The first full week of the Dominican Summer League season is in the books and the Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate is off to a 1-6 start. As I pointed out in the season preview, the team seemed to be loaded with offense and there wasn’t much pitching to talk about. So far, that has been the case, because the pitching has allowed 68 runs and the offense has scored nearly seven runs a game. What I didn’t know when I gathered all my information, is that the Pirates planned on sending two of the better offensive players to Bradenton, so that hurt the overall offense of the club. Obviously that is a good sign though, as it means two top players were ready to move on to a higher level.
Third baseman Julio de la Cruz, who signed for $700,000 in 2012, and catcher Yoel Gonzalez, who signed for $350,000 the same year, were both promoted to the States. I ranked them 2nd and 3rd in the top ten DSL Pirates prospect list in the preview, so the offense took a major hit with them gone. There are still plenty of interesting players left for the Pirates, but the team is very young now, so expect there to be more growing pains.
Despite having just one win, the Pirates had two brilliant pitching performances in the first week. The players who threw those games are very different though. Richard Mitchell started it off with a one-hitter on Wednesday, throwing five shutout innings, with one walk and four strikeouts. The next day, Francis Rodriguez also threw a one-hitter over five inning, doing it with no walks and eight strikeouts. The difference between the two is that Mitchell is age appropriate for the league, 32 months younger than Rodriguez. So while the latter put up better numbers, the outing by Mitchell ranks as the most impressive game.
Other than those two pitchers, the rest of the staff has been downright awful, with 68 runs allowed in 56.1 innings. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anyone else of note because one of the new young guns has had a rough start to his career. Luis Escobar is a hard-throwing righty from Colombia, who got the Opening Day nod one day after he turned 18 years old. He also got in a second start on Friday and the results weren’t good in either game. He can hit 94 MPH and sits low-90’s, with excellent command and good off-speed pitches, so I’d expect him to turn things around soon.
While picking the top prospect for this team, I had a hard time deciding between Jeremias Portorreal or de la Cruz, but based on Spring Training reports I got from the Dominican, I went with Portorreal, who is now the obvious choice with de la Cruz leaving. At 16 years old, he is the youngest player on the team and will play a majority of this season before he turns seventeen in early August. Portorreal was one of the top three signings for the Pirates last year from the July 2nd signing period. He homered in his first game, then had two hits yesterday, but in between didn’t do much. Portorreal is hitting .238/.385/.381 through 21 at-bats.
Edison Lantigua was another big bonus player from last July 2nd. The 17-year-old lefty/lefty outfielder went 4-for-17, with two doubles, four walks and a stolen base.
Slick-fielding shortstop Adrian Valerio could possibly be the fastest of this group to make the majors, or he could be a total bust. His glove is well ahead of any shortstops in the low levels of the Pirates system and only Gift Ngoepe might be a better defensive player. It’s the bat that will decide the fate of the 17-year-old switch-hitter. He’s been hitting in the second spot in the lineup and playing everyday, so he’s getting his chances early to improve on his weakness. The results so far have been pretty bad with a .148/.167/.185 line in 27 at-bats. If he shows any life with the bat at all, I’d expect to see him in the GCL next year playing everyday because he has all the makings of a special defensive shortstop.
Some other names of notes from the first week include:
Johan De Jesus, who signed for six figures in 2012, has looked good early. He has a .286 average, with six walks and two stolen bases. He had a horrible season last year on defense at shortstop and on offense, but he is still only 17 years old and sometimes players take a year to adjust to the DSL.
Victor Fernandez is supposedly one of the fastest players in baseball. One person close to the team told me they have never seen anyone run as fast as he does. He’s playing center field, hitting .450 with six extra base hits and he has four stolen bases. He’s 19 already and this is his first season in pro ball, so that is a little old to sign, but early on it looks like he has a chance to be special, especially if he hits enough to use that game-changing speed.
Second baseman Raul Siri is another player that started off strong. He’s hitting .452 with four doubles, two triples and four walks. When he signed, there wasn’t much said about him and he is small at 5’9″, 175 pounds, plus he is nineteen. Going on all that stuff, he probably isn’t a prospect and wasn’t mentioned to me when I did my preview. That being said, the early results look great.
When I did the season preview, I wondered how the Pirates would split catching time between Yoel Gonzalez and Mikell Granberry, who has the chance to be an overall strong player behind the plate. With Gonzalez gone, things cleared up a little it seemed. Now it looks like Granberry probably needs a little more seasoning, because he’s only caught two games. At the plate, he had two totally different games, collecting three hits in one game and striking out three times in the other. I’m going to guess that you’ll probably see his playing time increase as the season goes along, because the other two catchers on the roster look like non-prospects.