The Pittsburgh Pirates had a successful season in the DSL this year. Their one affiliate made the playoffs and the other one finished well above the .500 mark. When you consider that most teams only have enough players to fill one roster and some of those teams aren’t even good, you realize that there is probably some talent in the ranks for the Pirates. They had strong pitching all year long, with some impressive numbers put up by most of their starters, but the best prospects are among the hitters. Top prospect Michael de la Cruz had an outstanding rookie season and a group of outfielders that didn’t get large bonuses emerged as strong prospects. There were some disappointments among the top 2012 signings, but they are a young group of players who haven’t hit their stride yet and it is too early to properly judge them.
Below are the stats from each hitter in the DSL, broken down by age groups. The first age group is where you’ll find the majority of prospects. The second group can include prospects, but these guys are getting closer to being too old for the level. They need to make the jump to the US next year to preserve their prospect status, and ideally start to move quickly through the lower levels of the system. The final group is mostly organizational depth. A breakdown of each group can be found below.
Complete DSL Coverage
18 and Under
This group includes players that received five of the top six International signing bonuses last year. Only Sam Kennelly, who got $225,000 and remained in Australia, isn’t included in this group. The top bonuses of $700,000 each belonged to Michael de la Cruz and Julio de la Cruz, no relation. Julio was the slightly better rated player, but Michael turned out to have the best season and it was impressive.
Michael de la Cruz batted lead-off, played center field and got on base a lot. In 62 games, he had 66 hits, 58 walks and three HBP, giving him a .436 OBP. He didn’t hit for much power and his season dropped off considerably after the All-Star break, but he still had the seventh highest OBP in the DSL and his 51 runs were sixth highest in the league. He is a potential five tool outfielder that should be headed to the States for Fall Instructs.
The rest of the high priced players had disappointing first seasons. Julio de la Cruz batted .199 and was around that mark for most of the season. He has 21 walks and 48 strikeouts in 211 at-bats and spent a lot of time as the DH instead of playing third base. For a right-handed batter, he had a ton of trouble against lefties, collecting just four singles in 42 at-bats. There was talk prior to the season that he could go right to the GCL, so despite the poor season, he may make the jump anyway in 2014.
Next up on the bonuses was Yoel Gonzalez, a catcher who received $350,000 and was called advanced defensively for his age. His bat wasn’t highly thought of when he signed, but there was potential, so the results were somewhat to be expected. His defense needs a little work still, but he turned 17 this month and catchers are usually a little behind other position players. Gonzalez was strong throwing out runners, catching 49% (33 of 67). He hit just .188 on the year, though his post All-Star numbers were respectable. During the playoffs, he caught all three games.
Johan De Jesus is a switch-hitting shortstop that was born the same day as Gonzalez (8/1/1996). He really struggled, both on offense and defense. He had 24 errors in 49 games, struck out a lot and hit .190 with only two extra base hits (both doubles) in 168 at-bats. Despite the $200,000 bonus, word at the time was that De Jesus was a solid player, though no tools really stood out. He is still young, but he has a long way to go.
Jhoan Herrera signed for $300,000 last July at the age of 17, making him a little older than everyone else listed above. His defense was supposed to be good and his bat needed some work. Judging by that report, you could say that his bat looked better than advertised, but the glove was not. He had an .852 fielding percentage in 49 games and hit .238 with a little bit of power. Herrera bats lefty and had a ton of trouble against southpaws, hitting .163 with no extra base hits in 43 at-bats.
Ramy Perez and Reggie Cerda are two young catchers in the system. Perez is the better of the two and he has plenty of room to grow, he just started catching this year and made great strides. Cerda needs a lot of work behind the plate and more consistency at the plate. Neither has hit much, but Perez makes solid contact and right now is the slightly better hitter.
This group has some interesting players, including a couple All-Stars in Carlos Munoz and Tito Polo. Other players that stood out include Eduardo Figueroa, Pablo Reyes, Alexis Bastardo and Dennis Hurtarte.
Carlos Munoz and Dennis Hurtarte combined would have had a great season. One first baseman killed pitchers during the first half (Munoz), while Hurtarte was hitting well the second half. The problem was that neither hit nearly as well during the other half of the year.
Carlos Munoz was the best hitter in the entire league up until the All-Star break and he finished strong the last week, but in between he went through a long stretch that dropped his average over 100 points. He had a 1.033 OPS prior to the All-Star break and .740 afterwards, even with a strong finish. The problem was he was getting pitched around a lot more, which led to nearly a walk per game after the break. He makes great contact, so while he started chasing a little, he still only struck out eight times in 83 at-bats.
Dennis Hurtarte missed time with a wrist injury, then an ankle injury, then he pressed when he returned. In the second half, he settled down and hit .348 in August, while showing some power (nine doubles) and better plate patience. The Pirates thought enough of him that they moved him to the clean-up spot as soon as he started hitting well and he produced in that role.
Tito Polo had a strong season that was hampered by a lingering hamstring issue that caused him to miss games three different times, the last time shutting his season down early. During the first half of the season, he was as hot as any hitter until the injuries started to pop up. He made the All-Star team and was stealing bases at a strong clip. When healthy, Polo is a five tool outfielder that knows how to play the game right and plays hard.
Right behind Polo is Alexis Bastardo, an outfielder with a power swing, who makes hard contact often. He’s a quick runner, can throw and play excellent defense. There isn’t much difference between Polo and Bastardo, especially the way the latter came on during the second half. With the injuries to Polo, you could even say he was surpassed by Bastardo, who also has better plate patience than Polo. Bastardo isn’t huge at 5’11”, 190 pounds, but he is very strong for his size and in great shape.
Eduardo Figueroa is another young outfielder with some promise. He doesn’t have the strength of Bastardo, who has already filled out, but Figueroa still showed some power this year. He shows great consistency at the plate, always showing great discipline and battling with pitchers. In the outfielder he has above average range and an average, but very accurate arm. Like many other left-handed hitters in the DSL, Figueroa had some troubles against southpaws, posting a .401 OPS in 43 at-bats.
Infielder Pablo Reyes has now had two strong seasons at the plate and looks to be ready to move to the next level. He has great hand-eye coordination and is probably the best pure hitter on either team. He is small, but he can hit for some power and is fast and smart on the base paths. The one problem for Reyes seems to be his defense, which is usually average at second base, though he can tend to take poor at-bats out to the field with him. Once he learns to not do that, he should be able to provide adequate defense.
Fredis Padilla is a solid switch-hitting second baseman, who showed some improvements in his second season. He doesn’t do anything that stands out, but he is a good, smart player. Henrry Rosario was promoted to the States at the end of July to fill in as an extra outfielder. The promotion was a bit of a surprise as he wasn’t hitting well in the DSL at the time and the numbers have carried over to the GCL. Outfielder Yunior Aquiles was a high-priced player that was called raw when he signed. His bat never developed, and while it hasn’t been mentioned yet as a possibility, the Pirates might want to try him on the mound. His arm in the outfield is a cannon and after three years of not hitting, the move to the mound might be a good option for him. Sandy Santos is a toolsy outfielder with a great body, who lacks plate discipline. With a little patience and experience, he could really take off. Gustavo Barrios is middle infielder that can hit a little, has some speed, but lacks strong defense and doesn’t hit enough yet to make up for that.
Some other players of note from this group are Steven De La Mota, who has a very strong bat, but poor defense in the outfield. Jose Salazar can play all over the infield, so he has versatility, but the bat hasn’t come around after three seasons. He missed a portion of the season with an ankle injury. Luis Benitez led the team with 33 steals and has great speed in the outfield as well. His bat still has some work to do, though he did show some improvements as the season went on. Rodney Polonia, the son of major league player Luis Polonia, still hasn’t hit after three seasons. He is a smart player that provides solid defense. The Pirates have close ties with his dad, who now runs his own school down in the Dominican for prospects, so Rodney will be given every chance to succeed. Catcher Patrick Reyes hasn’t hit yet, but he should stick around due to a strong and accurate arm, with a quick release behind the plate. He is the best throwing catcher among Pirates in the DSL. Ramses Pena and Carlos Marquez are both fourth year players that are likely done in the system, while Yomifer Polanco was released three weeks ago.
One final player of note and you won’t find him in the stats. The Pirates signed Adrian De Aza to a six figure deal in July of 2010 and after two seasons in the DSL, he had shown none of the five tools that got him signed. He left the team on his own prior to the season and there was word that he didn’t always give his best effort.
Ages 21 and Up
This group has an interesting mix, one player that was promoted to the States, three that had season ending injuries and one that might be a sleeper prospect despite his age.
Carlos Esqueda, Edgardo Munoz and Yunelky Adames all had season ending injuries and for Esqueda, it likely ended his career as he is a fourth year player. Adames was slightly interesting in that when he went down with an ankle injury early in the year, he was absolutely crushing the ball. He has a swing for the fences mentality on every pitch, so that usually doesn’t work well the higher a player goes.
Tomas Morales was promoted to the States early in the year and has played sparingly behind Danny Arribas, Reese McGuire and for a short time, Wyatt Mathisen. Morales has basically become a bullpen catcher in the GCL and he is already 22-years-old, so there isn’t much positive to say about that usage. Deybi Garcia saw some good playing time, but his hitting has been worse each year since a decent debut in 2011, so he will likely remain in the DSL or possibly be next year’s Tomas Morales. Garcia is the hardest throwing catcher among all Pirates in the DSL, but it’s not always accurate.
Finally, we have Rudy Guzman. Under normal circumstances, I would barely mention a player that signs right around their 22nd birthday. I have heard reports on Guzman and they are glowing to say the least. Keeping everything in perspective when you read this, the reports said that he reminds people of Starling Marte, the speed, the hitting, body, the defense and arm. Based purely on current talent, which is no way to rate prospects when some are five years younger, Guzman was called the best player on either Pirates affiliate. I’ll leave it at that, because you never want to get high on a player his age in the DSL.