The Pirates had two teams in the Dominican Summer League that played well and their starting pitching carried them all season. They had a group of eight pitchers between their two rotations, that all had excellent seasons. Possibly the most impressive part is that two of their top starters went down early in the season, so with those two players includes in the conversation, they could have filled every spot with a good starter.
Even with some poor pitching out of the bullpen, both Pirates teams finished in the top half of most team pitching categories. They teach their pitchers to throw down and inside, pitching to contact for easy outs, rather than running up pitch counts going for strikeouts. The group of starters took well to the teaching methods and during the season they had numerous outings in which the pitchers threw their maximum of five innings and allowed no earned runs. As mentioned in the DSL hitters recap, most of the top prospects are on the hitting side, but they have a large group of good arms that can already pitch, so you hope for a handful of prospects to emerge from that group.
Below are the stats from each pitcher in the DSL, broken down by age groups. The first age group is where you’ll find the majority of prospects. The second group can include prospects, but these guys are getting closer to being too old for the level. They need to make the jump to the US next year to preserve their prospect status, and ideally start to move quickly through the lower levels of the system. The final group is mostly organizational depth. A breakdown of each group can be found below.
Complete DSL Coverage
18 and Under
This group is led by two first year players that combined for a 9-0 record during the regular season. Dario Agrazal Jr made the All-Star team thanks to a fast start. He finished up 6-0 in his rookie season, keeping his team in every game he started and was consistent throughout the season. He can hit 91 MPH and really pitched well to contact with low walks and strikeout totals. After the All-Star break, he had a 2.28 ERA and held batters to a .209 BAA
Lefty Jose Batista wasn’t a starter at the beginning of the year, he pitched in relief and didn’t do so well. In ten starts, he posted a 1.42 ERA and had a strong ground ball rate, along with a decent strikeout rate. He made huge strides from the pre-season until the end of the season. He was wild early, but he really took the Pirates method of pitching inside and keeping the ball down. Late in the year, he was pounding the lower inside of the strike zone and getting excellent results with a fastball that sat 87 MPH, touching 89. He is still very young and has room to fill out and add velocity, which would really put him on the prospect map.
Hector Garcia is a very young lefty that pitched 41.1 innings out of the bullpen with strong results. He has good control over a nice fastball, but needs to work more on the command of his secondary stuff. At his age, that is to be expected. He seems like the type to move into a starting role in the DSL next year.
Richard Mitchell pitched strictly in relief this year. The Pirates really like his potential, but for this year, he was on a strict pitch limit of 3 IP or 48 pitches. He got in 38 innings and pitched well at times, holding batters to a .209 BAA. Other times he struggled with command, which limited his mound time. He can hit 91 MPH with his fastball and has good separation between that and his change-up, which is a strong offering that sits 79-80 MPH. Mitchell also throws a curve that is slightly slower than his change.
Jherson Esqueda is a young righty, the brother of DSL infielder Carlos Esqueda. Jherson saw limited mound time this year, showing good control, a nice ground ball rate and he was tough to hit. He was shutdown in July with a tired arm and did not return. Remy De Aza got injured in his first start, then after rest and rehab, he tried to pitch and struggled. It was a lost rookie season for the young righty, who has youth and a big frame on his side. Luis Brun saw very limited time spread out through the whole season. He is raw, with control issues. At this point, he is a project and is on the small side for a pitcher.
Among this group, Julio Vivas is probably the best prospect, though there were other pitchers with better overall numbers. Vivas is a righty with good size, who was consistent all season, finishing strong with three straight shutout appearances. He has excellent control and keeps the ball on the ground, allowing just one homer over three years in the DSL. Vivas did have two splits that might be concerning. He handled right-handed batters well, but lefties hit .304 against him. He also pitched much better at home this year, posting an 0.75 ERA, as opposed to 3.26 on the road, which still isn’t bad. He seems like a strong candidate to move to the States for Fall ball.
Eduardo Vera put up stats similar to Vivas and he also has good size at 6’3″, but he hasn’t filled out like Vivas has already. He started full-time after making four starts and 12 relief appearances last year. Vera showed better control this season, got more grounders and was harder to hit, making it a successful season for the righty, who turned 19 in early July.
Not far behind those two was Ramon Rodriguez, another righty with good size and great stats this year. It was a breakout year for Rodriguez, who didn’t look so good during his first two seasons in the DSL. The big improvement with him came with the BAA, which was .314 last year, but dropped down to .243 this season. He relied heavily on strikeouts his first two years, while this year he embraced the quick outs method of the Pirates. That could mean good things for Rodriguez, because he has shown in the past, he has the ability to pick up a lot of strikeouts when needed.
Omar Basulto put up great stats for a second year in a row. Last year he saw extended time as a reliever, while this season he was in the starting role. He has good size at 6’3″ and he is a lefty, so that would seem like he is a top prospect. From the reports I heard, he throws mid-80′s, occasionally touching 89 MPH and he relies heavily on a good change-up to get outs. He has the command and secondary pitches to move up, but soft-tossing lefties with advanced breaking balls usually look good at the lower levels before hitting a wall. If he can add velocity, that would help his chances. He will be in the Fall Instructional League this year.
Jandy Vasquez made 14 starts as a rookie and the team stuck with him through struggles. His numbers don’t tell the whole story. He has good size and nice fastball, but he loses his control easily. With better fastball command and more experience, he could develop into a prospect quickly.
Francis Rodriguez started seven times this year, mostly early on, and did not do well. He switched to the long relief role and everything clicked for him. In 26 innings over eight appearances out of the bullpen, he had a 1.38 ERA. Overall, Rodriguez showed excellent improvements over his 2012 rookie season. He relies heavily on off-speed pitches and doesn’t have the arm strength yet to make it as a starter.
Dan Urbina started the year off strong in the rotation, but injured his shoulder in his fifth start and missed the rest of the year. His dad is the pitching coach for the Pirates in the DSL. Urbina was breaking out too, showing a nice 90-91 MPH fastball, with good arm action on his change and curve that hides his off-speed stuff well, making it tough for batters to pick up.
Marcus Beltrez was dominant out of the bullpen, finishing strong with 22 straight shutout innings. He was tough to hit, had a strong strikeout rate and lefties had a lot of difficulties with the southpaw. Despite pitching only in relief, he still had 41.2 innings pitched. Due to his age, he could move up instead of sticking around and getting more innings as a starter.
Two lefty relievers had some success this year, Horelbin Ramos and Jesus Paredes. Ramos was a rookie this year and had a strong start and finish to the season. In July, he had a few rough outings, but recovered nicely. He could be an excellent candidate to step into the rotation next year. Paredes is a reliable reliever, but likely not much more. In his third season this year, he doesn’t get many ground balls and has control issues at times.
Jesus Perez injured him arm after just a few games and missed the rest of the year. Alexander Gutierrez struggled with control for the third season in a row and saw limited time. Gerardo Navarro saw decent time on the mound as a rookie despite major control issues. He has some potential and really looked good at times, including four no-hit innings in mid-August against the Phillies.
Leandro Rodriguez was signed for $80,000 in February of 2011, but had contract approval delays despite pitching in the Dominican Prospect League, an age verified league. He didn’t play until last year and looked good in ten starts and three relief outings. This season however was lost due to injury. He never took the mound during the regular season
A final player of note is Jorge Mendoza not listed above, a 19-year-old with two prior seasons of experience. His missed the entire season with an injury.
Ages 21 and Up
The gem of this group could be Christian Henriquez, a lefty that began the year in the bullpen and looked good, then moved to the starting role and looked even better. He has excellent control and has given up just two homers in three seasons, none this year. In six of his nine starts this year, he threw five shutout innings.
If Henriquez isn’t the best prospect in this group, then Jose Regalado is that guy. He showed unbelievable control this year, issuing four walks in 69.1 innings, with two of those walks coming in his last start. Not only does he not walk batters, Regalado also held hitters to a .227 BAA and put up a strong strikeout rate. He pitched well last year, but showed strong improvements this year, with one person I talked to calling him the best Pirates pitcher in the DSL right now. Both he and Henriquez seem like sure bets to be in the States for the Fall Instructional League.
Arquimedes Lorenzo is a fourth year player that was highly thought of when the Pirates signed him. He was called raw and he showed that in 2010, then was suspended for failing a drug test the next season, so it was a lost year. He came back last season and pitched well, then showed some improvements this year. He will probably make the jump to the States.
Christopher De Leon looked good for three seasons in the DSL and never got the call to the States. This year, he moved to the bullpen and saw limited mound time. While the results were just okay, I heard favorable reports on him. Since he is a fourth year player, the lack of regular use indicates that he could be done.
Carlos Ruiz is a submarine pitcher, with experience closing and lots of success in four seasons split between the DSL and VSL. The fact that he stayed four years isn’t a good sign, but he could get a chance to come to the States anyway. Miguel Ferreras has good size at 6’5″ and he has filled out. He also missed a lot of time with injury, but he was likely the worst starter they used regularly this year, and at his age, that isn’t a good sign.
Other players of note are, Delvin Hiciano, who failed a drug test in late July and was suspended by Major League Baseball. There is a chance that he won’t be back. Oscar Calderin is a fourth year player that missed most of the year with an injury. His career is likely over. Jonathan Minier didn’t join the team until he was 23-years-old and saw limited time, while Edgar Martinez and Adderly Ceballo each were experienced players added to pick up innings and fill out the roster. Brayan Almonte is another fourth year player who is likely done. At 6’7″, the Pirates stuck with him and even gave him a shot in the GCL, but he had major control issues the whole time.
Finally, two players of note not listed above. Yunior Montero has been trying to sign with the Pirates since 2010, but keeps running into identity issues. It looked like he was going to pitch this year, the third time the Pirates signed him, but he hit a snag again and couldn’t play. He is a very talented pitcher, who they would still like to get out on the mound, but his time is slipping away. Then there is Adolfo Flores, who had some personal issues and has never pitched since signing in 2011 for a $100,000 bonus. It isn’t known now if he will be back or not, but the Pirates would like to get him back if possible because he can hit 96 MPH with his fastball.