The 2009 GCL Pirates Season Recap

The Gulf Coast League is the start of the development process for most draft prospects. It is a 16 team league, and one of two rookie leagues above the VSL, DSL, and ASL. In the case of the Pirates, the GCL games are played in the Pirates’ Spring Training complex in Bradenton, with the bulk of the players coming from the VSL, DSL, and the draft.

The main focus of the league isn’t so much on winning, but instruction and developing players, which is really the point of all minor league teams, but more so at this level. The 2009 GCL Pirates ended up with a lot of talent, thanks to a very strong 2009 draft, as well as a few guys from the international ranks. Overall there were a lot of interesting story lines.
The first set of story lines involved some interesting international prospects. Gift Ngoepe, Rinku Singh, and Dinesh Patel all made their professional debuts after being the first players from their respective countries to sign professional contracts. Gift was the first player to sign from South Africa, while Singh and Patel were the first players signed from India, after winning a reality show pitching contest.
Then there were a few international players who were making their debuts in the United States. This includes Ramon Cabrera and Rogelios Noris on the offensive side of the game, and Jhonatan Ramos and Edgar Gutierrez on the pitching side, all of which played for the VSL Pirates last year. There’s also Mitchell Fienemann, who was signed as a free agent at the start of the season, and had a lot of success in his first season after coming from Australia.
There were also players from the last two drafts. The 2008 draft provided seventh round pick Benjamin Gonzalez, and 16th round pick Wesley Freeman. The 2009 draft loaded the team with solid pitching prospects at the end of the season, with over-slot signings like Trent Stevenson, Zach Von Rosenberg, and Zack Dodson.

From this point, players usually go to short season A ball (State College), then low A ball (West Virginia), then high A ball (Lynchburg), then AA, AAA, and the majors. There are five levels between the GCL and the majors, although a player can certainly skip a level if warranted. Due to the distance from the majors, here are my theories on the ages of the players, and how those ages relate to the quality of prospect those players are:

-19 and under: Proper age for this league, legit prospect
-20 to 21: Getting a little old, but still could have a shot
-22+: Think Yoslan Herrera in AA at 28

Click the tables to see the larger version:

The Pitchers: Six of these players came via the 2009 draft, although the top guys didn’t get many innings. Over-slot signings like Zach Von Rosenberg, Trent Stevenson, Zack Dodson, and Zachary Fuesser didn’t receive many innings. ZVR and Dodson each pitched a perfect inning. Stevenson looked good in five outings. 34th round pick Zachary Fuesser, who was signed for $125 K, looked worthy of the investment, although control was a bit of an issue.

Brooks Pounders was taken in the second round, and had a solid debut in pro ball. 18th rounder Ryan Beckman got off to a good start, but struggled at the end of the season, possibly due to fatigue. Mitchell Fienemann had a great season, thanks to great control that led to three walks allowed in 40.1 innings pitched. Pounders, Beckman, and Fienemann all have projectable frames, and could all eventually become hard throwing right handers.

The Hitters: Benjamin Gonzalez was considered the best defensive shortstop in the whole system coming in to the season, with the only downside being his bat. That changed this year, as he finished with a .289 average, with a solid on-base percentage. If Gonzalez can continue his hitting ways he could emerge as one of the top shortstop prospects in the Pirates system.

Gift Ngoepe made his debut this year, with a .238 average, thanks to a .214 average in the month of August. He managed a very strong on-base percentage considering the average. It will be interesting to see how the first pro baseball player from South Africa develops in the future.
Ramon Cabrera made a strong debut in the US, with a .291 average, and good patience at the plate with just 16 strikeouts in 127 at-bats, and a .372 OBP. Cabrera is a short catcher at only 5’7″, but he’s a switch hitter and has displayed some good hitting skills so far.
Wes Freeman really struggled this year, mostly due to strikeouts. Freeman struck out 59 times in 157 at-bats. I did a feature on Freeman a week ago that pointed out a trend in his strikeout history. Twice this season he hit two homers in the span of a few days. Immediately after those instances his strikeout rate spiked for a week. It could just be a young mistake where he starts swinging for the fences after hitting a few homers.
2009 draft picks Joey Schoenfeld and Walker Gourley also made their debuts in Bradenton, although neither managed a strong performance.

The Prospects: There’s a lot of pitching depth here, with Zach Von Rosenberg likely cracking the top ten prospects next year, and Brooks Pounders, Trent Stevenson, Zack Dodson, and Colton Cain (who didn’t pitch) likely making most top 30 lists. That’s a strong testament to the 2009 draft. On the hitting side, Gonzalez has made some strong strides on the offensive side of his game. Wes Freeman has some solid raw skills, but is more of a project. Cabrera and Gift are each interesting at their position, but probably wouldn’t crack the top 30 prospects not due to a lack of talent, but due to a good amount of talent in the Pirates’ system for once.

The Pitchers: The Indian pitchers, Dinesh Patel and Rinku Singh, made their debut a year after winning a reality show and getting signed by the Pirates for their efforts. Singh was regarded as the better prospect, but Patel put up the better numbers. In each case, there weren’t enough innings to make any solid evaluations on the Million Dollar Arms.

Jhonatan Ramos, Edgar Gutierrez, and Eliecer Navarro each put up solid ratios, although all three are fairly short, which could make any future success tough to come by. Ramos had the best season of the three, with a 33:3 K/BB ratio in 34.2 innings pitched. The fact that he’s a lefty makes him a little more valuable, despite the 5’8″ height.

The Hitters: Rogelios Noris looked really good, especially in August where he hit five of his six home runs. Strikeouts were a problem for Noris, with 51 in 136 at-bats. Gerlis Rodriguez looked good in July, with a .293 average and three homers in 99 at-bats, but failed to follow up on that in August, with a .267 average and no homers in 90 at-bats.

The Prospects: Singh and Patel are more of an experiment than prospects. The
rest of the guys I mentioned are marginal prospects, and more of a long shot in each scenario. They either have talent and haven’t broken out yet (Noris), or have good numbers big might not have the best build for baseball (Ramos and company).

The Non-Prospects: The guys on this list who had a successful season are too old for the level, and should be dominating the GCL. Andrew Walker was here for a really long rehab appearance, but is probably nothing more than an organizational catcher.

Final Thoughts…

The 2009 GCL Pirates may be one of the most talented Pirates farm teams at the end of the season. Thanks to the efforts of the 2009 draft, Bradenton features a lot of top pitching prospects, including Zach Von Rosenberg, who is considered a top ten prospect in the organization. Benjamin Gonzalez and Gift Ngoepe are two strong defensive middle infielders who have displayed some decent offensive skills this year. Wes Freeman and Joey Schoenfeld are both young, raw talents who have a lot of upside if they can put things together. My top ten prospects from the 2009 team:

1. Zach Von Rosenberg, RHP
2. Colton Cain, LHP

3. Brooks Pounders, RHP
4. Trent Stevenson, RHP
5. Wes Freeman, OF
6. Zack Dodson, LHP
7. Benjamin Gonzalez, SS
8. Joey Schoenfeld, C
9. Ramon Cabrera, C
10. Gift Ngoepe, 2B
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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.

Pittsburgh Pirates Prospect Watch 9/1/09

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  • sheela

    I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  • DBS

    Hey Tim -
    I'm a little bit wait and see on Stevenson, due to his 6-6/170 lb frame. That's 6 inches and 20 lbs more than me and I'm really thin.

    This is a nice crop of guys, especially with some of the late signings making cameos, but at the end of the year WV will be the prospect hotbed when you review it.

    OnlyBucs Top 30 starts Oct 6, but I'm sure you saw that already.

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