DSL Season Recap: Pirates Look Strong Up the Middle and at the Top of Their Rotation

The DSL Pirates went 34-36 this year, playing with an inexperienced team. Last year, the Pittsburgh Pirates had two affiliates in the DSL, so we had 70 players in all to cover in the season recap. Many of those players moved up to the United States this year to help fill out roster space due to the new Bristol affiliate. After eight DSL players were released back in May, that left the Pirates team filled with first year players and a lot of them struggled early on, especially the bullpen arms. Below, you will find a brief scouting report on every player with the team at the end of the year.

Before we start, there are four names to briefly mention. Yunelky Adames was recently released after playing four seasons in the league. He just turned 24 and didn’t do anything special at the plate this season, so it’s not a surprise that he was cut. Pitcher Jesus Perez was cut back in June after just one appearance. He struggled with the team last year during his limited time. Outfielder Rudy Guzman was supposed to be in the U.S. this year, but visa issues kept him in the DSL. He never played a game this year, spending his time recently practicing with the players that have signed since July 2nd. Finally, pitcher Leandro Rodriguez missed his second straight season, this year due to shoulder surgery. He was considered a prospect in 2012, but may have missed too much time at this point.

Siri and Valerio Make up Talented Middle Infield

Raul Siri was named the DSL All-Star game MVP

Raul Siri was named the DSL All-Star game MVP

On to the current players and we start with the three catchers on the team. Mikell Granberry saw the most playing time until he hurt his back in late July and missed three weeks. When healthy, the 19-year-old hit well in his rookie season, posting a .760 OPS. He showed strong improvements with his defense as the season went along and has a good ability to block pitches in the dirt. He needs some work on his throwing, but he shows a strong arm with a quick release.

Patrick Reyes got extra playing time when Granberry was out and Ramy Perez was hurt at the same time. Reyes is the best defensive catcher of the three Pirates in the DSL. As a fourth-year player, he finally started to show some skill at the plate, posting an OPS 143 points over his previous career best. Reyes will likely move up to the States next year due to his defensive value. Third-string catcher Ramy Perez didn’t hit at all in his second season. He is a 19-year-old, defense-first receiver with limited upside due his offense.

First base was mostly played by Adames, so we move on to second base, where Raul Siri had an outstanding season. He led the DSL with 25 doubles and he was named the All-Star game MVP. Siri is an interesting case because he signed when he was 18, but apparently waited to sign due to some injury issues. He is small at 5’9″, 175 pounds, so his size will always be in question. With injuries in his past, along with missing a week with a hand injury this year, that keeps him from being the top prospect on the team. He was still far and away the best player this year, finishing with a .324/.434/.521 slash line, drawing 41 walks, stealing 11 bases and hitting 34 extra-base hits. His defense is at least average, though some say it’s above average, as I got mixed answers from a survey of four people close to the team back in July.

Shortstop Adrian Valerio has been talked about all year, even before the season started, because he is that rare young shortstop that is almost guaranteed to stick at shortstop and provide Gold Glove caliber defense. The 17-year-old is a switch-hitter, that showed some power, but overall his season at the plate was average at best. He will go as far as his bat takes him, but his outstanding defense will give him every opportunity to reach his potential. Valerio hit much better from his natural right side, so he should see improvements in his overall stats with more reps as a lefty.

Third baseman Jhoan Herrera was supposed to be in the States this year, but an ankle injury derailed those plans. When his ankle healed, he was returned to the DSL, where he was able to play full-time. Herrera signed for a six-figure bonus and it was because of his advanced bat. He posted a .720 OPS in 31 games this year and finished very strong. Herrera is average at best at third base, so his bat will need to carry him. He seems like a strong candidate to return to the States next year.

Valerio is the best defensive player on the DSL Pirates

Valerio is the best defensive player on the DSL Pirates

Infielder Luis Perez looked good in his abbreviated playing time and saw more playing time as the season went along. He had a .302/.457/.340 slash line, with a 25:13 BB/K ratio and he was 11-for-12 in stolen base attempts. Perez fell just outside the top ten prospect list below due to his age (20) and he’s on the small side at 5’10″, 170 pounds. He didn’t show any power this year and while he played some shortstop, his position is second base due to his arm. That puts him behind Siri on the depth chart.

Johan De Jesus still has age going for him and he showed some improvements over his rookie season, but that first year was a disaster. He played shortstop his first year, then saw more action at third base this season because Adrian Valerio is a superior defensive player. De Jesus hit .204/.364/.257 this year and stole ten bases in 11 tries. When he signed for $200,000 on his 16th birthday (born 8/1/96), the scouting report was that he had no tools that stood out, but he had good contact skills at the plate, which was his main positive. Two years later, nothing really has stood out about him and he has 114 strikeouts in 359 at-bats, so he hasn’t made much contact either. He will still be 18 for almost all of next season and the Pirates really gave him a lot of playing time this year, so I wouldn’t write him off just yet.

Third-year infielder Jesus Ronco got the kiss of death for position players, getting used twice as a pitcher early in the season. He also missed time with an injury during the middle of the season. At 20 years old and being used as a bench player, he doesn’t have any upside.

Huascar Fuentes was supposed to get time in at first base, but he was injured almost the entire season with a broken wrist. At 22 years old (he signed last November), he doesn’t have much upside and didn’t get a chance to show the team anything this year.

High Upside Outfield

Left fielder Edison Lantigua established himself as the top prospect by showing great improvements at the plate as the season went along. The 17-year-old received a $275,000 bonus last year as one of the Pirates top July 2nd signings. He hit .299/.390/.433 in 47 games, with 12 doubles and five triples. Lantigua is an aggressive hitter that makes strong contact at the plate, hitting line drives to all parts of the field. He has good speed, which leads to above-average range in left field. He has average arm strength, though his throws are very accurate. There were also good reports about his baseball smarts, saying he doesn’t make many mistakes, which is great to see from such a young player.

Jeremias Portorreal was the top prospect coming into the season due the huge upside potential from his bat. As it turned out, his season was basically a disaster, with very few bright spots all season. He was the youngest player on the team, so it’s tough to get too down on him, but he is someone who had a great scouting report, so expectations were high. He’s going to have to hit, because Portorreal offers very little in the field and on the bases. He .529 OPS was only better than third-string catcher Ramy Perez among all Pirates hitters. He finished eighth in the DSL with 73 strikeouts, the highest total on the Pirates. Portorreal was given plenty of playing time, finishing fourth on the team in plate appearances and I’d expect him to be back in the DSL next year with better results.

Center fielder Victor Fernandez is easily the fastest player on this team and from the sound of it, he might be the fastest player in the organization. People I talked to said he had game-changing speed in the outfield and on the bases. Unfortunately, he injured his hamstring early in the year and that really limited his speed on the bases. The 19-year-old had an .867 OPS, showed some power and on-base skills, plus he stole 14 bases.

Sandy Santos displayed a lot of skills, stealing bases, racking up outfield assists and look strong at the plate at times. He’s a toolsy 6’3″, 20-year-old, who showed nice improvements over his rookie season. Santos was considered for the final spot in the top ten due to his tools and the playing time he received this year.

Eliezer Ramirez should see much more time next season

Eliezer Ramirez should see much more time next season

Young Eliezer Ramirez got a six-figure bonus, but very little playing time. He was considered raw when he signed and the only highlight he showed in his limited time was the ability to draw walks. That was actually good to see, because a young player seeing limited time might try too hard to impress. He should see much more playing time next year.

Rookie Felix Vinicio played 43 games and posted a .698 OPS. The 19-year-old made good contact, with a 19:16 BB/K ratio in 134 at-bats. Vinicio has a really quick bat, but not much else. He’s a small lefty, standing 5’10″, 175 pounds, and he didn’t have a single stolen base, so he needs to show more before he’s considered someone to watch. His arm is average at best and his range is limited due to his speed.

 Starting Pitching Looked Good This Year

The Pirates had three pitchers that really stood out this year and a fourth starter that quietly had a strong season. All-Star Yeudy Garcia, control specialist Richard Mitchell, hard-throwing Luis Escobar and DSL veteran Francis Rodriguez all had good showings this season. All four pitchers are righties and three of them made the top ten list below, while Rodriguez was considered for the last spot.

Garcia is the hardest thrower of the group, topping out at 95 MPH as a starter. He finished with a 2.43 ERA and 2.10 GO/AO ratio, plus led the team with 47 strikeouts. He will be interesting to watch going forward because this was his rookie season, though he is already a month shy of his 22nd birthday. Garcia has good size at 6’3″ and he has filled out a little since signing, easily exceeding his listed weight of 185 pounds.

Mitchell is probably the most familiar name, as he was listed as one of the top DSL prospects after the 2012 season. He throws 91 MPH and pounds the strike zone, embracing the “pitch to contact” teachings of the Pirates better than any pitcher in the DSL.  He throws a ton of first pitch strikes, works down in the zone and throws inside. Mitchell has a change-up that showed great improvements this year and his curve is at least an average offering. He led the team with 65 innings and that was due to keeping his pitch count low.

Garcia looked like a legit top prospect, but his age holds him back

Garcia looked like a legit top prospect, but his age holds him back

Escobar’s numbers don’t stand out, a 4.75 ERA and 31 walks in 55 innings, but he had one horrible start (10 ER in 1.2 IP) that really skewed his stats. He is also new to pitching, moving over from third base two years ago after his coach recommended the move. Escobar can hit 94 MPH and once he fills out and gets more experience, he could really break out. The Pirates signed him for $150,000 after following him for a while and noticing strong improvements, so they obviously see a lot in him with a bonus that high despite being raw. He missed his last two starts due to an appendectomy.

Rodriguez last year was described as a pitcher that relied heavily on off-speed pitches for success and didn’t have the stamina to start. He had better stamina this year, but still relied heavily on off-speed pitches, which could explain his success against younger hitters. Rodriguez is a very smart pitcher, who had great results this year and was able to throw 52.2 innings over 12 starts, posting a 2.91 ERA and 1.06 WHIP.

The other main starter was Nestor Oronel, a 17-year-old lefty from Venezuela that had a tough rookie season. It’s hard to believe he ended up with a 4.13 ERA because he had a .354 BAA, allowing 87 hits in 58.2 innings. Oronel throws high 80′s with sinking action to his fastball. He showed improvements as the year went along with his curve and his change-up had mixed results. He seems likely to be a starter again next year in the DSL.

The Pirates used six starters all season, with Jherson Esqueda getting four starts. He missed some time due to injury this year, then slowly built his way back in relief before moving into the rotation. Esqueda is a second-year player that looked good in limited time his rookie season. He throws mid-80′s, so he relies on his excellent command and a plus change-up. His brother Carlos Esqueda played four years with the VSL/DSL Pirates and then this year, he was on loan from the Pirates to a team in the Mexican League, along with pitcher Jovany Lopez.

The Bullpen Had It’s Issues

Armando Bustamante had a nice stretch in the middle of his rookie season, but during the start and finish he had control issues. The 18-year-old righty was getting extended looks in relief, but the Pirates scaled him back after a four inning outing and he finished poorly. Bustamante throws high-80′s with his fastball and his best pitch is his slider that sits high-70′s. With 36 innings pitched in relief, he seems like a candidate to move to the rotation next year, assuming his fastball command is good enough.

Bustamante looks like a potential starter next year

Bustamante looks like a potential starter next year

Edgar Santana seems like a filler, a 22-year-old(23 in October) that saw limited time in relief, with little success. He touches mid-90′s with his fastball and has a plus slider, so there is potential. He walked three batters in 19.2 innings, but none of his other stats were impressive.

Righty Julian Villamar had an 8.31 ERA and issued 29 walks in 26 innings at age 20, which is usually enough to write someone off. Hard to believe with those stats, but he actually had a nice six game stretch in which he threw 10.1 scoreless innings and was very tough to hit. He throws hard, but he can get very erratic at times, looking like a prospect at times, while other times it looks like it’s his first time pitching. It will be very tough to bounce back from this season, but he has the arm to do it.

Mister Luciano has a great baseball name and an arm to match, but his stats didn’t match the arm. The 18-year-old really struggled, but he should get another chance. He throws low-90′s with a hard-breaking curve and a change-up that is serviceable. He gave up too many runs, hits and walks, so his rookie season was a disappointment.

Cristian Mota is the only DSL player that moved up to the States mid-season. He’s a small lefty reliever, who is already 22 years old, but he can hit 95 MPH and has good command of his fastball, though he can get erratic at times. He needs work on his secondary pitches, so right now he isn’t much of a prospect, but hitting 95 from the left side should keep him around for awhile.

Luis Brun struggled with his command for a second season. He called a project last year and his stats were worse this season. He’s a small 19-year-old righty that is far from a prospect at this point.

Cesar Santos injured his hand early in the year on a collision during a bunt play. He missed the rest of the season, so his rookie year was basically lost. The 19-year-old lefty throws high 80′s and had some control issues during his limited time.

Ramon Garcia sits 90-91 MPH with a plus curve ball, but he needs to mature as a pitcher. He has issues with concentrating, getting off his game easy and he isn’t much of a fielder. He’s basically a raw pitcher with a great arm and plus curve. Garcia is a 22-year-old righty, who gets a lot of ground balls, but also gives up too many hits.

Second-year player Delvin Hiciano throws 93-94 MPH and showed improvements on all of his pitches as the season went along. He missed some time due to injury, but returned to finish strong. He will be 23 before next year starts and has thrown just 22.2 innings over two years, so he is really inexperienced for his age.

Edgardo Leon is an 18-year-old righty with good size at 6’3″, 190 pounds and room to fill out. He relies almost 100% on his fastball, which sits 87-88 MPH. His off-speed pitches need a lot of work and they were rarely used. He should add some velocity as he fills out.

The 19-year-old Alex Martinez is another 6’3″ righty, which almost seems like a prerequisite to sign with the Pirates. He had some control issues during his limited mound time, walking 12 batters in 17 innings. Martinez was throwing 94-95 MPH early in the season with no control. The Pirates gave him a new pitch and slowed him down so he had better control. Sometimes he resorts back to the hard-thrower, but he is learning to be a better pitcher.

Luylli Miranda is a small, 22-year-old lefty, who had great results in his third season. He pitches well under pressure, throwing a sinker that sits 87-88 MPH and he complements it with a change-up that rates as the best on the team.

The 17-year-old Raymond Rodriguez was the youngest pitcher on the team this year. The 6’1″ lefty made 17 appearances, threw 17.1 innings and allowed 19 walks. He threw mostly fastballs, sitting 90-91 MPH. Rodriguez worked on fastball command most of the year.

Eumir Sepulveda is an 18-year-old, 6’2″ righty, who struggled during his rookie season. In 21 innings over 14 appearances, he had a 7.29 ERA. He missed some time due to injury, looked good at times after he returned, but also had issues throwing strikes in other appearances. He has a chance to be a starter in the future.

Angel Vasquez saw limited time as a 20-year-old rookie due to an early season injury. When he returned, he was dominating, throwing all of his pitches for strikes, including an impressive 12-to-6 curve ball. He is a 6’1″ righty, who gave up one run over his last 11.1 innings.

Mikell Granberry made the top ten list due to his offense and improved defense

Mikell Granberry made the top ten list due to his offense and improved defense

Top Ten Prospects

1. Edison Lantigua, LF

2. Adrian Valerio, SS

3. Raul Siri, 2B

4. Jeremias Portorreal, RF

5. Luis Escobar, RHP

6. Richard Mitchell, RHP

7. Yeudy Garcia, RHP

8. Mikell Granberry, C

9. Jhoan Herrera, 3B

10. Victor Fernandez, CF

John Dreker

Author: John Dreker

John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.

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  • Cecil.

    John what do these kids do when their season is over? Is there an informal fall season, do they have their own fall instructional sessions, or are they just on their own, back with their families until spring? If so, how does the team keep informed as to their conditioning?

    • John Dreker

      They are all home now with workout programs to hold them over until early October when they return for the Dominican Fall Instructional League. Some of them will go to the States for the FIL, which begins in about two weeks. Many of them will play Winter ball somewhere(usually home country) and then return for Spring Training in April if they are staying in the DSL.

  • Kevin_Young

    Thanks for the great work John. That top 10 seems like a really impressive group

    • John Dreker

      We will have more on the list tomorrow afternoon and include some July 2nd signings

  • R Edwards

    Given his speed and how well he produced this year – despite the hamstring problem – I am surprised you had Victor Fernandez at #10?

    Also, Siri should be #1. The rest of the list looks about right.

    • John Dreker

      It’s a prospect list, not a season MVP award. It’s based on future potential and their chances to reach that potential

  • duckwoes

    Thanks for the reports John! I look forward to the Fall Instructs list, as that is usually an indicator of those players who are coming to the states next season