remain in the rotation for now.
8. Blake Weiman, LHP – Weiman didn’t start or finish the season with Bradenton, but he was there long enough to put up an impressive run of success. In 22 appearances, the 22-year-old southpaw had a 3.90 ERA in 32.1 innings, with 37 strikeouts and a 1.21 WHIP. Those are average overall numbers, but he had one really bad outing right in the middle where he allowed six runs in one inning. That was more runs than he allowed in the previous two months (five runs over the prior 68 days). Weiman allowed just three runs over his next 15 appearances, so that one game was definitely out of the ordinary for him. He’s very tough on lefties due to excellent control over a fastball that sits 94 MPH and a slider that he throws for strikes and can get chases on the pitch. He goes to his breaking ball often, throwing it on about half of his pitches when we saw him late in the year. He at least has lefty specialist potential, but it’s possible that he develops into an effective middle reliever.
9. Jason Delay, C – Delay was splitting time with Arden Pabst early in the season, then saw the majority of the time behind the plate later in the year. He was making the jump from Bristol last year, though he was only sent to Bristol to work with the young pitching staff, rather than it being a level comparable to his skills. Delay was drafted in the fourth round last year due to his above average defense behind the plate, which includes the ability to run the game on defense and work well with his pitching staff. The lack of offense is what currently holds him back. He posted a .627 OPS at age 23 this year. That won’t get him to the majors, but he doesn’t have far to look for an example of an all-glove catcher suddenly hitting the ball well and putting himself on the prospect map.
10. Hunter Owen, 3B – When we put together our mid-season top 50, the list went 60 deep to include ten players who rated just outside of the top 50, but they were considered to be in the same talent tier as players who made the back-end of the list. Owen wasn’t in that group, but he may have been if we voted five weeks later because his finish to the season was terrific. He had 11 homers over the final 48 games of the season and posted an .857 OPS in August. That power surge led to a .464 slugging percentage, which ranked third in the league. Owen finished fourth in the league with 18 homers. He showed some improvements at third base, where he was below average last year. He also added catching to his resume, though it would be more of an emergency option than anything else. The downsides to Owen are his age and plate patience. He’s already 25 years old, with no upper level experience. The bigger deal is the decline in walks he showed this season (19 in 440 plate appearances), down from an already low total. Owen also struck out 114 times. Those type of BB/SO splits usually don’t translate into upper level success.