The 2011 VSL Pirates were again a strong offensive team this year, and for the 6th straight year they played in the VSL playoffs defending their 2010 title against the Rays team. They ended up losing the championship series two games to one, on a 7-2 loss yesterday.
Just like last year I will be splitting up the season wrap-up into two articles, one for the pitchers and one for the hitters.
From the 2010 season the VSL Pirates lost plenty of their regulars including Ashley Ponce, Jose Osuna and Francisco Aponte who have graduated to the states to play, and Jose Ortiz, their regular catcher, who has spent the season in the DSL. Two other full-time players from 2010, Luis Cardona and David Pino were released.
Despite the roster turnover the team managed to succeed in part due to newcomers Jose Salazar, Eduardo Rangel, Edgar Munoz and Dilson Herrera, a high priced signing from the 2010 July 2nd International class. Veterans of the league, Ulises Montilla, Jose Roman, Jordan Galvez and Kelly Aponte all had excellent seasons as the core of the offense.
Starting at catcher the Pirates went mostly with Rangel, an 18 year old playing in his first season. He hit .244 and needs to show progress in his plate patience as he walked 14 times while striking out 34 but he was used 50 times this season, a very high total for a team that plays just 72 games and had 4 other catchers.
Jose Lugo was used the most after Rangel. He is 21 years old and had played two years in the Dodgers system prior to joining the Pirates this year. Lugo has a great arm and is a good catcher but had a real tough time at the plate hitting just .051 which was only slightly worse than how he did last year. Carlos Marquez returned for a 2nd season as an 18 year old and hit .204 in limited time which was a step up from the .114 he hit last year.
Norman Elenes just turned 19 but was in his 3rd season in the VSL, all spent as a seldom used backup catcher. He has just 98 AB’s over that time and just 13 hits. He only showed up on the roster in mid-July and had previously been listed as released prior to that. Finally, the team signed 20 year old Tomas Morales in late July and he has played just 4 games. I’d expect Rangel to return to the team next year with Marquez and Morales as his likely backups. Lugo due to his age and Elenes due to his lack of use and poor batting would likely be cut although Lugo’s strong defense could keep him around to help with all of the young pitchers the VSL Pirates have on their roster.
First base was split by Jose Roman and Kelly Aponte, who both took turns at DH when not at 1B. Roman, a 20 year old lefty in his 2nd year with the team, had a great season. He finished 4th in the league in RBI’s with 46 and he batted .317 with 17 doubles. He showed a nice increase in his numbers, which were still pretty good last year. The one strong improvement he made was cutting down his strikeouts from 41 to 33 in 56 more AB’s. His major problem, which might hold him back in the future, is his struggles with lefties, who he batted just .175 off of in 40 AB’s.
Aponte is in his 4th and final season in the VSL and I’d expect him to make the jump to the states. He showed improvement in his plate patience and power. He is still just 20 as he was signed as a raw 16 year old in 2008 and rushed into the league. He also missed 50 games due to a PED suspension in 2009. At 6′ 5″ and 220 his a rare lefty power bat in the Pirates system. He led the team in homers with six and drew 34 walks which was six more than his previous 3 season combined.
Carlos Munoz a 5′ 11″ and 225 lb lefty who turned 17 in late June also played briefly with the team starting in July. He seems like a strong possibility to fill the 1B role next year although it looks like his weight will likely be the first thing he has to work on.
Ulises Montilla was signed as an outfielder last year but played most of the time at 2B this year splitting the position with Jordan Galvez. Montilla showed great plate discipline for a 2nd straight season but also added the power element to his game this year. He hit a team leading .364 which was 2nd highest in the league and he led the league with 21 doubles. I would expect him to make the jump to the states as he not only makes plenty of contact striking out just 17 times but its solid contact now and he also takes his share of walks.
Jordan Galvez played all over the place, mostly getting time in at 2B but he also added in all three outfield positions and both corner infield spots. He hit .309 last year as a rookie but didn’t show power and had a tough time running the bases. His 2011 season was basically more of the same (he hit .308) which makes his future difficult to figure out. Usually they don’t make utility fielders out of a 19 year old that hits over .300 twice, but it could be the role best suited for him since he seems to be a singles hitter with limited speed and/or baserunning skills. One odd stat with him is his 19 stolen base attempts (he was successful just 9 of 19 times) at home and just 4 attempts on the road. Hard to explain why there should be a huge difference like that when he was on base almost as many times on the road.
Jose Salazar was a pleasant surprise at SS this year. Supposedly Dilson Herrera was the big time SS signing of the off-season and you would’ve expected him to get the majority of the playing time there with no veterans in his way. Salazar was even younger than Herrera and wasn’t even eligible to sign a pro contract until July 11th last year, his 16th birthday. He played almost everyday including a team leading 41 games at SS in which he showed some very good fielding skills for a player of his age and experience. The offense wasn’t much to speak of as he hit just .222 with only 6 extra base hits but he wasn’t overmatched as he struck out just 26 times and took 17 walks. Again, for a player at his age who signed totally under the radar he had a fairly impressive season. He should return to the VSL next year and should stick at shortstop.
Dilson Herrera was the big name addition to the team. He signed for $220k last August as a 16 year old shortstop out of Colombia. He ended up playing mostly 3B with some time at 2B but never actually played SS. He lived up to the hype with his hitting but his fielding for the most part was subpar as he committed a team high 26 errors. Dilson played 65 games and hit .308 with impressive totals in doubles with 19, 2nd most in the VSL, stolen bases with 16, walks with 32 and runs scored with 42 which led the team. His bat seems good enough to get him to the states next year at age 18 but his glovework might hold him back.
Carlos Esqueda returned to the VSL in 2011 despite hitting .342 last year. The reasons were that he didn’t hit for any power, and at 5′ 8″ and 135 it is doubtful that he ever will. He also didn’t take walks and wasn’t a great base runner. He showed improvements across the board in the areas that needed work as he went from 8 walks and 8 extra base hits last year (all doubles) to 20 walks and 10 extra base hits in the first 18 games he played. Things looked great for Esqueda until the 2nd game of a doubleheader on June 6th when he fractured his ankle on a play at home plate ending his terrific season.
Bealyn Chourio was another young infielder signed for this season. At age 17 the switch-hitter had his struggles at the plate like Jose Salazar but didn’t play as much serving primarily as the backup to Salazar. He hit just .205 and was successful on just 2 of his 10 stolen base attempts but played good defense and he should definitely be back next year.
Carlos Gimenez looks like a roster filler. He played every infield position and both corner outfield spots but at age 21 with very little success and three years of experience in foreign ball (2 years with the DSL Braves) he probably won’t be around next year unless they need him to fill a spot like this year.
Edgar Munoz was the biggest surprise on this team. He was quietly added to the roster just as the season was beginning. He does have some flaws, most notably, not signing a pro contract until he was 19 and the fact he is just 5′ 8″ and 150 lbs. That didn’t stop him from impressing by hitting .360 which was the 4th highest total in the league. The switch hitter walked 23 times while striking out just 14 times and he hit over .300 from both sides of the plate. He liked to run, evident by his 35 stolen base attempts but he was successful just 20 times. He also hit over .300 in all 4 months of the VSL season, from May to August.
Luis Sucre last year hit just .198 but got a decent amount of playing time as an 18 year old. This year he got even more time and slightly improved hitting .228 with 10 doubles and 23 walks. He led all Pirates outfielders in assists but also led them all in errors with 6 apiece. He also led the team in strikeouts despite having just the 9th most AB’s on the team.
Anthony Claudio is an 18 year old 1st year outfielder signed just prior to this season. He struggled the entire year hitting just .164 in 24 games and was used sparingly as the season progressed often pinch running or playing the last couple innings. When he did start he put up a 4 strikeout game on July 27th and then batted just three times after that.
Manuel Moreno had a disappointing season. Signed last year during the season he impressed enough to be invited to the Fall Instructional League in Bradenton after hitting .286 as an 18 year old rookie. He missed most of this season, finally starting to play in late June and he never got on track hitting just .177 in 30 games. You would have to think the team likes him enough to bring him back but it is doubtful he goes back to Bradenton this year unless it is to make up for lost time.
Finally, Alexis Salazar hit just .176 in 15 games and was recently released. The 20 year old outfielder was in his 3rd season in the VSL, first with the Pirates. Continue to Part Two: The VSL Pitchers.