First Pitch: Searching For Breakout Prospects in the Lower Levels

There was a time when the previews of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Low-A team was an annual “Breakout Watch” article.

Year after year, the Pirates saw a new prospect emerging from the lower levels. In some years, this gave an emerging top 100 prospect to follow for the future. That’s what happened with the Pirates got breakouts from Gregory Polanco or Tyler Glasnow. It’s what happened when they got lesser breakouts like Jacoby Jones and Yeudy Garcia.

This system showed annual hope at the lower levels, with a batch of younger prospects providing a new breakout prospect each year.

The downside to all of that is in the names above. The top 100 guys didn’t go on to reach their upsides in Pittsburgh, and the lesser guys either didn’t reach Pittsburgh at all, or reached the majors with another organization.

This will be the first year we’ll get to see Ben Cherington’s Low-A roster at work. So far, this roster is maintaining the trend of potential breakout prospects at the level. Some of those players were brought in by Cherington, and some were inherited from Huntington. In both cases, the Pirates will look for a better long-term development process to get better results than the past.

The Bradenton Marauders are now the Low-A affiliate, switching place with the Greensboro Grasshoppers. Let’s take a look at the roster, looking for those potential breakouts in 2021.

Bradenton Marauders Roster Highlights

International Position Players

The Pirates were most active under Neal Huntington in giving young international position players aggressive pushes to this level. With the removal of the short-season leagues, that choice has almost been removed, with the expectation being an aggressive push.

On the “inherited” side, one of the more aggressive pushes goes to Alexander Mojica. The third baseman is only 18-years-old, and displays a lot of raw power, already crushing a home run in his first game. He’s more likely to end up at first base long-term, but the bat will be the carrying tool, and is what I’ll be focused on this year.

Mojica is joined by 19-year-old shortstop Dariel Lopez, who is one of the bigger sleepers to follow, with five tool potential in the infield. Sergio Campana is a 19-year-old outfielder with speed and defense, and raw power with excellent bat speed.

It’s way too early for Ben Cherington to have any international players at the Low-A level, so this group is going to be naturally slanted toward prospects that Neal Huntington acquired. None of that matters, as they’re all left to Cherington and company to develop now.

Cherington has brought two former international signings into the mix. The Joe Musgrove trade with San Diego led to a side deal with the New York Mets to acquire catching prospect Endy Rodriguez. The 20-year-old became the top catching prospect in the system with the move, which is more commentary on the depth of that position.

The guy I’m watching the closest this year is Maikol Escotto. He was added in the Jameson Taillon trade with the Yankees. He is one of the youngest players at the level at age 18, just a few months older than Mojica. Escotto can play shortstop, but should split time with Lopez.

Another infielder to watch is Norkis Marcos, who is a solid defensive shortstop with above-average speed, but some serious strikeout issues in the past.

High School Position Players

I highlight the international position players above almost out of tradition. It really doesn’t matter if you were drafted out of the United States or signed out of any other country in the world. Once you’re inside pro ball, there’s only one direction to go for everyone.

I almost wonder if the changes to the draft and the minor league baseball structure will make high school position players a thing of the past. More players will be funneled to the college levels and the draft feeder leagues.

The Pirates have Jase Bowen, Sammy Siani, Jasiah Dixon, and Hudson Head in the 20-and-under department. All four are listed as outfielders, although Bowen has spent time in the infield.

Head was one of the main prospects who came back from San Diego in the Musgrove trade. He will be a guy to follow as long as center field is left open in Pittsburgh.

Sammy Siani and Jasiah Dixon both have center field experience, but will probably get more time at the corners. Siani is a Competitive Round A pick from 2019, while Dixon was drafted in the 23rd round and is one of the fastest players in the system.

Between younger international players, and the former prep draftees, the Pirates have a very promising lineup of 20-and-under prospects at this level.

Don’t Sleep on the Pitching

The lineup will make this team fun to watch every night, while the pitching will provide some nice boosts from the rotation.

The biggest pitching prospect to follow is Brennan Malone, who is a hard-thrower with a plus slider, acquired in the Starling Marte trade. A lot of the pitchers at the level will battle to stand out in the mix, while Malone is one of the few who requires appointment viewing every time he takes the mound.

Eddy Yean is another young flame-throwing pitcher, acquired from the Josh Bell trade. Yean looks like he could be very raw, but right now can hit 97 with the potential for an above-average slider. He will be a project, but one who could end up as a 50+ FV prospect in the future, maybe by the end of this year.

Santiago Florez is one of the returning prospects to the system who interests me the most. Florez is a big framed, hard-throwing right-hander who struck out seven in four shutout innings in his debut.

Nick Garcia, J.C. Flowers, Logan Hoffmann, and Luis Ortiz have already made multi-inning appearances in the first few games. I’m looking at Garcia as the top guy to follow from this list.

Positional Needs

You could classify anyone as a potential sleeper at this level. One “deep sleeper” that I will be following is Eli Wilson. The catcher has shown some offensive ability in his young pro career, with the chance to stick behind the plate. He will challenge Endy Rodriguez, trying to be the top catching prospect in the system. You could make the argument that they are the top two, long-term, on the same team. That’s only a good argument to make if Wilson continues showing offensive promise to go with an ability to stick at catcher.

Daily Links

**A Front Office Zoom Call: What’s Your Agenda?

**SPORCLE QUIZ

**New Mock Draft from MLB Pipeline has New Name for Pirates

**Scouting Reports on Last Four International Signings for the Pittsburgh Pirates

**Prospect Watch: Solid Pitching Debuts for Ashcraft and Florez; Lolo Walks it off in Greensboro

**This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: May 6th, Pirates Second No-Hitter

**Card of the Day: 1951 Topps Red Back Cliff Chambers

**1925 Pirate Replay: Bucs Prepare to Face AL Champion Senators, Part 2

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