For the first time since 2002, the Pittsburgh Pirates will only have one international rookie league team. The Pirates have had two teams for over a decade, either having a team in the Venezuelan Summer League, or two teams in the Dominican Summer League. In 2012, the Pirates dropped their VSL team, and added a second team in the DSL. This year, they will only have one DSL team.
This change comes in the same year that the Pirates added a new rookie level affiliate in Bristol. That’s no coincidence. The Pirates have basically moved their second DSL team up to Bristol. They still have four short-season teams, but three of those teams are now in the US, rather than two teams in the US and two in the Dominican Republic.
The Pirates promoted a lot of players from the Dominican this year, in order to help fill the new team in Bristol, along with their team in the GCL. They ended up promoting almost twice as many players from the international levels as they had in previous years. The result is that they didn’t have enough players in the Dominican to field two teams, unless one of those teams would have been populated with a lot of organizational fillers and older players who had been released by other organizations. They released several older players recently, as John Dreker reported this morning, which was also a result of only having one team.
A big reason for the lack of a second team in the DSL is the new system for signing international players, which limits the amount that teams can spend on international talent. In the past, the Pirates have had a budget of $3 M on the international amateur market, not counting special expenses like Luis Heredia or Harold Ramirez. Last year their budget was $2.4 M under the new CBA. Considering the Pirates’ tendency to find hidden gems for lower prices, that extra $600,000 could have landed an extra 5-6 players.
As an example of their ability to find players, the Pirates found Gregory Polanco, Alen Hanson, Starling Marte, and Joely Rodriguez for a combined $380,000. That’s four players on the 40-man roster, and that amount only takes up two-thirds of the difference between their old budget, and the new, lower budget that the latest CBA has provided.
The change for the Pirates isn’t drastic. They still have the same amount of rookie level teams. They actually have a slight advantage this year, since their new team (Bristol) is more advanced than the old team (DSL2), and has the added benefit of playing under the lights and in front of fans. The latter is a much different experience for young players, and something that doesn’t happen in the GCL or the DSL. That said, it would be nice if the Pirates could field three short-season teams in the US, while still having two teams in the DSL. That’s especially true when you consider how successful they’ve been in the Dominican Republic.
The Pirates plan on using the new team in Bristol as a transition between the GCL and full season ball for prep players. In the past, they’ve sent prep players to the NYPL, which is a league dominated by college talent. That could still happen with top prospects like Austin Meadows, but guys who would normally go to the GCL will now get a bit more of a challenge.
In the past, the Pirates would send advanced high school talent to the NYPL, keep the guys who are a little more raw in the GCL, and hold a few guys back in the Dominican due to a lack of spots. With their new setup, top prep players will still go to the NYPL, but borderline guys at that level, along with borderline guys in the GCL, will go to Bristol. The borderline guys in the DSL will be moved up for more of a challenge in the GCL, which has already happened with all of the promotions to the US for extended Spring Training.
The Pirates plan on re-evaluating this minor league alignment after the 2014 season.