Now that I have finished the recaps for the VSL hitters and pitchers two weeks ago, and the DSL pitchers and hitters this week I thought I would revisit my top International players to watch list from early in the year and provide a new list of the top ten players to watch going forward. As I cautioned with the previous list, there isn’t a ton of information on these guys and while I have talked with sources with the Pirates about them, these kids are young, for the most part raw players and anything can happen once they leave their home country for the first time to pursue their dreams. I’m basing my list on the scouting reports available to me, the bonus information, which is a strong indicator of how the team feels about the player, and of course their stats, weight, age, size and whether they were in the stronger DSL or played in the VSL.
1. Harold Ramirez, CF – The major International signing for the Pirates this year, Ramirez signed for $1.05m on July 2nd. He has what is called “plus-plus” speed and a strong feel for hitting with the chance to stick at center field. He did not play this year but he is definitely atop the list of players to watch next year. Most Colombian players the Pirates sign they send to the VSL so he may start his career there next year with the following player…
2. Elvis Escobar, CF – Elvis was the 2nd biggest signing for the Pirates during this July 2nd signing period. He inked a contract worth $570k just one day after they signed Ramirez. He is on the small side but at age 16 he still has time to grow. He is a fundamentally strong baseball player with a feel for hitting and the ability to play CF. The Pirates seem to ease younger players into the tougher positions so it wouldn’t surprise me if neither of these two players played much CF their first season in the pros.
3. Dilson Herrera, 3B/VSL – Herrera definitely had an impressive rookie season as the 2nd biggest signing from last year’s July 2nd class behind Luis Heredia. He showed a nice bat but the glove needs some work. He hit .308 with 19 doubles, showing nice pop in the bat for such a young age but he also displayed patience at the plate and good speed on the bases.
4. Miguel de Aza, OF/DSL – Miguel was signed last year for 150k out of the Dominican Prospect League and was described as a potential five tool player with well above average speed and a strong arm. He didn’t get much playing time but he has tons of potential and next year could be the top player to watch on the DSL team depending on who stays and who else they sign between now and next year.
5. Jesus Vasquez LF/DSL – Vasquez stalled out last year, but as I wrote in my 2010 DSL wrap, he has a lot to like, he just needed to put it together and this year he did. He hit .324, hit a team leading 20 doubles and 11 homers and also took some walks and stole some bases. At age 19 (20 in December) he seems destined to hit in the middle of the GCL lineup next season and could be the first guy from this list that gets promoted.
6. Ulises Montilla, 2B,OF/VSL – Montilla had the best season of any VSL hitter with his .364 average, 27 extra base hits, 33 walks and just 17 strikeouts in 296 AB’s. He is just 19 (May 12, 1992) and with playing most of his games at 2B this year that adds extra value to those numbers. Ulises showed great plate patience his first season but added the power part to his game and played strong defense at a number of spots. He beat out fellow VSL slugger, Jose Roman, who is 17 months older and had trouble against left-handed pitching.
7. Yunior Aquiles, OF/DSL – Yunior barely played this year but the Pirates really like the kid and his potential. Whenever someone is described as raw, don’t expect much out of them their first season, especially a 17 year old like Aquiles. He has a nice baseball body at 6′ 3″ and 185 already, with the ability to play CF. He has a strong arm and good speed which will allow him to play plus defense. They like his swing and the power he generates so don’t look too much into his lack of use and .125 average this year. This kid has plenty of untapped potential.
8. Maximo Rivera, 3B/DSL – Maximo has power potential. That is what I read and what I told people but I wasn’t getting much help from Maximo to back that up until about half way through this year. He started off slow and had just 2 doubles last year, his only extra base hits more than 100 AB’s into his career, but something clicked with him. He finished with 16 extra base hits including 5 home runs in August. I would expect him to return to the DSL next year and continue to progress like the Pirates hoped when they gave him the largest International bonus in 2009.
9. Martires Cadet, LHP/DSL – Cadet had a real nice season although he missed most of June and was brought along slowly when he first came back. His 1.22 ERA was the best on the team and he had a nice strikeout rate with a .196 BAA. He also didn’t hit a batter or allow a home run all season. He has pitched well for three seasons and at 6′ 2″ and throwing from the left side, he should be able to pitch above the GCL at some point next year like the Pirates did with Porfirio Lopez this year. At the least, he should start every 5 days in the GCL. He will turn 21 next May so that knocked him down the list a bit.
10. Raul Fortunato, CF/DSL – People would think I was crazy if I didn’t have him on the list but his age really is the main factor I have him this low. He really only had one strong month in his three year DSL career and he is about to turn 21 but he showed all five tools for the first time this season. Was it a fluke month or was he finally breaking out? I don’t know the answer but at minimum he can play a strong CF and have an impact on the basepaths. Fortunato was slightly ahead of Diego Goris who put up some great stats this year too but the age factor, and 4 seasons of DSL ball really work against him. He also doesn’t take many pitches and he doesn’t have the defensive tools Fortunato does.
One player I didn’t include on the list is Yunior Montero and that is because right now he isn’t playing due to age/identity issues. If he remains Pirates property he would definitely be on the list, probably in the #5 spot. He is a hard-thowing pitcher hitting 94 with his fastball and he has a nice slider. He pitched just once and threw 5 shutout innings the first week of the DSL season but has been ineligible since.
I would’ve liked to get young 6′ 3″ DSL 3B Edwin Espinal and VSL pitcher Oderman Rocha on the list but it was long enough as it is. Each was strongly considered along with Goris and Roman as mentioned above.
So who fell off the previous list?
Well it wasn’t really a top 10 list at the time and players like Jose Salazar, the VSL shortstop, had an impressive season for his age. Not often will you see a 16 year old starting at SS over a high priced player like Hererra, who was signed as a SS but moved to 3B. Salazar also held his own at the plate and while his stats weren’t impressive you really have to factor his age into the equation and keep him in mind as a player to watch next year.
Robertson Valdez and Ramses Pena each fell off the list as neither has shown the potential the Pirates saw in them when they were signed. Valdez was supposed to have a ton of power and he has shown absolutely nothing hitting just 2 doubles over his two seasons. Pena has really struggled at the plate and at the SS position. I wouldn’t write either off due to their age, Fortunato proves a player can struggle for two years and then really break out, but there haven’t been many good signs with these two players.
Angel Sanchez also has lost some of his luster, he really struggled with his control this year, even worse than the previous year. He doesn’t throw hard enough to have such poor control so they have a lot of work to do with him. He will be 19 all of next year and at 6′ 7″ and 190 lbs he still needs to fill out so just like the other two above I wouldn’t write him off. Also off the list was Isaac Sanchez and Christopher Richardson who are both in the states. Sanchez is pitching in the GCL and Richardson is on the State College roster as a reserve.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.