The 2010 GCL Pirates wrapped up their season on Saturday with a 4-1 win over the GCL Blue Jays, finishing with a 29-30 record. The 2010 season featured a lot of young prep players from the 2009 and 2010 draft classes, along with several international players making the jump to the United States from the Dominican and Venezuelan Summer Leagues.
The 2010 Gulf Coast League hitters from all teams combined for a league average line of .247/.321/.349. That line is important to note when weighing hitters in this league, as a .270 average is pretty strong, and an average around .300 is very significant. The Pirates as a team were around league average, with a combined .242/.319/.353 line.
Junior Sosa finished eighth in the league in batting average, with a .296 average, while Kevin Mort and Eric Avila finished in the top 15. Sosa and Exicardo Cayonez finished 7th and 9th respectively in the league in on-base percentage, with Mort finishing 11th. Avila finished fifth in the league in slugging percentage, while Jorge Bishop finished 12th. Avila tied for the league lead in homers with seven, although he had 33 more at-bats than the player he tied with. Avila was also one behind the league lead in doubles with 15.
Here are the stats for everyone who played at the level in 2010, broken down by age group. It’s important to note that stats at this level should be taken with a grain of salt. I mentioned above the league averages, but it’s also important to consider that this is the bottom of the minors. Any prospect, regardless of the talent level, is a long ways away from the majors. At this point, tools are more important than numbers. Also keep in mind that the pitchers are mostly working on fastball command. This will lead to low walk rates, and a higher WHIP due to an increased amount of balls put in to play, as the pitchers are only focused on pitching to contact and throwing in the strike zone.
In 2009, the GCL Pirates had 18 players in the 19 and under range, and seven of those players were selected in the 2009 draft. The amount of young talented added to the organization is displayed at this level, with 24 players at the age of 19 and under spending time at the level this year. Eight of those players came through the 2010 draft, while the majority of players graduated from the international levels last year.
On the pitching side, the season started with Colton Cain as the most promising starter, although Cain quickly graduated to State College. Throughout the season pitchers were added from the 2010 draft, with young arms like Bryton Trepagnier, Kevin Kleis, and Vincent Payne impressing in a significant amount of innings. Other young arms from the 2010 draft class made their debut, but only pitched in a few innings.
The hitting side had most of the international talent, like Exicardo Cayonez, Jorge Bishop, Junior Sosa, and Gregory Polanco. There were a few international arms who were impressive, like Joely Rodriguez and Emmanuel De Leon. There were also two draft picks on the hitting side, with 2009 10th round pick Joey Schoenfeld showing some promise behind the plate, and 2010 23rd round pick Jared Lakind making his debut and showing his power potential with a double and a homer in 14 at-bats.
This group represents the average age for the level, which means in order for a player to be a legit prospect, their numbers have to be significant. The best player on the hitting side was Eric Avila. His biggest asset was his power, with a .472 SLG and seven homers in 195 at-bats in his jump to the US. Wes Freeman was a disappointment, with 35 strikeouts in 75 at-bats in his second run in the GCL, after being demoted from West Virginia. Dan Grovatt made his debut, but only had 11 at-bats at the end of the season.
The pitching side showed some promising arms, with a lot of those arms coming from the international ranks. One of my favorites was Fraylin Campos, who had one of the best strikeout ratios on the team. Barrett Phillips, an undrafted free agent from the 2009 draft class, was impressive in his first season as a pro. Pirates Prospects interviewed Barrett on his 2010 season and his decision to sign with the Pirates. This group also featured Trent Stevenson, who played briefly at the start of the season before moving up to State College for the rest of the year.
There weren’t many guys in this group, which is good, as this is where you usually find the organizational depth. Rinku Singh was one of the biggest surprises, with a 2.61 ERA in relief, and an impressive 20:8 K/BB ratio in 20.2 IP. 2010 draft pick Justin Howard should probably be at a higher level, but was most likely at this level due to an injury he sustained over the summer. 2010 undrafted free agent Kevin Mort also should be at a higher level, which is why his impressive hitting should be taken with the disclaimer that he’s doing it against lesser talent.
Top Hitter: Avila was clearly the top hitter this year, finishing at or near the top of several league leader boards, and serving as the best power hitting prospect on the team. Skill-wise, and looking to the future, I’d say Exicardo Cayonez is probably the best hitter on the team, but for the 2010 season, Avila had the better year.
Top Pitcher: For me this came down to Barrett Phillips and Vincent Payne. Joely Rodriguez put up good numbers, but I like the strikeout ratios from Phillips and Payne. In the end I had to give the slight edge to Payne. Payne is a year younger, and led the team in ERA (2.43) and WHIP (1.05). His projectable frame (6′ 4″, 175 lbs) gives hope that he can increase velocity in the future and improve on his strikeout totals.
Biggest Surprise: Barrett Phillips would have to be the biggest surprise of the season. Phillips was an undrafted free agent in 2009, signing late in the season after touching 92 MPH in a tryout. Phillips had some of the best numbers on the staff in his debut this year. His high strikeout totals, the fact that he’s hit 92 MPH, and his frame (6′ 0″, 175) give hope that the Pirates have discovered a steal of a prospect. He’s left handed, which adds a big bonus. It’s too early to tell what his ceiling is, but he’s definitely an interesting guy to watch going forward.
Biggest Disappointment: He didn’t receive much playing time this year, but the time Wes Freeman spent in the GCL pretty much killed any hope I had of him realizing his potential. Freeman started the season in West Virginia, and was horrible, with a very poor strikeout rate. I chalked that up to Freeman jumping several levels, going from the GCL in 2009 to low-A in 2010. Freeman returned to the GCL this year, where his hitting was bad, and his strikeouts were worse, with 35 strikeouts in 75 at-bats. He’s strong defensively, but with this hitting at the lowest level there’s no reason to consider Freeman a prospect right now.
Top five prospects:
1. Exicardo Cayonez – Cayonez is the best all around prospect, and a guy who I have in my top 15 prospects in the system. He could easily be a breakout guy next year, similar to what Starling Marte did in 2009.
2. Eric Avila – Avila was one of the best hitters in the league this season, although he doesn’t have the all-around skill set that Cayonez has. Avila plays third base, although he played some middle infield this year, and could eventually emerge as a second base option with power potential.
3. Jorge Bishop – Bishop has impressed since signing for a mere $35,000 in 2008. After lighting up the VSL in 2009 with his hitting, Bishop impressed in the GCL, specifically with his power. Bishop has a build like a smaller Jimmy Rollins, and has shown the ability to hit at the lower levels, with some pop in his bat.
4. Joey Schoenfeld – Schoenfeld was a highly regarded prep catcher last year, and displayed some good hitting skills in his brief time in the GCL this season. Eventually he could be the number two catching prospect in the system behind Tony Sanchez.
5. Vincent Payne – Payne had a great season statistically, and with his projectable frame, he could emerge as a sleeper to watch from the 2010 draft class.
The primary focus on the GCL Pirates, prospect-wise, was position players just up from Latin America. The Pirates had significant depth in position prospects coming up from the Dominican and Venezuelan Summer Leagues, and this was their chance to get acclimated to the US. Not surprisingly, performances were uneven. Stats at this point don’t mean a lot, as hitters that young can suddenly figure a lot of things out, as Starling Marte, for example, has shown. Overall, the GCL Pirates had roughly average hitting for their league.
There wasn’t a great deal of interest on the pitching side. The Pirates have focused on pitching in the last two drafts, but their best 2009 draftees were pushed up to State College en masse and the top pitchers from their 2010 draft signed so late that they pitched either very little or not at all. With primarily hitting, rather than pitching, prospects coming up from Latin America, the GCL Pirates’ staff was a hodgepodge of lesser known players, including some junior college draftees from 2010. The team’s pitching ranked near the bottom of the GCL. One particularly odd statistic was HRs allowed; the GCL Pirates allowed roughly 60% more HRs than any other team.
Top Hitter: Eric Avila, IF. After a strong 2009 season in the DSL, Avila was easily the best hitter on the GCL Pirates, excluding rehabbing players. Avila hit for a solid average, tied for the league lead in HRs and finished tied for second in doubles. His plate discipline was just fair and he was very slightly old for the league at 20, but he’s got plenty of time to show improvement.
Top Pitcher: Among pitchers who got meaningful work in, Vincent Payne was the top performer. A 2010 junior college draftee who’s still only 19, he signed quickly after the draft and stepped into the rotation. He pitched well in most of his games and finished with four scoreless outings that totaled 25.1 IP. His K rate was low, but with the Pirates expecting young pitchers to focus on fastball command and throw breaking balls only sparingly, that’s likely to happen.
Biggest Surprise: This is a tie between two left-handed relievers, Barrett Phillips and Rinku Singh. Phillips was undrafted out of high school and signed as a free agent. He was the team’s top reliever, leading in wins with five (GCL starters often don’t pitch the required five innings to qualify for a win) and posting good numbers across the board. Singh, of course, is one of two pitchers from India who signed with the Pirates after winning a contest. The Pirates have maintained all along that Singh was the one who could turn into a prospect, and his performance in 2010 bore them out. Singh fanned a batter an inning and showed reasonably good control, which is amazing for a guy who knew nothing about baseball just a few years ago.
Biggest Disappointment: It’s tempting to say Exicardo Cayonez, who slumped badly after raising his average over .400 around mid-season. I’ll go instead with OF Gregory Polanco. He’s a tall (6’4”), lean lefty swinger who has power potential. He showed a little power in the GCL, but bad plate discipline hampered him all year and he put up poor numbers. He did manage to finish near the top of the league in steals, with a SB% over 90%.
Top five prospects:
1. Exicardo Cayonez, OF. Cayonez had a disappointing final month, but his advanced approach at the plate still gives him the highest upside of the GCL players.
2. Eric Avila, IF. Avila was just a little old for the league, so we need to see how he does at higher levels.
3. Jorge Bishop, IF. Bishop had an uneven season, but he showed good pop for a small guy and also some speed. Any infielder with some offensive upside is valuable.
4. Joely Rodriguez, LHP. Rodriguez is a hard-throwing lefty who made great strides over his 2009 DSL season, although he had a serious gopher ball problem. He’s only 18.
5. Junior Sosa, OF. Sosa was the team’s most productive offensive player after Avila. He doesn’t appear to have any power, but he finished tied for second in the league in steals, got on base a lot, and exhibited a very good eye at the plate.
Honorable Mention: Gregory Polanco, Joey Schoenfeld, Vincent Payne.
I was pretty excited when the GCL rosters were announced, but for the most part no one really had a breakout season, making the team as a whole disappointing, although there are definitely still some prospects at the level along with the draft picks who joined the team late. It was a very diverse group of players who came from all over the previous season. The DSL, VSL and MLB’s Australian Academy supplied a great deal of the roster. One of the biggest disappointments of the season was the fact highly touted prospect Yhonathan Barrios missed the whole season with a hamate injury. I was looking forward to seeing how he performed as an 18 year old in his first year in the states. The three players they signed from Taiwan were also a slight disappointment. I didn’t have high expectations for them due to youth and inexperience but they all really struggled badly.
Top Hitter: Eric Avila, 3B – Not only did Avila lead the Pirates team in many offensive categories, but his .799 OPS placed him 9th in the GCL and every player ahead of him was either an OF, 1B or DH. Last year he was a DSL all-star so it wasn’t a fluke season and I would think he should have a good shot at making the all-GCL first team as the next best 3B was well below him. He’s not the best prospect on the team due to his age (3 years in the DSL) but he’s definitely one to watch going forward.
Top Pitcher: Barrett Phillips, LHP – Signed as a NDFA last year after he threw low 90’s in a post draft workout, Phillips had an impressive season for the Baby Bucs. He finished with a 5-1 record and a 2.63 ERA that would’ve placed him top ten had he not fallen short of the minimum innings requirement for league leaders. He had a decent K rate, held batters to just a .223 BAA (lefties hit just .176 off him) and he showed great control with a 4:1 K/BB ratio. He’s almost the same age as Avila (16 days younger) so the prospect status is a little iffy, but those are nice to see stats and velocity from the left side.
Biggest Surprise: Vincent Payne, RHP – When he was drafted in the 12th round I really questioned the pick and wasn’t surprised he signed so quick. Nothing about his college stats suggested he should’ve been taken any earlier than the 3rd day of the draft. His stats, especially his command, were a huge surprise to me. He had 22 walks in just 19 innings in college and he’s still just 19, so no way did I expect that if you doubled his innings he would cut his walk in half and then some. He did so well that I almost had him as the best pitcher, but he lost out when I gave the slight advantage to Phillips for his better record and much better K rate. I’m not going to call Payne a prospect yet, but now he’s not as far down the list as he was the day he signed.
Biggest Disappointment: Michelangel Trinidad, 1B – With apologies to Wes Freeman, who will be my WV pick due to the fact he had more AB’s there and by the time he reached the GCL I was already down on him, Trinidad is my pick. He didn’t do terrible but I was hoping he would get in some AB’s early and move up a level before the season ended due to his age (he just turned 22) and possibly be a player to watch. Last year he led the VSL in homers, and the Pirates minor league system is devoid of home run hitters, so they definitely could’ve used him. Instead the portly power hitting 1B missed most of the first half of the GCL season with an injury and only hit 4 homers in 86 AB’s when he was able to play. With guys like Jared LaKind, Justin Howard and Matt Curry signed from the draft that basically puts a huge roadblock in front of him.
Top five prospects:
1 Exicardo Cayonez, OF – Coming into the year he was the top prospect, and early on he showed why, batting well over .300 at one point near mid-season. He really tailed off late so his final stats don’t look great, but the Pirates were high enough on him to give him the highest international bonus in team history at the time so you know the talent is there. He’s a line drive hitting lefty, has great speed which he hasn’t been able to utilize on the bases yet, and they see him as a CF with above average defense. The thing to remember is he’s still only 18 so there’s plenty of room to grow.
2. Eric Avila, 3B – As mentioned above, right now he is the best hitter they have who wasn’t too old to be at the level. He’s already showing power and hasn’t filled out his 6′ 1″ frame yet so it should be interesting to see how he does moving forward.
3. Joey Schoenfeld, C – I’m basing this pick on Baseball America’s write-up of him and the stats he put up this year, although they used a lesser prospect to do the bulk of the catching. BA said Schoenfeld was a raw talent but his potential payoff if they were patient with him could be huge. Despite being drafted last year out of HS he’s the same age as many guys drafted this year, turning 19 during the season. Unlike many of the players on the team, his average improved as the year went on. His prospect value now is based on him staying at catcher and it looks for now like they plan on keeping him there.
4. Joely Rodriguez, LHP – He could potentially move way up the prospect list next year depending on how the Pirates move him through the system. He’s an 18 year old hard throwing lefty with much improved command and a heavy workload for a GCL player. I’m guessing the Bucs really like him to move him so fast, because nothing about his stats from last year in the DSL suggested he would be moved and somehow be able to improve so much a level higher. Emmanuel De Leon deserves a mention here as well, although slightly older and a RHP, he made the same jump and when healthy showed great velocity and struck out batters at a good clip. For now, Rodriguez gets the nod as the best pitching prospect.
5. Jorge Bishop, IF / Gregory Polanco, OF – I couldn’t decide between the two so I just gave them a tie. Bishop last year was the surprise player of the VSL putting up monster numbers before tailing off late. He is still just 19 and only had one year experience, but his stats were down a lot and again he didn’t finish the season well, which could be due to his size at just 5′ 10″ 152. He still showed some power and has very good speed so the tools are there that you like to see from a middle infielder. Polanco didn’t have much of a season but the Pirates were very high on him when he signed. He has great speed and good defense and he’s a 6′ 4″ lefty, so you tend to look past the stats at such a young age. He did hit three homers after none last year, so the power hitting the Bucs talked about when they signed him might be showing and he may be a good early guess for next year’s breakout player.
The GCL team was like the United Nations of Pirates’ minor league affiliates this year. At one point, there were 9 different countries and 4 continents represented on this team. I’m sure communication in the clubhouse was tricky at times. This was also the first year to see the fruits of the re-investment in Latin America start to bear out, as the stars of the 2008 class came stateside. For the most part, the Latin players held their own and didn’t really have a breakout “wow” season.
Top Hitter: Eric Avila, 3B – Avila led the GCL in homers and did it from a key defensive position of 3B. He was 20 for the whole season, which is a little old and I would have liked to have seen him challenged with a move to State College. I hope the Pirates push him to West Virginia to start 2011 and we can see what we really have here.
Top Pitcher: Vincent Payne, RHP – No one really combined a good K rate with good control and the the ability to keep the ball in the park, so I’m going with the unheralded Payne as Top Pitcher. Payne was an afterthought as a 12th round pick with sketchy junior college stats, but he was still a 19 year old with a 92 mph fastball. His WHIP of 1.05 shows that he kept the hits down and controlled the strike zone well in his 10 starts.
Biggest Surprise: Rinku Singh, LHP – When you win a reality show in India and have never seen a baseball before in your life, it’s impressive if you come over and in your second season average nearly a K/IP. Singh also did not allow a HR in his 20 IP (covering 13 appearances) and had good control. Will Singh ever see PNC Park while wearing a Pirate uniform? Probably not. But it’s ever-so-slightly more realistic after this season that he could one day.
Biggest Disappointment: Wes Freeman, OF – Everybody off….the Wes Freeman Prospect Train is about ready to pull into the station. Except replace “pull into the station” with “derail in a fiery ball of disappointment”. Freeman started the year in West Virginia (presumably to get him work all year) and struck out nearly 50% of the time. He was demoted back to the GCL, a level he didn’t really dominate in 2009, and put up a 532 OPS with 35 K’s in 75 AB’s. It’s time to consider that $150,000 signing bonus a sunk cost.
Top 5 Prospects
1. Eric Avila, 3B – The power was hard to ignore, as Avila had a .195 isolated power (slugging minus batting average), which is excellent. He only struck out 16.9%, but his walk rate of 6.1% will need improvement. As I said before, I hope he moves to West Virginia to start 2011.
2. Exicardo Cayonez, OF – I hope I don’t get kicked out of the clubhouse for wondering about Cayonez’s long-term potential and position. He didn’t hit a HR this year, which is a problem when you are destined to be a corner OF. His walk rate was a standard 10% and his strikout rate was around 20%, so that’s OK, but his high OBP was due to him getting hit by a bunch of pitches (which is not good long term). He has a very natural swing, but next year the line drives need to start going over the fence.
3. Jorge Bishop, SS – Bishop provides a nice combo of speed and power from a middle infield position. If you want to make hay and not worry about being blocked in this organization, that is the right position to be in. His size may be an issue, as he has worn down both in 2009 and 2010 at the end of the season.
4. Joey Schoenfeld, C – Schoenfeld is said to be a fantastic athlete, so this may be one of those situations where in order to keep the bat fresh the player should shed the tools of ignorance. There is a definite gap in prospectiness between Bishop and Schoenfeld at this point.
5. Vincent Payne, RHP – Rodriguez may have better stuff, but his inability to keep the ball from leaving the park is what led me to put Payne here. Payne was only 19 this year in the GCL and seemed to take to the fastball command program. I debated between Payne and Phillips, but with all things equal I went with the starter.
Top 10 Prospects at the Level
This list only includes players who received significant playing time at the level. Guys like Colton Cain and Trent Stevenson, who only started the season at the level, don’t qualify. Also, guys like Nick Kingham and Jared Lakind, who signed too late to get significant playing time, were left off the prospect list.
1. Exicardo Cayonez
2. Eric Avila
3. Jorge Bishop
4. Joey Schoenfeld
5. Vincent Payne
6. Joely Rodriguez
7. Junior Sosa
8. Gregory Polanco
9. Fraylin Campos
10. Barrett Phillips