The GCL Pirates are very much about projection this year. The team is made up of a lot of international players making the jump to the US, and a lot of young draft picks. On the pitching side, the Pirates feature their usual assortment of high school pitchers with projectable arms. On the hitting side, there are a lot of potential breakout candidates. The big story this year will be Stetson Allie, who is converting to a hitting prospect, and starting his hitting career in the GCL, playing third base and serving as the designated hitter.
A lot of the prospects at this level are hard to project for the long-term, even with general projections such as a possible ceiling. There’s a lot of upside, and a lot of players have the chance to be this year’s Alen Hanson — as in candidates who could be a breakout prospect in the system as early as next year. However, picking the actual breakout prospects pre-season might as well be done by pointing at a list of projectable players with a blindfold on. So here’s the breakdown of who will start the season with the GCL Pirates. Throughout the year more players will be added to the team as draft picks sign — specifically the prep players that sign out of the draft.
In the lower levels, there aren’t really set positions like there are in the upper levels. You’ll see a lot of players moving around, and maybe 5-6 players playing one position throughout the course of the short season. Typically I list a starting lineup in my previews. But in this case, I’ll just profile each position.
Catcher - Wyatt Mathisen will get most of the playing time behind the plate. The 2012 second round pick is the top prospect at the level, and profiles as a possible two-way catching prospect down the line. Jin De Jhang should serve as the backup. He’s got a strong arm, and is surprisingly fast for his thick build.
First Base - International hitters Jesus Vasquez and Edwin Espinal should get the bulk of the playing time here. Vasquez hit for some power last year in the DSL with a .572 slugging percentage. Espinal has a huge frame, earning him the nickname “Tank”. He’s got a strong arm, and should get time at third base, although his big frame and lack of range profiles him more for first base. Dylan Child should also get some time here, as well as other spots on the infield.
Second Base/Shortstop - Dilson Herrera and Jorge Bishop should get most of the time at these two spots. Herrera is the top prospect, getting a $220 K bonus from the Pirates in August 2010. Herrera hit for a .308/.413/.472 line in the DSL last year. Bishop moved up to State College at the start of last season, but struggled and was moved back down to the GCL mid-season. He’s been passed up by a lot of middle infield prospects coming out of the international ranks since then. 2012 8th round pick Kevin Ross should get some time here if/when he signs.
Third Base - Stetson Allie will get his playing time here, but will also spend time as the designated hitter. When Allie isn’t playing third base, Edwin Espinal figures to get some playing time. Espinal should also get some time as the DH, in addition to first base and third base. 2012 6th round pick Eric Wood should also get some time here.
There’s a lot of interesting prospects here. Stetson Allie’s transition to a position player will be interesting to watch. The upside of international guys like Herrera, Espinal, and Vasquez will be an interesting follow. Then watching the debut of Mathisen will also be intriguing. These guys are too far off to give accurate projections of what they could become, although they all have good tools.
The outfield features the top two international signings from the 2011 signing period. Harold Ramirez ($1.05 M) and Elvis Escobar ($570 K) will both skip past the international leagues and move straight to the GCL, which is an aggressive move for two 17-year-old hitters. However, both have the tools to handle the aggressive promotions. They both have good bat speed, with line drive strokes. They both profile as center fielders with speed, although there are questions about how much power they will each hit for. If you’re looking for candidates to become the next Alen Hanson, it could be one of these two guys.
Candon Myles is a speedy outfielder who is very aggressive on the base paths. He was drafted last year in the 12th round.
Luis Urena and Gavi Nivar are both similar outfielders. They both have very athletic bodies, and are potential five tool talents, but haven’t had success on the field. Urena is the guy to watch, considering that at 19, he’s three years younger than Nivar, and still age appropriate for the GCL. He looks like a young Derrek Lee with his build, and if you didn’t know any better, and just saw him in person, you’d think he was a major leaguer. Whether he can start putting up results this year will be one of the many things to watch from the GCL offense.
The Pirates have placed a big focus on young pitchers, so it’s no surprise that the rotation would be full of interesting prospects. The starting rotation, in order of how they will open the season, is as follows.
Colten Brewer, Tyler Glasnow, Dovydas Neverauskas, Cesar Lopez, Axel Diaz, Jon Sandfort
The GCL is unlike other levels. Very few pitchers for the GCL Pirates remain as regular starters. Last year only three pitchers had more than five starts, and only one pitcher (Luis Heredia) had more than ten starts.
The guys who figure to get the most time are 2011 draft picks Colten Brewer and Tyler Glasnow, and 2012 third round pick Jon Sandfort. All three are your typical projectable right handers. Brewer is 6′ 4″, 200 pounds, and tops out at 93 MPH with a sinking fastball, mostly working in the 87-91 MPH range. Glasnow may be the most intriguing pitching prospect at the level, with a huge 6′ 7″, 195 pound frame. The right-hander has a very easy delivery, and tops out at 93 MPH. Sandfort is 6′ 6″, 205 pounds and throws 88-91 MPH, touching 94 in the past.
The other guys on this list are international players. Lopez is the highest profile, getting a $600 K bonus to sign out of Cuba in 2010. Lopez has touched 94 MPH in the past with his fastball, but struggles with his command, and mostly works around 90 MPH as a starter.
Dovydas Neverauskas has an interesting background, coming out of Lithania. The 6′ 3″, 175 pound right hander has a projectable frame, and can throw hard for a 19 year old with his background, sitting in the low 90s and touching 94. He mostly played tournament play in Lithuania, so the past two years have been about getting him adjusted to throwing every day, and pitching every five days.
Axel Diaz made his debut with the DSL Pirates in mid-July last year at the age of 20. He was moved to the US after a combined one inning of work, and will get time in the rotation, showing that the Pirates think highly of him, despite the late start in the international leagues.
The bullpen is as follows.
Isaac Sanchez, Andy Otamendi, Jackson Lodge, Bryton Trepagnier, Luis Campos, Roberto Espinosa, Aneudy Merejo, Wilson Lee, David Jagoditsh, Martires Cadet, Alex Lukashevich, Yhonathan Herrand
Typically relievers in the lower levels aren’t strong prospects. That is especially true in the Gulf Coast League.
The top guy to watch is Herrand. He’s a hard thrower who has touched 97-98 MPH in the past. However, he lacks control of his pitches. If he could add some control, he’d be a dangerous reliever, or might have a shot at moving back to the starting rotation. David Jagoditsh is also a hard thrower, getting the ball in the mid-90s at times in shorter outings.