The Fall Instructional Leagues (“instructs”) will start at the end of this month, starting on September 16th and ending October 19th. Instructs is a time for the minor league players to review their 2013 seasons, add new pitches, refine old pitches, or add new positions on the field. It’s also a chance to get extra playing time, with games taking place against other teams, similar to minor league Spring Training. The games are structured, with the ability to end innings early if a pitcher reaches his pitch count, which makes them unlike most fall and winter leagues. That can be beneficial for pitchers working on a certain aspect of their game, as they don’t have to worry about shortened outings, or long innings.
Below is the 2013 instructs roster, which Pirates Prospects received this morning. The roster isn’t fully completed. Some of the players listed might not actually be attending. In previous years the Pirates had everyone attend for the first two weeks, then sent a large group of players home right before games started (mostly the upper level guys). They stopped doing that last year, bringing only the guys who needed to play games. Some notes are below the roster.
Like many previous years, a lot of the top prospects coming out of the DSL are on the hitting side. Here is our list of ten prospects to watch from the DSL this year, which should give some perspective for the following list. This year the players making the jump to the US for instructs:
Omar Basulto, LHP – Basulto throws in the mid-80s, touching 89, and relies on his changeup to get outs. He had a 2.09 ERA, an 8.1 K/9, and a 1.8 BB/9 ratio in 69 innings this year in the DSL. The Pirates have had a lot of soft-tossing left-handers make their way from the Dominican Republic. Most of them have topped out in the lower levels of the minors.
Jose Batista, LHP – There’s another Jose Batista in the Pirates’ system (although a different spelling). Batista sits around 87 and touches 89, so he’s in a similar situation as Basulto. He’s a few years younger, at 17 this year, and had some control problems this year. Because of the younger age, there’s a better chance of Batista adding velocity.
Remy De Aza, RHP – He missed a lot of time in the DSL this year due to an injury. He’s got a big frame, and is a young pitcher, but he didn’t get much time in the DSL this year and only threw 21.1 innings last year.
Christian Henriquez, LHP – He has pitched three seasons in the DSL and is 21 years old. He did improve his game this year, moving from the bullpen to the rotation after showing excellent control.
Jonathan Minier, RHP – He joined the DSL team at 23 years old, so he’s probably more of an organizational player.
Dan Urbina, RHP – He throws 90-91 with good arm action on his changeup. He missed a lot of time this year with an injured shoulder. His dad is the pitching coach for the DSL Pirates.
Jandy Vasquez, RHP – He has good size and a nice fastball, but loses his control easily. In his debut in the DSL he had a 5.53 ERA in 55.1 innings, with a 4.6 K/9 and a 3.9 BB/9 ratio.
Reggie Cerda, C – I’m guessing Cerda is here mostly because he’s a catcher. In these camp settings, you need plenty of catchers. Cerda didn’t have good numbers at the plate in the DSL, so I can’t see him being one of the top guys from the catching group.
Yoel Gonzalez, C – He received a $350,000 bonus last year, and is viewed as an advanced defender for his age (17). He didn’t have the best offensive numbers, but he threw out 49% (33 for 67) of runners in the DSL. He could be one of the primary catchers in the GCL next year.
Julio De La Cruz, 3B – He was one of the biggest signings last year, signing for $700,000. He didn’t have the best numbers in his debut, but did show some good power with a .123 ISO. He will almost certainly go to the GCL next season, due to the upside with his bat.
Jhoan Herrera, 3B – Herrera signed for $300,000 last year at the age of 17. He has good defense and needs some work with the bat. He didn’t have the best results at the plate this year, with a .646 OPS.
Pablo Reyes, SS – He’s small and speedy, but has some issues defensively. He had an .806 OPS this year at the plate, and is a great pure hitter. He could be a good candidate to move up to the GCL next year due to those numbers.
Michael De La Cruz, OF – He’s the top prospect coming out of the DSL. Like Julio De La Cruz (no relation), Michael signed for $700,000 last year. He put up some monster numbers this year, with a .292/.436/.367 in 226 at-bats. He didn’t hit for much power, but hit for average and was great at getting on base. Power is usually the last thing to come for most players, and De La Cruz is only 17, so it should eventually come for him. He’s pretty much a lock to be in the GCL next year.
Edgar Figueroa, OF – He’s a left-handed hitter who showed some power this year, along with good consistency and plate discipline at the plate. He has above average range in the outfield, and while his arm is very accurate, the strength grades as average.
Tito Polo, OF – He had a hamstring issue that caused him to miss games three different times this year. He had a .290/.359/.397 line before the injuries really started to kick in. He’s a five tool outfielder who plays hard, and he could end up in the GCL next season.
Another thing to note is positional changes. The key change this year is that Luis Urena is now a pitcher. Urena was previously an outfielder, and was always a guy that I liked. That said, he was extremely frustrating. He had all of the tools to be another Gregory Polanco, except that he struck out way too much. Urena’s power was some of the best in the system, although he was never going to get far with a 30% strikeout rate (which was over 50% in West Virginia). He does have a cannon for an arm, so it will be interesting to see how that translates to the mound. He’s 6′ 4″, 198 pounds, so he’s got a good frame. However, none of this is a guarantee. Last year the Pirates moved Gavi Nivar to the mound during instructs. Nivar had the same issues as Urena — great raw tools, raw power, strong arm, but no strike zone discipline. He retired before the season, and spent 2013 as a coach in the Pirates’ organization.
The Pirates have two players on the roster who converted to pitchers mid-season. Yhonathan Barrios was originally a shortstop signed out of Colombia for $250,000 in 2008. He never made it as a hitter, and was moved to the mound for the GCL season. I saw Barrios throw once, and he was impressive, hitting 94-95 with movement on his off-speed pitches. The recap of that outing can be seen here. Kirk Singer was a third baseman who had strong defense and a cannon for an arm, but didn’t do much with the bat. He was moved to the mound in the final months of the 2013 season. I didn’t get a chance to see him throw during the season, but his arm was always his best tool, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he also had good velocity.
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.
Soooooooo….is more Hoka Hey on the docket? I hope so….some writers need something to write about now that we’ve broken the streak.
As one former beat writer put it (paraphraed) “it’s easier to write about a losing team….more juicy stories”.