The Venezuelan Summer League Pirates were one of the best stories in the Pirates organization during the 2009 season. The VSL Pirates finished with the best record in the league, going 48-22, but losing in the championship 2 games to 1 to the VSL Rays.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the VSL, here is a quick rundown of the league rules and set-up:
-Only 7 teams in the league (Pirates, Mariners, Cardinals, Tigers, Phillies, Mets, Rays)
-League is closed to all draft eligible players, with the exception of two players from Puerto Rico
-Each team has a roster limit of 35 players, and at least 10 have to be pitchers
-No player on the active roster may have more than four years of minor league service
-There is no age limit
-The 2010 season will run from May 17th to August 8th, with 70 games for every team
-The top two teams meet in the VSL Championship in a best of three series
Now, let’s take a look at the 2010 team, starting with the players who are new to the team…
There are 12 new players to the team this year, with eight of them looking to be age appropriate for the level. I only found three scouting reports from this group, all from Rene Gayo in the same batch of signings.
Orlando Castro: “Orlando profiles to be a future starter. He is a three-pitch pitcher — fastball, curveball, changeup — who projects to have solid command of his fastball and above-average off-speed. He has a medium build with room to mature. Orlando has a good makeup, aggressive and competitive.”
Carlos Esqueda: “He is an impressive athlete with outstanding makeup. A dedicated, no-fear player who loves the game and competes with a championship attitude. Carlos projects to be a solid major league shortstop. He is quick, smooth and has good instincts. He is aggressive on the basepaths and, with physical maturity, should develop above-average speed. He is also a line-drive hitter who uses the entire field. Carlos is smart at the plate and exhibits good strike-zone knowledge and profiles to be a top-of-the-order type.”
Richard Montilla: “Montilla is a solid athlete with room for physical maturity. He is a battler, very competitive and confident on the mound. Richard profiles to be a future starter with the potential for an above-average fastball and curveball.”
Now for the players who are returning from the 2009 team…
The most interesting hitter from this group is Kelly Aponte, who might be a year too old for the level, but who certainly has the size needed for a first baseman, along with the numbers. Aponte hit for a .277/.382/.511 line in 2009, with a homer every 23.50 at-bats. That was the second best AB/HR ratio on the team, along with the second best slugging percentage.
Roberto Espinoza is the pitching prospect I’m most interested in out of the returning group. Espinoza is 18 this year, which seems age appropriate. He had some success last year, with a 7.0 K/9, a 2.2 K/BB, and an 0.4 HR/9 ratio in 62.1 innings. His velocity also saw a nice increase. When the Pirates signed him, he was hitting between 81 and 85 MPH. During the 2009 season, he jumped to the 88-93 MPH range.
Francisco Vilchez is another guy I’ll be watching. His strikeout numbers were better than Espinoza, with a 7.7 K/9 ratio and a 3.9 K/BB ratio, plus an 0.8 HR/9 ratio. Vilchez is 19, which might be a year too old for the level.
Next are the players who have moved on to the United States…
I’m only assuming this list is correct, as these players were all in Spring Training, and teams don’t usually send those guys back to the international leagues. I also wouldn’t expect any of these guys to be released, considering their age and performance.
The hitters provide a very interesting crop of players. Exicardo Cayonez is the cream of the crop, signing for $400,000 in 2008, which is currently the Pirates’ record for an international signing. Cayonez hit for a .302 average with a .396 OBP and a .424 slugging percentage. He is more of a line drive hitter at this point, with great plate patience and a good feel for hitting.
Jonathan Barrios was another big signing in 2008, although he struggled at the plate in 2009. Barrios was the highest rated player the Pirates signed in 2008, ranking in the top 25 on most international boards. Barrios has good bat speed and a plus arm.
Jorge Bishop was a big surprise, after signing in 2008 for just $15,000. Bishop hit for a .308/.367/.470 line, showing some of the best power on the 2009 team. Bishop also flashed the speed, with 24 stolen bases.
I expect most of these players to start off in the Gulf Coast League, although I could see the Pirates being more aggressive with Cayonez and maybe even Bishop.
Finally, a look at the players who were either released, or who retired…
Most of these players were either too old for the level, or weren’t performing. I can’t really find a person on this list who was a big loss, based on the numbers, ages, and sizes.