The 2018 Bristol Pirates Get a Big Boost from the 2017 Draft Class

The Bristol Pirates usually get some interesting pitching prospects and not much on the hitting side. The pitching part is definitely true this season, but there are also three hitters who really stand out in this group.

We start at the top of the rotation, where 2017 first round pick Shane Baz will be the top prospect to watch on the team. To most it’s disappointing that he didn’t make it to the West Virginia Power this year, especially since that was the plan during Spring Training. Baz was passed over for promotions to the level by Max Kranick and Cody Bolton last month. The decision was simply based on the fact that those two were pitching better than anyone else at Pirate City.

At the time of Bolton’s promotion (which was after Kranick), we looked into the decision to send him instead of Baz. The answer we got was that Baz was having control issues in many of his Extended Spring Training outings. His appearance after Bolton got promoted was outstanding according to a report, but five days later he was hit around in a poor outing. The important thing to remember here is that almost every prep pitcher the Pirates take in the draft ends up at Bristol in their first full year and if Baz can make the jump to West Virginia next year, he will still be a teenager on Opening Day. So it’s disappointing in a sense that he was a high first round pick, but he just didn’t get the aggressive push that the Pirates originally planned.

Steven Jennings will be at Bristol as well, giving the Pirates their top two picks from last year in the starting rotation. He had a rib injury over the off-season and came to Spring Training noticeably smaller due to being unable to workout. Sort of like what we saw with Ke’Bryan Hayes last year. So it’s no surprise that Jennings is in Bristol, because he was behind everyone early on this year. He’s been pitching regularly with decent results according to reports. The knock on him seems to be that he can get thrown off his game after giving up a big hit. You want your pitchers to show some intensity, but also be under control at the same time. That’s probably an issue that will die down as he matures as a player.

Conner Uselton gives Bristol three of the top four picks from the 2017 draft. He missed all but two games last year in the GCL, but he’s been healthy this spring and hitting the ball well. That hamstring injury last year cost him a chance to make the leap to West Virginia with fellow GCL outfielders Calvin Mitchell and Lolo Sanchez, but he should get there next year and still be 20 years old on Opening Day.

Sherten Apostel had a breakout season in the DSL last year, after struggling as a rookie in 2016. He put up big stats and credited his mental approach to the game as the reason for his success. He trusted himself more, but also matured as a player, and when pitchers started pitching around him, he was able to either take the walks or wait on a pitch to hit. He was slowed early in March by a hamstring injury, but returned well and has been hitting the ball hard all spring. He’s just 19 years old and stands a muscular 6’4″, 223 pounds, showing some athleticism and a cannon for an arm at third base.

Mason Martin will also be at the level after struggling for West Virginia this year. This is where he normally would have been at a regular pace for prep players, so if he has success here, then he’s back at Low-A ball as a teenager next year on Opening Day. We mentioned in the West Virginia team preview that his approach at the plate could get exploited by better pitchers. Martin had a tendency to wait for a pitch to crush, which showed great results in the GCL, but also came with a lot of walks and strikeouts. Pitchers in Low-A were able to make their pitches more often than high school and GCL pitchers. He should have better results at Bristol.

A potential sleeper prospect to watch is pitcher Oliver Garcia. He pitched well in 2016 in the DSL, then returned there the next year and really took off. The Pirates signed him as a scrawny kid at 18 years old, and he filled out his 6’3″ frame nicely, which led to more velocity and stamina last year. Plus he also improved his slider and changeup. He’s skipping the GCL this year and could be an interesting player to watch.

From there, you have a group of players who haven’t played well all of the time, but show potential to be prospects. That includes the pitching quartet of Leandro Pina, Yeudry Manzanillo, Austin Shields and Roger Santana, plus outfielders Yondry Contreras and Jeremias Portorreal, and catcher Gabriel Brito. The Pirates gave six-figure bonuses to all of them, and you can see why in each case, though none of them have put everything together at this point.

The Pirates also sent a group of eight college draft picks there, with the highest pick being 15th rounder Jonah Davis. With college players in this league, it’s more about the scouting reports than the production. You expect them to hit/pitch well when they are older and more experienced than most of the players being sent there from Extended Spring Training. The other side to that is that some of these college players already put in a long season and might not physically be used to playing so much, so there’s a drop in production. We have seen pitchers not impress in this league or match up to their scouting reports, then we see them pitching at a much higher level next year. Unless their stats are extreme (poor or great), then I don’t read too much into them for college players just drafted.

John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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