Yesterday we took a look at the season recap for the Bradenton Marauders. We noted in the title to that article that they had many of the top prospects for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Some of those players were there at the start of the season and others joined the team halfway through the year. Today we look at the top ten prospects list, voted on by myself, Tim Williams and Wilbur Miller.
This list was very interesting for a few reasons. The top three players for all of us were the same players in the same order. The 4-7 spots you see below are interchangeable because there was no difference in the voting totals (10 points for first place, down to one point for tenth place). You’re basically looking at 4a, 4b, 4c and 4d, instead of a real 4-7 ranking. For the first time since we have started doing this years ago, the top ten players were all the same for everyone. Obviously not the same exact order since we had ties for the 4-7 spots, but only ten players total got top ten votes. For comparison, the recently released Greensboro and Morgantown lists each had 13 players receive votes. All of the players in the top ten were among the top 50 prospects in the system when we did our mid-season updated rankings in early August.
We used 140 plate appearances as the minimum for hitters to qualify for the list and either 40 innings or 20 appearances for pitchers. The main players that eliminated were Luis Escobar, Osvaldo Bido and Braeden Ogle, with the latter two making the Greensboro top ten. Here are the previously released lists:
Bradenton Top Ten
- Oneil Cruz, SS – Cruz just barely qualified for this list, recording 145 plate appearances. He missed time with lower body soreness early, a fractured foot that occurred in late April and then he was promoted in late July. When he played, we saw the tools that make him an exciting prospect. Cruz, who turns 21 years old next week, has three legit plus tools. His raw power is off the charts. He’s a plus runner, and he has a cannon for an arm. Since he didn’t play enough to qualify for the Altoona top ten list, we can look at his entire season here. In 73 total games, he hit .298/.356/.475, with eight home runs and 11 steals. For a power hitter, who was young for both levels, he had a respectable 25.3% strikeout rate. The main issue here is that he had a lot of trouble with recognizing off-speed pitches. He would swing through them like they were fastballs, but he also had an uncanny ability to make contact on bad swings and his raw power led to hits. Basically, he could look bad, but still get results. Getting upper level experience should help him in that area, especially in the Arizona Fall League this off-season. It seems like the Pirates are keeping him at shortstop. There’s no smoothness to his game, but at 6’7″ with speed, he can cover ground quickly and that plus arm helps.
- Cody Bolton, RHP – Bolton absolutely dominated this level before receiving a promotion to Altoona in late June. In 12 starts with Bradenton, he had a 1.61 ERA in 61.2 innings, with 69 strikeouts, a .174 BAA and an 0.86 WHIP. He didn’t have a lot of success in Double-A, which we will get into in the Altoona recap/top ten next week. Bolton missed the second half of 2018 with a forearm injury, so there were some questions coming into this year. He showed some excellent stuff last year with West Virginia, then looked even better from day one this year. Bolton was filling the strike zone with a 93-95, 96 MPH fastball last year. This year he was sitting 94-97 MPH, hitting 98 from time-to-time, while still throwing a ton of strikes. He was throwing a new cutter/slider, showing two versions, with a hard one he used more often that got into the low-90s on occasion, as well as a mid-80s version that had more of a sweeping break. Bolton didn’t use his changeup often, though the pitch still got high marks for its late downward break. He will open up 2020 in the Altoona rotation.
- Travis Swaggerty, CF – Swaggerty skipped over Low-A in his first full season of pro ball after he was drafted in the first round last year. He started off slow in Bradenton, before finishing up strong. His .646 OPS during the first half was below league average, then he didn’t hit much once the second half started. That all changed in July, which saw him put up an .822 OPS, followed by a strong .906 OPS in August. The key improvements here were his ability to cut down on the strikeouts. Swaggerty didn’t really have a poor strikeout rate, but he was aggressive with pitches in the zone, so it wasn’t odd to see him swing-and-miss 2-3 times in an at-bat. He showed a good eye though and rarely chased, which led to 57 base on balls, ranking him fifth in the FSL in walks. Swaggerty made a lot more hard contact late in the year. The problem here was that he didn’t get the ball in the air often. The second half version of him would make a great lead-off hitter. He showed improved routes throughout the season in center field, instead of relying on his plus speed to make up ground on some catches. His arm is above average and he should pick up his share of stolen bases in the future. If the power doesn’t fully develop, you still have someone who gets on base, plays solid defense and takes advantage of his plus speed.
- Lolo Sanchez, OF – Sanchez was one of three players here who repeated Low-A this season, only to put up big numbers and get promoted to Bradenton mid-season. Sanchez posted an .829 OPS in Greensboro, before moving up a level at the All-Star break. His stats were not strong with Bradenton, but we are talking about someone who turned 20 during this season, and a player who has solid tools across the board. Sanchez hit .196/.300/.270 in 52 games with the Marauders, while mostly playing left field. He can play center, but wasn’t going to get time there ahead of Swaggerty. On the bases, he had 33 steals, reaching 30+ for the second straight season. Sanchez showed the ability to make consistent contact and he improved his walk rate in Bradenton over his Greensboro rate. The tools are here for him to succeed at the higher levels and youth is on his side
- Mason Martin, 1B – Martin had a breakout year with the power numbers, similar to what he did in the GCL after being drafted in 2017, only this season was a much larger sample size. He had 23 homers in 82 games with Greensboro, then added 12 more in 49 games with Bradenton. He also had 32 doubles and four triples, giving him 71 extra-base hits. Martin also led the system with 68 walks. The real question here will be whether or not he makes enough contact for his tools to translate at the upper levels. He led the system with 168 strikeouts, which was nearing in on an all-time Pirates minor league record before the final three games were canceled due to Hurricane Dorian. A player who had 71 extra-base hits, 68 walks and 168 strikeouts would be a great addition to the MLB team, but lower level strikeouts rarely translate well to the majors. We saw some of that already with his rate jumping from 29.0% in Greensboro to 32.3% in High-A. The fact that he turned 20 during the season helps his case, as there’s no rush to push him through the system. Martin is an average runner, who has some issues at first base, though he looked better in 2019 than he did last year.
- Calvin Mitchell, OF – Mitchell made Bradenton’s Opening Day roster as one of the youngest players in the league. He’s slightly older (by months) than three of the other players on this list, but those three all began the year in Greensboro. Mitchell had a solid first full season in pro ball last year, posting a .771 OPS in 119 games for West Virginia last year. He saw nearly identical playing time in 2019, with 118 games and 493 plate appearances, compared to 495 last year, so it’s an easy comparison year-to-year with the jump to High-A. Mitchell hit more homers this year (15 vs 10), but most everything else went down. His walks went from 41 down to 32, while his strikeouts went from 109 to 142. Those numbers were acceptable last year, but they trended a little too far in the wrong direction, which helped lead to a 61 point drop in his OPS this season, despite more over-the-fence power. The offense is important to focus on here, because unlike the other two outfielders on this list, Mitchell adds no value on defense or on the bases. His prospect status relies on him hitting enough to make it as a slow corner outfielder.
- Max Kranick, RHP – Kranick made some major strides in 2019, even if all of them don’t show up in the stat line. He was shutdown late in the season due to his increase in innings over last year (31.1 more than 2018). Kranick finished the season strong, posting a 2.95 ERA over his final ten starts, compared to a 4.84 ERA prior to that point. His stats were really skewed by a three-game stretch in early May, because he had a 2.91 ERA prior to those games. Kranick, who turned 22 in late July, was the FSL league leader in innings at the time that he was shut down. He finished with a 1.19 WHIP, a .246 BAA and a 78:30 SO/BB ratio. The real strides he made this season were with his pitches, starting with a fastball that was touching 97 MPH in starts. Just two years ago, he was hitting low-90s in starts and last year, he occasionally hit 96 MPH late, which is a number he sat (94-96) during most of his starts this season. The second improvement was with his slider, which was used often this year, completely replacing his curve. The pitch is still a work-in-progress. He throws it in the mid-80s usually, and can ramp it up a little for a harder break, so it’s almost like two different pitches. Later in the year, he was working on mixing in his changeup more often. He should begin 2020 in Altoona.
- Rodolfo Castro, 2B/SS – Castro began the season back in Low-A ball this year, after hitting .231/.278/.395 in 105 games for West Virginia in 2018. Still just 19 years old at the start of this season, Castro showed instant improvements, especially in the power category. He was promoted to Bradenton during the All-Star break in mid-June and he went on to hit .243/.288/.391 in 57 games. Castro picked up a total of 48 extra-base hits this year, with the last 19 coming in High-A. While neither would qualify as strong stats, his walk/strikeout rates stayed the same as last year, which is what you like to see with more power and a player moving up. Castro showed more polish on defense, looking above average at second base, with the ability to play shortstop. He is still prone to errors on routine plays, but that should improve with age/maturity. He’s likely going to open up back in Bradenton next year.
- Nick Mears, RHP – In one year, Mears went from an undrafted free agent (who still had college eligibility), to a Double-A pitcher. Mears was signed after a strong showing in summer collegiate ball. He threw mid-90s and mixed it with a strong curve that he used as a strikeout pitch. He began this season in Greensboro, but that assignment didn’t last long. Mears was promoted to the Marauders on May 4th and made 23 appearances in High-A, posting a 3.60 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP, a .202 BAA and a 43:9 SO/BB ratio in 30 innings. More importantly, he was a better pitcher than what we saw last year. He hit 100 MPH at least once this season, touched 99 MPH often, and was sitting 96-98 MPH most of the time. His curve was harder, and his control was better. That helped him move up to Altoona late in the year and also earned him a trip to the Arizona Fall League, where he is currently in the Peoria bullpen. There’s a chance for him to move quickly through the system, as long as he’s showing the same pitches next year, then we could see him in Pittsburgh later in the year.
- Aaron Shortridge, RHP – Shortridge was drafted in the fourth round last year out of a major college (UCal). Despite being 21 years old and a starting pitcher, he had much more upside than your average player who fits that same mold. That’s because he didn’t pitch much during his first two years of college, plus he still had some room to fill out in his 6’3″ frame. Early in the season, Shortridge was getting solid results without showing any improvements in his stuff over last year. It wasn’t until late in the year that he found another few ticks on his fastball and he did that without sacrificing any command on his pitches. He went from 88-90 in early starts, to sitting low-90s and hitting 94 MPH, later in the year. The 22-year-old Shortridge finished with a 3.25 ERA in a league-leading 135.2 innings. He had a 1.14 WHIP and a 104:25 SO/BB ratio. Besides the added velocity, he got help from improving his curve, while throwing plenty of strikes and mixing his pitches well, also throwing a slider and a changeup. He should be in the Altoona rotation next year.