First Pitch: The Importance of the International Rookie Leagues to the Pirates

Earlier today, John Dreker released his 2014 DSL Pirates preview, complete with a ranking of the top players to follow in the international rookie leagues.

The DSL is for hardcore prospect followers. A majority of those players won’t make it to the US, and out of the guys who do make it stateside, only a handful will make it to an upper level. The odds are small for success, but when there is a success story, it can be huge. If you need me to tell you this, then you haven’t been paying attention to all of the hype surrounding Gregory Polanco, who played in the DSL in 2009 at the age of 17.

Polanco looks like a future star, which isn’t a fair expectation you should have for any young prospect. He’s not the only prospect the Pirates have developed recently from the international rookie leagues. Starling Marte, Alen Hanson, and Joely Rodriguez are all currently on the 40-man roster, and they are all either currently in the majors, or have the upside to play key roles in the majors.

Max Fogle wrote an article today, comparing the makeup of the Pirates’ system with the average MLB team. The results showed that the Pirates have more international prospects in their top 20 than the average team. That’s not a big surprise, considering the success that the Pirates have had in the international market.

The success the Pirates have had, ranging from Polanco to the best guys in the next wave of international prospects, is due to the scouting of Rene Gayo and his entire team. Their approach is extremely thorough, going to areas where teams don’t usually scout, and unearthing talent in areas where you don’t usually find talent.

The result of this approach is that the Pirates land top prospects for minimal prices. Polanco, Marte, Hanson, and Rodriguez combined to cost $380,000. Even some of the more expensive prospects, like Colombian outfielder Harold Ramirez, came at a value. Ramirez cost $1.05 M, which was low at a time when top guys received $2-3 M or more. Teams were down on Ramirez because he didn’t fit a specific mold. The Pirates thought he could do enough things well to eventually be a starter somewhere, and justify the money they spent.

A few years later, he’s starting to prove them right, and the rest of baseball is seeing what they saw. Ramirez was named the top prospect in the NYPL last year, and just finished the month of May with a .286/.374/.364 line in West Virginia. He turns 20 in September, and still has plenty of time for his power to kick in. Until then, his ability to hit for average, plus his advanced plate patience, makes him a solid prospect. He could eventually make that signing bonus look like a value.

The good thing about this approach for the Pirates is that it is CBA-proof. The latest Collective Bargaining Agreement restricted the spending for every team in baseball, based on their record the previous year. The Pirates have a low-budget for signing prospects this year, due to their winning season in 2013. Even when they finished middle of the pack and drafted 14th overall last year, their budget was lower than the $3 M a year before the new CBA. The benefit the Pirates have is that they don’t need a ton of money to be successful internationally. They’ve shown the ability to get value signings, and a restriction on spending won’t change that much.

With almost every international player, the career with the Pirates starts in the DSL. I’m looking forward to a few of the guys John featured in his top prospect list. The guy who really stands out to me is Adrian Valerio. Every report I get on him says his defense is amazing. Some reports have said he’s the best defensive shortstop in the system — not just the minors, but the majors too. Until I personally see him, I’d still give that honor to Gift Ngoepe. But I’ve heard reports on his defense from enough people, that it seems legit that he’s good. So if he can show some potential with the bat, that would be an exciting prospect to follow.

The Pirates tend to focus on hitters more than pitchers on the international side. They’ve got a lot of high upside guys in the DSL this year. That’s probably going to lead to more top prospects like Hanson and Ramirez down the line. And if they’re lucky, there will be another Gregory Polanco in there.

Links and Notes

Prospects

**2014 DSL Pirates Preview: Another Wave Of High Upside Offensive Talent

**Prospect Watch: Nick Kingham Finishes Up Solid May With Another Good Outing

**Minor League Schedule: Tough Start to Season For Cody Dickson

**Minor Moves: Brent Morel to Disabled List, Rojas Move Official

**Comparing the Makeup of the Pirates System to the MLB Averages

**Prospect Highlights: RBI Hits From Gregory Polanco, Tony Sanchez and Jaff Decker

2014 Draft

**Draft Prospect Watch: Big Opener For Kyle Schwarber, Tyler Beede Strikes Out 14

**Second Mock Draft From Jonathan Mayo Has College First Baseman For Pirates

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • emjayinTN

    The Pirates made a great investment in their future with the facility in the DR, and it will pay dividends well into the future. There is a lot of very young talent moving through the system. Marte is the first, and very shortly, Gregory Polanco will join the Pirates. At one time it was a toss-up of whether Alen Hanson or Polanco would make it there first, but Polanco has continued to get better while Hanson has reached a level where he has shown the ability to hit, but really needs some help on the defensive side of the ball. He is young at 21, but I think a move to AAA would benefit him to be surrounded by more mature players. That will be it for awhile for position players, and I really cannot see a SP breaking through into the Rotation in the near future.

    Starling Marte posted some excellent numbers last year, but seems to have reached a point where he looks overmatched lately. A look at the last 10 games shows a .139 batting average, and his overall average has dropped to .246. He needs to come out of this because this team needs that .280 kid with the 12 HR’s back if we are going to challenge for a Wild Card. And that catch/no catch play last night was not typical of Marte on defense, and opened the doors to a big inning.

    • emjayinTN

      BTW, with Gorzo doing well in his rehab assignment in AAA, it will probably not be long before the Brewers end their experiment with Wei Chung Wang, who is carrying an ERA of 13.50.

      • silversalmon586

        They (Brewers) seem really high on him – ranked in their top 15 prospects already. Henderson had a minor setback so that might slow things down too… I hope you’re right but even if they “send” him back he has to clear the rest of the teams (ex. the Cubs could pick him up and stash him before he officially comes back to PB – didn’t know that but researched it and it’s true – not sure how many times it’s happened). Concern is if he makes it all year it’s a lost year for him and several for his confidence. not a big fan of the rule 5…

        • Lee Young

          ‘not a big fan of the rule 5′

          esp one that was made available via a technicality.

        • Andrew

          I fairly certain that Wei Chung Wang likes the Rule Five draft.

    • Lee Young

      I was down on Marte coming into this year, because of his unsustainable BABIP vs LHPs last year.

      If he doesn’t learn to be a more disciplined hitter, he may become displaced in LF.