Bradenton Carries Loaded Roster

Florida State League club filled with prospects

PITTSBURGH—This past winter, the Pirates bought a franchise in the high Class A Florida State League, placed it in their spring home of Bradenton, Fla., then made an equally significant investment in talent.

Management stocked the Bradenton Marauders' inaugural roster with several of its top prospects, including many from the two recent drafts that cost a major league-high $18.7 million, and expressed open confidence about how the group would fare.

That turned out to be well founded: The Marauders got off to a 19-14 start, owned first place and, most impressively, spent most of the season's opening month leading all of minor league baseball in batting. Even after a brief slump to open May, the team was batting .273/.359/.398.

"It's an exciting group, and they've really bonded together," said Jeff Banister, the Pirates' longtime field coordinator.

The top prospect on the roster, catcher Tony Sanchez, drafted No. 4 overall last summer, also was the top performer at .318/.423/.514. But he had company in third baseman Jeremy Farrell at .307/.402/.526 with four home runs, shortstop Brock Holt at .352/.412/.495 and five-tool center fielder Starling Marte at .283/.374/.391.

In Grapefruit League games each spring, the wind at McKechnie Field pumps up offensive numbers, but Banister said that does not explain the Marauders' numbers.

The group probably will not stay together long. Sanchez is expected to spend a good portion of the coming summer with Double-A Altoona, as is righthander Bryan Morris, who has been dominant at  3-0, 0.66.

Treasure Trove

• Outfielder Jose Tabata's career-high in stolen bases is 22, which he did in 2005 with the GCL Yankees. So far in 2010 he has 19.

• The Pirates continued to expand their global reach by signing Australian lefthander Wilson Lee, 18, and assigning him to Major League Baseball's academy in Australia.