Late last year I gave a list of ten players to watch from the VSL and DSL teams. From that list, seven of the ten have been promoted to the states already. Giving a combined top ten list from these leagues is almost impossible unless you’re down there watching them, so don’t take this as the “ten best players we have” list. The information on these players is scarce and all you have to go on for most of them is their profile and stats, and the better ones you’ll have a brief scouting report and possibly a bonus amount. These are just my best guesses with all the information I have on hand. So with that in mind, I’m going to give a list of ten players to watch as you follow these teams early in the season.
1. Dilson Herrera, 17 year old SS, VSL - From last year’s July 2nd signing class only one player the Pirates signed was more highly regarded than Herrera and that was Luis Heredia who overshadowed Herrera’s signing which happened just two days later. The Pirates had scouted the SS from Colombia since he was 12 years old and signed him for $220k. He started his career with a 13 game hitting streak and he’s currently hitting .333 with seven extra base hits. He is said to have good gap power, and he’s already pretty good on defense with average speed.They let him play regularly in Winter ball this past off-season as a 16 year old and he hit over .300.
2. Isaac Sanchez, 18 year old RHP, DSL - Sanchez signed for $180k last year out of the Dominican Prospect League (DPL) and he was very impressive in his brief time in the DSL last year. In 8.2 IP he allowed just one run on 3 hits while striking out nine. He works in the low 90’s with his fastball touching 94 now and he has a great curveball which was already considered a plus pitch when he signed. He also throws an average changeup with excellent command of the pitch. He returned to the DSL but has yet to pitch due to three straight rainouts.
3. Miguel de Aza, 18 year old OF, DSL - Miguel was signed for $150k out of the DPL this past summer but did not make his DSL debut until this season. He is described as a potential 5 tool athlete with two of them being plus tools, his speed and arm. Despite the high praise he has yet to play OF this season being used as a DH in his two games which has resulted in just 2 walks so far. I would expect him to get regular time in the OF as the season progresses.
4. Maximo Rivera, 18 year old 3B, DSL - The Pirates liked Rivera enough to give him the top bonus they handed out in 2009 when he signed for $165k. His stats were nothing to look at last year but they said he was raw when they signed him. He has good power potential and speed. They mainly used him at 3B last year but he was signed as a SS and he’s played there twice already this year. The team is loaded with shortstops so he may not play there much.
5. Yunior Montero, 17 year old RHP, DSL - Montero signed for $185k during this last July 2nd signing period although the Pirates had signed him originally in 2009 before his contract was voided due to identity issues. With everything now straightened out they have a 6′ 4″ righty who throws his fastball 94 mph already and he has a nice slider. He started for the DSL team on May 29th pitching 5 shutout innings in his pro debut. He allowed just 2 hits and struck out four.
6.Robertson Valdez, 18 year old 1B, DSL - Signed for $150k in 2009, Robertson is said to have the best power potential among the Pirates’ DSL players, being described as a possible 30 home run guy. That was hard to see last year with no extra base hits in 64 AB’s. It’s likely that he was very raw as he played just 28 games last year, but so far he’s playing everyday this year. Like Luis Urena on last year’s list, this is based more on the scouting report and the bonus received as opposed to actual results.
7. Angel Sanchez, 18 year old LHP, DSL - Angel is another kid that is all about projection. He is a 6′ 7″ lefty which is basically what got him on the list. He doesn’t throw hard yet, sitting mid-80’s last year, but he has plenty of room to grow weighing in at just 190 lbs when he signed. He already throws a good sinker which helped him get a ton of groundballs last year and he had a decent K rate despite the lack of velocity. The Pirates thought enough of him to give him a 6 figure bonus last April. If he can add a few MPH to his fastball, which shouldn’t be tough to do, and improve his control, he could have the start of a decent arsenal to go along with his curveball which is already a good pitch for him.
8. Ramses Pena, 18 year old SS, DSL - Pena was signed for $150k in 2009 and hit .224 in 44 games last year. He walked 27 times and was 14 for 18 in stolen base attempts, so there were some signs of success. He is a switch-hitter who is said to be very athletic and good enough to stay at SS as he progresses through the system. Early on this year he seems to be the regular shortstop.
9. Cristopher Richardson, 19 year old LHP, DSL - Richardson is a left-handed pitcher with a high strikeout rate who returns to the DSL for 2011. He had attended spring training in Bradenton but was returned for the time being. Last year he had some troubles, posted a high ERA but he struck out 47 in just 38 IP. He opened this year with four shutout innings. The Pirates signed Richardson as a reality show winner from the reality show “El Rookie” in the Dominican Republic, inking him for $80,000.
10. Jose Salazar, 16 year old SS, VSL - This one is just me going on a hunch as I have almost no info on him except a signing date. Salazar is the youngest player in the two leagues combined. He was part of the last July 2nd signing class, not eligible to be signed until July 11th of last year. He has good size already at 6′ 2″ and he is actually playing shortstop ahead of Dilson Herrera. He hasn’t done much yet although I do like the 5 walks in 11 games and they have batted him at the top of the lineup so he has a lot of signs pointing to the fact he’s a player to watch.
Other Players to Watch:
My additional player to watch is actually a large group of pitchers from the VSL. Since the end of last season the Pirates signed 9 pitchers and assigned them to the VSL roster. They are, in alphabetical order: Adolfo Flores, Alexander Gutierrez, Andres Mendoza, Jorge Mendoza, Andy Otamendi, Jesus Paredes, Luis Rico, Dan Urbina and Julio Vivas. Between them they are noticeably bigger than the average VSL pitchers of years past with only Flores, at 5′ 11″, under six feet tall. At just days past his 19th birthday, Andres Mendoza is the oldest among them and by a decent margin, over seven months between him and the next oldest. Three of them are taking regular turns in the rotation: Otamendi, Gutierrez and Vivas. While we don’t know much about them yet, it is a very positive sign to see that many young pitchers with decent size, all signed recently and pitching.