BRADENTON, Fla. – Minor league games start up this week at Pirate City, which will give a good look at what to expect from individual players for the upcoming season. It is during those games that you really get a feel for the potential breakout players in the system, along with who the Pirates are pushing to which level, and who is getting the priority playing time.
The big thing I look for in minor league camp is the potential for breakouts in the upcoming season. You start to get a feel for where players are at during these games, as they’re facing an equal level of competition to the one they’ll be facing during the season, all while showing where their skills are since we last saw them in games about six months ago.
It was during these games that I first noticed big improvements to guys like Gregory Polanco, Mitch Keller, and numerous other players over the years who started their breakouts in Spring Training and carried them over to the seasons. There were even some players who started showing their potential as future top prospects during these games, only to step up as a prospect in a future year.
It’s hard to predict the breakout guys ahead of time. However, I’ve got five guys who I’m keeping an eye on as early candidates going into the games.
Lolo Sanchez, OF – He’s my big breakout pick this year, after watching him so often last year in the GCL. Sanchez has speed and defense, along with a good approach at the plate, the ability to hit for average, and the ability to get on base. That’s really all he needs to eventually be a leadoff hitter and strong defensive center fielder in the majors one day, assuming those skills continue carrying over through the levels. He also hits for a bit of power, and could add more, increasing his value. He’s expected to go to West Virginia, which will be a big test for whether he can carry his skills over. A successful jump should land him in most top 100 prospects lists next year.
Braeden Ogle, LHP – He has been the standout of the 2016 prep pitching class so far, and should make the jump to full-season ball in West Virginia. As a lefty who can throw mid-90s with good movement, along with a promising slider and changeup, he’s a guy with a lot of upside. The Pirates have seen plenty of prep pitchers go on and break out as top prospects in their jump to West Virginia. Ogle could very well be the next one.
Sherten Apostel, 3B – Apostel will be playing in the GCL, so I’ll be watching him in Spring Training and extended Spring Training through early June. But the limited views I’ve had from him so far have displayed a lot of raw power from a very big frame. The games will give some kind of indication on whether he can have a shot at third base over the long-term, and whether his power and hitting potential can translate over to games. The Pirates have a lot of promising young hitters making the jump to West Virginia, but don’t forget about Apostel in the lower levels.
Oneil Cruz, SS – I’m skeptical that Cruz will remain a shortstop, despite the Pirates trying him in that role this year. I do think he could have a shot at third base, or as a corner outfielder at the least. None of that will be determined during the 2018 season. What could be on display is his hitting ability and his raw power. He has some of the best raw power in the system, but is very young and hasn’t seen that translate to games fully. I’m looking forward to seeing if he can do that more often this year.
Mason Martin, 1B – I’ll be watching all of the 2017 prep draft picks, including first rounder Shane Baz (who doesn’t make this list due to being a first rounder), along with all of the other picks. But I think one of the more interesting guys to watch will be Mason Martin. He had a lot of power last year, translating over to the games in a big way. The 2018 season should give an indication of how much of that power can carry over to the games, and whether he can achieve power without seeing a drop off in his average or on-base percentage.
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.