The Venezuelan Winter League started their season on Thursday night with six current Pittsburgh Pirates minor league players on the Opening Day rosters. On Friday night, four of those players made their season debut. The number of Pirates players in the league will fluctuate as players are signed as minor league free agents or are released, plus some players only play partial season, so they may leave the team early or start their season later.
The top prospect playing in the VWL is Jose Osuna. His debut Friday night was a brief one, coming on as a defensive replacement at first base in the ninth inning. As a 20-year-old this season, Osuna hit .244 in 123 games with Bradenton. He had 25 doubles, eight homers and stole 18 bases.
Catcher Elias Diaz actually made his debut on Thursday night as the Opening Day catcher for the Bravos de Margarita. He went 0-for-2 with a walk. He gave up one stolen base on one attempt and made a throwing error on the play. Diaz spent this season with Bradenton, where he hit .279 in 57 games, with a .781 OPS. He was named by Baseball America as the best defensive catcher in the Florida State League on their best tools list in August.
Left-handed pitcher Jhonathan Ramos is also on the Bravos with Diaz. He made his debut Friday and took the loss, despite giving up just one baserunner in two innings of work. That one runner was a costly one, a solo homer that proved to be the deciding run. Ramos just completed his seventh season in the Pirates organization, spending most of the year with Altoona. The 24-year-old had a 4.72 ERA in 36 relief appearances. He showed good command and a good strikeout rate, posting a 11/42 BB/K ratio in 47.2 innings.
Pitcher Jhondaniel Medina also made his season debut Friday. He threw 1.1 scoreless innings, picking up three strikeouts. He is a 20-year-old righty that can reach mid-90’s with his fastball. He had some intriguing stats this year with West Virginia, where he served as the closer. In 35.1 innings over 28 appearances, he had a 1.72 ERA, 13 saves and 55 strikeouts, holding batters to a .164 BAA. He pitched briefly for Bradenton and while the ERA was slightly higher, he had a 2.60 GO/AO ratio, struck out 13 batters in 10.2 innings and allowed just three hits.
The two other Pirates players that have not debuted yet are pitchers Julio Vivas and Luis Sanz. Vivas just turned 20-years-old and spent this past season in the DSL, where he had some impressive stats. In 62.2 innings, he had a 2.30 ERA, with 52 strikeouts, just 16 walks, a 1.33 GO/AO ratio and a .238 BAA. Sanz closed for Altoona this year, though he got hit hard at times. He had a 4.94 ERA in 62 innings over 47 appearances. Sanz was able to pick up 16 saves and he struck out 61 batters.
Winter League Notes
* The Mexican Winter League also started already, though only one Pirates player is currently listed on a roster. Ali Solis returns to do the catching for Tomateros de Culiacan. He will split the catching duties with former Pirates catcher Humberto Cota.
* The Dominican League is usually the league that has the most Pirates players during the off-season. Their schedule starts next Friday and no rosters have been announced yet.
* The Puerto Rican League and the Australian League both begin play on November 1st. Two Pirates players have been confirmed for the Australian League already. Danny Arribas will see plenty of catching time with the Sydney Blue Sox and shortstop Sam Kennelly will return to the Perth Heat. Arribas has batted over .300 in each of the last two season, 2012 in the DSL and this year in the Gulf Coast League. Kennelly played Summer ball in MLB’s Australia Academy, where he hit .279 in 38 games, with ten doubles.
* Another Pirates player from Australia took part in the MLB Australian Academy and dominated the competition. Pitcher Nick Hutchings, who was signed last November, pitched nine games, seven as a starter. He led the league with an 0.70 ERA in 25.2 innings and also led the league with 33 strikeouts. It hasn’t been confirmed yet, but he will also likely take part in the Australian Baseball League this Winter.
* Dennis Hurtarte will play Winter ball in Guatemala after completing a season in the DSL that saw him breakout in the second half. Hurtarte struggled early on with a wrist injury, then an ankle injury that sidelined him two weeks, but after his return he was the best hitter on either Pirates affiliate in the DSL. He batted .348 in 19 August games, collecting ten doubles and posting a .929 OPS.
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.