Pirates Notebook: The Dominican Debate

Dejan Kovacevic of the PPG wrote last week about top Dominican prospect Miguel Angel Sano, who I like to call Hanley Pujols, and the Pirates currently positioned on the inside track for signing him.

The only problem would be the money: a bonus expected to be around $4 M.

Is that really a problem though? There is the risk involved. Sano is 16. You could look at that two ways. You could say that it’s hard to project the future of a 16 year old, or you could say he’s got a ton of future potential. The other argument on his age is the possibility that he could be lying, as Dominican players have a history of lying about their age. A lot of tests have been completed to erase some of that doubt, and based on the reports of those tests, if Sano is not exactly 16, I’m pretty sure he’s in the age range, and still a top prospect.

Personally I’m not worried about the age. I trust the tests that say he’s in the 16-17 age range. I also don’t think the $4 M is a big risk. That’s mostly because I’m looking at the big picture.

If you’re evaluating the impact of the $4 M on “will Sano pan out” vs “will Sano be a bust”, then you’re not looking at all of the angles. The Pirates have a small impact in the Dominican right now, although that has been slightly changed by the $5 M Dominican facility completed last year.

Let’s consider that for a second. The Pirates built that facility for one reason: to help build their presence in the Dominican, and have a greater chance at top prospects. Now they have a good chance at a top prospect, and the only option is to sign him. Building a Dominican facility to attract top prospects, then refusing to sign those top prospects would be like buying a house and refusing to spend money on furniture, or buying a Ferrari and never going for a ride on Friday night with the top down looking for girls. You pretty much defeat the purpose of the original investment.

If you refuse to sign him because you don’t want to take the risk of $4 M, then you’re pretty much shooting yourself in the foot in regards to future prospects. So by not wanting to spend $4 M because Sano could end up a bust, you guarantee that you waste the $5 M spent on the Dominican facility by killing the reason it was created.

The $4 M would also go a long way to strengthen the presence of the Pirates in the Dominican. Consider two recent scenarios:

-Dayan Viciedo, a Cuban prospect, signed with the White Sox this past off-season, mostly due to their 2008 signing of fellow Cuban prospect Alexei Ramirez.

-Junichi Tazawa, a Japanese pitching prospect, signed with the Red Sox this past off-season, and took less money mostly due to fellow Japanese players on the Red Sox like Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima.

If the Pirates spend the $4 M on Sano, they’re getting more than one prospect. They’re getting a seat at the table for any top prospect that comes through the Dominican system. They don’t have to sign all of them, but at some point they have to show they’re serious, and there’s no time better than now.

The investment would be of the long term variety. If we assume that Sano follows the career path of Jose Tabata, he will be in AA by 2013, and possibly up by 2014 or 2015. As I said before, the signing opens up more doors, and behind one of those doors could be the Dominican version of Alexei Ramirez, a guy who is ready to step right in to the majors (I know Alexei has struggled this year, but I think he’ll come around).

Overall, the Pirates are a team that is in a rebuilding mode, with a very weak farm system. We need as many top prospects as we can get. Now we have the chance to buy a first round quality prospect.

There is no way to lose by signing Sano. If he pans out to be anything close to the “Albert Pujols in Hanley Ramirez’ body” hype, the signing would be a huge success. If he is a bust, we at least show that we are legit options for Dominican prospects, opening doors for future signings that could work out. The one thing that is guaranteed is that if we’re not willing to spend the money on top prospects like Sano, then we have essentially wasted $5 M building a Dominican academy to attract top prospects. What’s the use of bringing in top prospects if you’re not going to take the next step and sign them?

Andy LaRoche the MVP?

The updates to the MVP Tracker for the past two days bring a surprise:

Tuesday: One point for Brandon Moss, Andy LaRoche, Adam LaRoche, and Tom Gorzelanny

Wednesday: One point for Paul Maholm, Matt Capps, Freddy Sanchez, Andy LaRoche, and John Grabow

The new leader in the race is Andy LaRoche. Now it may surprise you that a .278/2 HR hitter is leading the MVP race. Maybe you feel that Nate McLouth or Freddy Sanchez should be there. I’m equally surprised, but considering that the tracker gives positive points in a win, and negative points in a loss, this is how it shapes out. However, let’s look at this objectively:

Andy LaRoche started the season 0 for 16 in the first eight games. Since then he has played in every game, starting all but one, and is hitting .318/.391/.464 in 110 at-bats. By comparison, McLouth is hitting .311/.379/.515 in 103 at-bats over that stretch, and Freddy is hitting .303/.366/.459 in 122 at-bats over that same period of time. So maybe LaRoche isn’t a run-away favorite for the MVP award, but there’s no arguing that since April 16th, he’s been one of the best hitters on the team.

Other Stuff

-The Draft Prospects Tracker is updated.

-Aaron Crow had another great outing. Crow went six innings, allowing no runs, three hits, no walks, and four strikeouts. He only needed 67 pitches, or about 11 pitches per inning. He’s quickly rising up on my list of guys to draft with the number four pick.

-Dustin Ackley, my number one choice outside of the miracle that would see Stephen Strasburg fall in to our laps, went 3 for 5 in the ACC tournament against Duke, with two homers. Ackley must like playing Duke, as he is 11 for 20 against them this season. He is one home run shy of 20 on the season, and currently has a massive 1.301 OPS with a .409 average.

-Kyle Gibson also pitched tonight, getting the win. Gibson went six innings, with no runs on three hits, with seven strikeouts and three walks. Gibson only threw 98 pitches, which is a big surprise. He went over 120 pitches in his last two starts, and hasn’t gone under 100 pitches in a start since his first start where he threw 92 pitches in six innings (and I’m not counting the one and two inning stints at the start of April). However, with Crow pitching so well, Gibson is losing ground in my book.

-A win tomorrow would match the Pirates’ six game winning streak from last year, which occurred between May 6th and May 12th. The streak pulled the Pirates to one game under .500 at 18-19. A win tomorrow would make the Pirates 20-21, one game under .500. Of course the Pirates never got to .500, so let’s hope history stops repeating after a win tomorrow.

-The Pirates haven’t swept a four game series since the 2006 season, when they swept Milwaukee between May 29th and June 1st. Ahh, remember when we used to beat Milwaukee?


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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

Three Minor League Losses; Homer for Durham; 9 K for Owens

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Bucs Bullpen Returns the Favor

  • Anonymous

    I agree with everything you said about Sano

  • Jim Rosati

    Tim, I also agree about Sano. $4 million dollars to have this kid is basically a no-brainer.

    To put in into perspective. We spent $4 mil on Ramon Vazquez to be here for 2 years. How is that any more beneficial than giving Sano $4 million to be ours for a lot longer.

    And if Sano ends up not even being as good as Vazquez…then who cares? We lost $4 mil on a kid…which really isn’t all that much over a span of 6 or so years.

    Also, like you said, doing this will give us a strong presence in the Dominican…which can only be good.

  • Fla Pirate

    I would like us to sign Sano. We need to start getting the international talent so we don’t fall further behind other teams talentwise.

    Then more, I see about Aaron Crow, the more I think we should seriously think about taking him at No 4. I would pass all the college pitchers at that pick, but Crow looks like a badly needed pitching stud that we have lacked for a long time and he is fresh after sitting out a season.

  • The Jello Phone

    “I know Alexei has struggled this year, but I think he’ll come around.”

    Coming from someone who drafted Mike Aviles in 3/4 of my fantasy leagues and Magglio in 100% of them, all I have to say is, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHA!!!

    No pity from me.

    Too bad Ackley isn’t gonna be there at #4 for the Bucs :(

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