Looking down into that Low-A level dugout I see a versatile and deep lineup that can beat you in many ways. Back in the bullpen, there’s a balanced mix of nasty starters and relievers with arsenals featuring heat and movement. The 2021 Bradenton Marauders (Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate) truly have it all.
From Begining to End
The 1st game I went to way back in April featured a home run from slugging corner prospect Alexander Mojica who was 18 at the time. I remember thinking ‘wow that went really far for a swing with barely any upper body. Little did I know I was watching the future king of home runs go through the growing pains that mark the early phases of offensive development.
The more I went, the more I learned. Like the fact that they had more than one ace! Righties Jared Jones, Luis Ortiz, and Adrian Florencio absolutely ran the show from the mound and were backed up by a capable staff and pen. Finishing in 2nd place and eventually beating the Tampa Tarpons for the season’s crown was in no way a surprise.
Excellent, high pedigree prospects like infielder Maikel Escotto easily got lost in the depth of a lineup featuring ascending talents like OF Hudson Head, C/1B Endy Rodriguez, and C Abrahan Gutierrez. Escotto is a player that lots of organizations would love to have as his speed and defense are present and ahead of his power, but he can play. And he profiles as a top-of-the-order table-setter.
Former football player Jase Bowen has been up and streaking followed by games where he’s swinging and slumping but he never wore down and played lots of positions quite well. As did Dariel Lopez, someone who is still finding his ideal fit in the dirt. While he figures it out, along with a better balance of walks and K’s, he had 28 XBH and 64 RBI on the year proving a dependable piece for skipper Johnathan Johnston. Speaking of JJ and I’m so glad to be, I’m going to give him the ultimate compliment for somebody who watches as much baseball as I do. Going to over 30 games this year at home and on the road to see the entire league, I have not disagreed with one managerial decision or lineup switch (they’re uncommon), or one discussion with the umps. As I watch from the close seats and analyze him in the dugout, we’ve been in total accord as far as how the game is going. I didn’t think that was even possible. This guy didn’t leave in one pitcher for a batter too long or pull one a batter too early. His moves led to a championship season too so his players fully bought in.
When you look at the low minors and realize the educational aspect of the game and how you’re laying the foundation for future lessons, I cannot stress the effect that I think having a trusted leader like that can have. There’s just so much that goes right in terms of positive communication, confidence, and teaching that can happen when you simply make the right calls in baseball. It’s refreshing to see a leader like that playing the role of teacher. I saw stadiums in Clearwater, Dunedin, Lakeland, Tampa, and Ft Myers as I followed them around Florida’s Southwest coast and what I saw was a team focused on improvement but also filled with stories I’ve followed for a while now.OF Sammy Siani is a skilled and savvy hitter. This year he was hurt often and couldn’t come back. I’ve been watching him since his rookie league days where the games start at 1 so it’s harder to gain weight in the blistering heat. But from then until now he has and added more pop to his potent bat despite not showing it off all season. Dylan Shockley is a catcher I saw contribute at Bradenton too, controlling the opposing running game like a general. Also got to watch Shockley as a rookie leaguer, but back then he was throwing out my Oriole prospects like Lamar Sparks and Darell Hernaiz.
The fact that there’s so much continuity and skill at such a low level speaks volumes about the improvement in the organization from the bottom up. Not too many of the Pirates’ top 30 prospects are featured on the Bradenton roster. I don’t know if I can put up that much of an argument either, the system has stars. If it matters, the Pirates Gold team finished 3rd in a competitive rookie FCL this year led by another generation of future contributors. Infielder Tsung-Che Cheng is a tough (understatement)AB and an excellent sure-handed infielder begging for a higher challenge. I can’t wait to see him in the way of many potential hits next season.
Getting back to the postseason was not a given but Bradenton won at a high rate and lost few series all year so they were earning it all along. The Tampa Tarpons (NYY Low-A) were a bit better record-wise so they earned more hosting games 3-5 in a best of 5 Championship Series.
The Marauders won games 1 and 2 at home behind starters Florencio and Ortiz. The 2 aces combined for 12 innings, 2ER 8 hits, 16 k, and a pair of W’s as they headed north for the final game(s). In Tampa, Logan Hofmann couldn’t get his staff to locate and gave up 3 runs in the 1st two innings. Righty Eddie Yean (acquired in the Josh Bell trade)came in and changed the course of the game with his solid relief appearance. While he was shutting down sluggers, his lineup woke up like I’ve seen them do so many times and bludgeoned the Tarpons. By the 3rd inning, it was 5-3 after back-to-back homers from IF Dariel Lopez and catcher Abrahan Gutierrez. The Marauders had taken the lead back for good, and they would be holding it until the champagne-soaked celebration finished their amazing campaign.
I knew this team was special way back in May. The way they won and refused to quit left an impression on me and all the other supporters that followed them this amazing 2021 season. Being a fan of another organization it wasn’t weird to see and cheer for these guys. Any baseball fan would. A fundamental, low mistake ball combined with passionate and calculating processing brought a trophy to my adopted hometown on Florida’s Southwest coast. I want to say thanks for everything I saw and learned and I’ll be boasting about this spectacular season for a long time.
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