The Bradenton Marauders had a bit more of a typical Single-A team in 2022 than they did in 2021. The latter team was loaded with very young, good-upside, raw players who’d missed the previous year. The 2022 team had a more conventional mix, including somewhat better-established prospects, (eventually) 2022 draftees, and guys struggling to get on track.
The hitters, by weighted average, were exactly the league-average age, in contrast to the previous year when they were by far the youngest. The pitchers this time were the league’s youngest. Overall, the team went 67-62, with a good second half in which they just missed a playoff spot.
There was a tremendous amount of coming and going, as the team employed 38 position players over the course of the season and 44 pitchers. This isn’t unusual at the level, what with rehabbing players, 2022 draftees, injuries, and players coming and going from rookie ball. I’m going to go over the 2022 draftees as a group, partly because none of them joined the team in time to play a lot, and partly because their performance as a group was a bit unsettling, considering that all but one were college draftees playing at the lowest full-season level.
THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
Pittsburgh Pirates 2022 Minor League Recaps
2022 Draft Picks
The hitters were a mixed bag.
The best news was that the fourth pick in the draft, Termarr Johnson, got the bat going after a slow start in the FCL. He batted 275/396/450 and made a lot of hard contact. He also had a lot of long drives that didn’t quite make it, so the one home run (which was a fluky, inside-the-park job) isn’t a good indication of his power potential going forward, especially taking his age into account. In the field, Johnson played second, except for one game at short, and looked very capable there.
Fifth-rounder Tres Gonzalez also did well, batting 325/413/400, with a 9:12 BB:K. He stole seven bases in eight tries, which is a lot for the equivalent of about a fifth of a season. The lack of power, though, for an outfielder is a concern.
The rest of the hitters . . . not good. Again, except for Johnson these are all college guys at a low level. Third-rounder Jack Brannigan hit just 211/330/337 and had trouble making contact. He did show an excellent glove at third. The Pirates drafted Brannigan as a two-way player and the mound may be his best path forward, although he hasn’t pitched in games yet. Tenth-rounder Tanner Tredaway was overmatched in 19 games, apart from drawing a lot of walks, batting 160/373/240. Nick Cimillo, a catcher drafted in the 16th round, got into only eight games and went 3-for-16.
The pitchers from the 2022 draft who appeared at Bradenton weren’t a mixed bag at all; they were just bad. Eighth-rounder Cy Nielson had a 9.39 ERA with eight walks in 7.2 IP. Ninth-rounder Mike Walsh also couldn’t find the plate. Control problems limited him to 2.1 IP in three games, and he walked four while allowing three earned runs. Mercifully, they were the only two 2022 pitchers who appeared with Bradenton. The Pirates have done a terrible job of drafting college pitchers under Ben Cherington, so it would’ve been nice to see somebody from this draft, which was comprised mostly of college pitchers, who could pitch at such a low level and at least find the plate. It’s a very small sample size, so that’s something.
Two other players I want to mention separately are Bubba Chandler and Anthony Solometo. Both were part of the Pirates’ above-slot prep haul in the 2021 draft, and both lived up to expectations. Solometo spent some time in extended spring training and then went straight to Bradenton. He had a 2.64 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 47.2 innings, with 51 strikeouts and only occasionally control problems.
Chandler spent some time in the FCL, then threw 26 innings for the Marauders. He seemed to get a little too hyped and would overthrow for a bit, resulting in 18 walks, but he’d generally work out of it. He fanned 33 and showed electric stuff, with upper-90s velocity and a plus breaking ball. Chandler also got 88 plate appearances. He put up only a .574 OPS, but he hit well in the FCL and hopefully will get enough chances to make progress there. He even made some highlight-reel defensive plays while pitching, which shows what an extraordinary athlete he is. Chandler turned 20 just a few days ago and Solometo hasn’t yet, so they’ll be very young next year at Greensboro.
2022 Bradenton Marauders Hitters
The hitting overall was fairly good. The team OPS was .697, ten points above league average and third among the ten teams. The Marauders were second in scoring and helped themselves with a league-leading 208 steals. They didn’t do it simply by running a lot; their .768 success rate was well above the .740 average. They drew the second-most walks, resulting in the second-highest OBP. They also struck out the third-most often. Power wasn’t a strong point, as the Marauders were fifth in home runs and sixth in SLG, but they improved a lot in that area in the second half. They led the league in triples; if your baseball fandom began with the Pirates in Forbes Field, that’s good to see.
The Marauders opened the season with two catchers who looked like potential prospects: 2021 seventh-rounder Wyatt Hendrie and Venezuelan Geovanny Planchart. The latter didn’t last long, just 25 games before he got demoted to the FCL. Planchart hit for high averages in two years at the rookie levels and showed good plate discipline. He has a very slow bat, though, resulting in zero extra base hits in those 25 games. His defense also could have been better. Hendrie got off to a slow start at the plate, with an OPS of .650 or lower in each of the first three months. He started hitting in July, though, maybe because he became the regular catcher at that point rather than part of a tandem. He finished with an OPS of .706, a little above league average. Hendrie threw out 35% of base stealers, well above the league average of 26%. Bradenton employed six other catchers at various times. The only one who got significant playing time was Grant Koch, who appears to be an organizational guy now.
It’s frequently hard to characterize an infielder in this organization by position — i.e., second baseman, third baseman, etc. — due to the organization’s approach to having players play multiple positions. With one exception, the Bradenton infielders shifted around constantly. Eight players got into at least ten games at second, none more than 34. At third, five played between 21 and 26 games. As is often the case in the organization, first base got treated as a throwaway position.
The one exception was Tsung-Che Cheng, who was more or less the regular shortstop, even after Johnson moved up. Cheng was probably the team’s best position player over the course of the season, batting 270/376/418, with a very solid 63:95 BB:K. He had an every-other-month pattern, with weak numbers in May, July, and (in eight games) September. He was unstoppable in August, batting 389/517/611. Cheng obviously has good on-base skills and gap power, and he also stole 33 bases in 39 tries, the second-most steals in the league. He led the league in runs. At short he was very steady, with ten errors, a low total for this level. Range isn’t a strong point, so long-term, second might be more realistic.
Beyond Cheng, the closest thing to infield regulars were Juan Jerez and Brenden Dixon. After a strong 2021 season in the FCL, Jerez played every day when he was healthy, but he was out for a couple of stretches. He and Dixon got most of the time at first after Jacob Gonzalez was promoted early in the season. Jerez had a very disappointing year, fanning in well over a third of his at-bats and posting just a .643 OPS. He was one of several Marauders with impressive stolen base records, as he swiped 20 and was only caught twice. Dixon showed a little power at times, but he struck out at about the same rate as Jerez. His OPS was just four points off the league average. Mike Jarvis was the principal second baseman until he got promoted to Greensboro at the beginning of July. He had a .663 OPS, which at age 24 in Single-A isn’t so good.
Another player who was a regular early in the season was Alexander Mojica. He was one of several players repeating the level, and he saw time at first and third. Mojica was supposedly getting in better shape during the off-season, but it wasn’t apparent. He was still only 19 until early August, but the bat just isn’t coming around, as his OPS dropped to .589, 74 points lower than last year. The Pirates demoted him to the FCL after 40 games and he got into only 11 games there, spending the rest of his time doing development work. Another returnee from last year, Maikol Escotto, got into 25 games, mainly at second and short, late in the season. He opened the season at Greensboro but struggled, went to the FCL for a while, then moved up to Bradenton. His OPS was a little above league average, at .724. Two utility infielders, Deivis Nadal and Norkis Marcos, got a lot of playing time starting in June. They’re good defenders, especially Nadal, but they didn’t hit much.
For most of the year, the outfield had two regulars . . . well, three, sort of. Sergio Campana, returning for a second shot at the level, was the primary center fielder. He’s a very toolsy, but ultimately frustrating player. He has elite speed and is excellent defensively. At the plate, he produces very good exit velocities when he hits the ball, but he doesn’t do that nearly often enough. He fanned in nearly half his at-bats. Campana stole 29 bases, although he got caught 12 times. He’s still only 20 and the Pirates seem determined to give him chances.
Rodolfo Nolasco figured to be the team’s top power hitter, but he struggled for two months. In June he started hitting and he blistered the ball for a 1.250 OPS in July, but then he got hurt, missing part of July and appearing in only five games after that. Despite all that, he finished with a line of 239/330/425, with 11 longballs, but he struck out a ton. Nolasco played mostly in right and has a very strong arm. The sort-of regular was Jase Bowen, who played all over the place. He saw time at first and second, and was usually the center fielder when Campana wasn’t there. Bowen was another player repeating the level and made solid progress, putting up 278/355/450 line before a late promotion to Greensboro. He stole 20 bases in 22 tries, exactly the same numbers as Jerez.
Lots of other players found themselves in the Bradenton outfield at one time or another. The team used 18 different left fielders, with nobody playing more than 27 games there. Luke Brown saw a lot of time there before a promotion to Greensboro. Jasiah Dixon, another returnee and possibly the only player in the system faster than Campana, played frequently after a late-season promotion from the FCL. Neither hit much. Angel Basabe joined the team at the end of May and put up a solid .731 OPS in 25 games before moving up to Greensboro.
2022 Bradenton Marauders Pitchers
The tale of the tape: The FSL’s youngest pitching staff finished seventh in ERA (4.04). Walks were a big problem, as they finished tied for next-to-last in BB/9, which contributed to a next-to-last finish in WHIP. They were also last by a pretty good margin in K/9, so that’s not a good combination. Despite all the walks, the Marauders had the second-fewest wild pitches, which probably says something about catcher Wyatt Hendrie. Bradenton allowed the second-fewest steals, again despite the relatively inexperienced staff, so that also probably says something about Hendrie.
Bradenton had a relatively stable rotation for the level. The primary changes were Chandler and Solometo joining the team, and Justin Meis getting promoted. Otherwise, it was Po-Yu Chen, Valentin Linarez, Joelvis Del Rosario, Carlos Jimenez and Luis Peralta, bearing in mind that the team used a six-man rotation. Any starts beyond that were almost all rehabbing pitchers and bullpen games.
Chen and Del Rosario were the two most stable presences, making 22 and 19 starts, respectively. Chen seemingly has solid stuff and advanced command, and could dominate at times. Other times, things seemed to go south on him. His underlying stats (1.26 WHIP, 3.3 BB/9, 9.4 K/9) seemed better than his ERA of 4.58, which was borne out by an xFIP of 3.81. He had a low LOB rate of 64%, so pitching out of trouble (which I’m increasingly coming to believe is a skill) may be the main area where he can improve. Del Rosario didn’t dominate — for one thing, his K/9 of 7.4 was low — but he threw strikes and was almost always solid or better. His ERA was 3.68.
The best stuff, apart from Chandler and Solometo, belonged to Jimenez and Peralta. Thanks to a plus change, Jimenez is one of the more promising pitchers in the system, but his command faltered at times, shown in part by 5.8 BB/9. His 11.4 K/9 shows the quality of his stuff. Jimenez wore down as the season went along; his ERA was 3.05 in the first half and 5.72 in the second half. He only turned 20 in July, although he’s already eligible for the Rule 5 draft.
Peralta is a 5’11” lefty who combines swing-and-miss secondary stuff with the ability to run his fastball up to 95 or so at times. He had an eye-catching 14.5 K/9, but walks (6.6 per nine) and very high pitch counts led to a lot of meltdowns and a 6.41 ERA. He averaged fewer than three and a half innings per start.
Linarez and Meis had arguably the biggest ups and downs of all. Linarez struggled early in the season, with a 13.50 ERA in his first four starts. After that, it was 2.84. He earned a late-season promotion to Greensboro, where he made two starts.
Meis got promoted after seven starts and ten games overall. His outings produced some very strange contrasts, both before and after the promotion. For example, in his first start of the season, he allowed six earned runs in three and a third innings. In his next two, he combined for nine shutout innings, with just four hits and 13 strikeouts. In his first two Greensboro starts, he gave up eight earned runs and retired only two batters total. He followed those with a six-shutout-inning, eight-strikeout start.
Naturally, a whole lot of pitchers made their way through the Marauders’ bullpen. There were some injuries, some pitchers on rehab, and some promotions, both late and early. We’ll focus on the pitchers who were around enough to make something of a mark.
The two best relievers were Nick Dombkowski and Christian Charle. There isn’t much to say about the lefty Dombkowski, as he moved up after four games and ultimately made his way to Altoona, which is pretty good for a non-drafted free agent.
Charle throws a mid-90s fastball and another pitch that’s either a change or a cutter, depending on whether you listen to FanGraphs and Eric Longenhagen, or Statcast. He varies the speed of it, so categorizing the pitch might be a futile exercise. Whatever it was, it helped him to a 2.16 ERA and 10.8 K/9, with only a 2.4 BB/9, in 20 games. That got him a promotion, after which he continued to pitch well. He’s Rule 5 eligible now.
Some of the relievers were beset by control problems. Yunior Thibo and Wilkin Ramos threw in the upper-90s, but walked 6.1 and 5.6 per nine innings, respectively. Jack Hartman, a 2020 draftee, made his pro debut after missing all of 2021 due to Tommy John surgery. He also showed impressive velocity, but walked 7.7 per nine and ended up with an ERA of 6.27. Darvin Garcia, who pitched well in the FCL in 2021, had similar problems and finished with a 5.76 ERA. Carlos Lomeli, a 2021 draftee, had the opposite problem: he was just too hittable and posted an ERA of 5.40.
There were relievers who had more success. Dante Mendoza put up a 1.23 ERA and 11.4 K/9, although he got torched after a late-season promotion to Greensboro. Johan Montero had very solid numbers across the board, including a 3.40 ERA. Sergio Umana, a soft-tossing righty, threw a lot of strikes and put up a 2.77 ERA, although he didn’t miss many bats. Lefty Mitchell Miller signed out of independent ball and had a 3.18 ERA and 9.5 K/9 in 17 games, although he’s already 25. Another lefty, Jake Sweeney, had scuffled since being drafted in 2019, but pitched well this year apart from some, of course, control problems. Injuries unfortunately limited him to 19 games.
It’s pretty hard to know what to make of a bunch of relievers who pitched variable amounts, although a few went over 40 (Garcia, Montero) or even 50 (Ramos, Thibo, Lomeli) innings. Of the group, Thibo and Ramos have the best stuff by a comfortable margin. Hopefully, a couple guys will take a step forward next year.
Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.