Winter Leagues: Where is the Offense?

As you will see with the bigger names listed below, there isn’t much offense going on among Pittsburgh Pirates players in winter ball. It’s still early for some of them, but no one has impressed this year like Gregory Polanco did last season, or taken a leap forward like Elias Diaz did by holding his own against better competition than he faced during the regular season last year.

Alen Hanson was hitting the ball well before his hand injury, but that was only in six games. Sebastian Valle seems to have a new life since signing with the Pirates last week, though he was one of the worst hitters in the Mexican League before he signed. Jose Osuna and Stetson Allie both lost playing time due to their performance at the plate. Allie was getting on base, but he wasn’t hitting for power or coming through in big spots. Osuna wasn’t doing much at all and hasn’t played since November 2nd. Two new players, Pedro Florimon and Gustavo Nunez aren’t known for their offense, though they aren’t facing Major League pitching either. Florimon has a .525 OPS and Nunez is showing a little bit of unexpected power with nine doubles and two homers, but his .279 OBP is just two points ahead of Willy Garcia(more on him below) for the worst in the league among qualified hitters.

So far it’s been a disappointing winter to follow. There are still 3-4 weeks left in the regular season(more for some leagues), plus playoffs, so there is time for some players to end the off-season on a strong note. Gregory Polanco should be around soon, though an exact date has yet to be announced. Some speculation had him joining his team earlier this week, which obviously didn’t happen. Below is the action from Friday night around winter ball.

In the Dominican on Friday night, Tony Sanchez went 0-for-3 with a walk and run scored. In six games, he is 2-for-17, with two singles, three walks and three strikeouts. He is 1-for-4 in throwing out runners.

Willy Garcia went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and GIDP, but he helped his team to a 2-1 win. With the score 1-0 in the third inning, Garcia recorded the third out at home plate, gunning down Carlos Paulino, who tried to scored from second base on a single. Paulino finished the game 2-for-4 with two singles. Garcia has a .244/.278/.407 slash line in 25 games, giving him a .685 OPS that ranks among the lowest in the league for players with enough at-bats to qualify for league leaders. His OBP is the worst in the league among qualified players. The OPS is still slightly better than the next guy…

Mel Rojas Jr. went 1-for-3 with a single. He was thrown out trying to steal after the single. In 100 at-bats, he is batting .240 with eight doubles, one triple, no homers and a 11:22 BB/SO ratio. Rojas has a .665 OPS, which is just two spots from the bottom of the league rankings. His batting average is also two spots from the worst in the league among qualified players.

Wirfin Obispo threw a scoreless inning, giving up two hits. He has a 2.35 ERA in 15.1 innings, with 17 strikeouts. Obispo is still a free agent.

In Venezuela, Elias Diaz went 0-for-3 at the plate, but he threw out both runners that attempted to steal against him. Diaz was pinch-hit for in the ninth. He is 2-for-14 with no walks since starting winter ball .

Junior Sosa came in as a pinch-hitter and ended up going 0-for-4 during his team’s 4-3 win in 13 innings. He is 0-for-8 since returning to action after not playing for 19 days.

Matt Nevarez pitched the 13th inning of that same game and picked up the win, throwing a shutout frame. He walked one and struck out two batters. Nevarez has a 3.60 ERA in 20 innings over 20 appearances. He has 22 strikeouts and a .155 BAA.

Elvis Escobar was used as a pinch-runner and didn’t get a chance to bat. He is 1-for-2 in four games. Escobar spent most of the season in Low-A, finishing the year with Jamestown, so the Venezuelan League is a big step up in competition. As a 19-year-old last year in winter ball, he was one of the youngest players in Venezuela and was seeing the same sporadic playing time, going 3-for-16 in ten games.

Jhonathan Ramos threw a scoreless inning, retiring the side in order. In 15 appearances, he has allowed one run over 11.2 innings. Ramos is still a free agent.

In Mexico, Sebastian Valle went 1-for-3 with an RBI, run scored and a walk. He is hitting .391 in his last eight games. Due to a very slow start, his OPS is still among the lowest in the league at .668 through 70 at-bats.

Felipe Gonzalez had a rough outing, allowing both inherited runners to score in a 3-1 loss. He recorded two outs, but not before giving up a hit and two walks(one was intentional). Despite the poor showing on Friday, Gonzalez has a 2.61 ERA in 19 relief appearances, with a 1.32 GO/AO ratio and a .227 BAA. He has a 12:17 BB/SO ratio in 20.2 innings.

  • Hey John. How far away is Matt Nevarez ? How high is his ceiling ? What do you believe the organization’s best hope is for him and best case scenario , how soon could he realize that potential? Can you see him being a 7th or 8th inning option? Could we ever see a lockdown back end of Nevarez/ Holdzkom ?

    • Nevarez could be a late-bloomer too. He already reached minor league free agency, so when the Pirates purchased him from his Indy ball team, they signed him for the 2015 season then. He is pitching well in winter ball for the most part and he was rated as one of the best Indy ball pitchers last year, plus he throws hard, so he could make the majors. I wouldn’t project him to be anything more than a solid bullpen arm at this point, though he has closed out games in the past. Will probably start at AAA and have to earn a spot with the Pirates during the season.

  • “[E]very organization now thinks it has pitching,” says an NL executive. “Maybe not as much as the Mets, but more than in the past. No one can find bats. I just think the teams with bats are king right now.” – MLB Trade Rumors

    So if there is truth to this – and from what I’ve heard that the Pirates have depth with bats – What is actually available? Starting pitching or maybe elite prospects?To this point the speculation has been Liriano and Volquez are the targets – what if the value of bats could bring Hamels to Pittsburgh? Or perhaps the team could reclaim a fan favorite Miguel Sano, a 3B beast A graded prospect for example.
    So where is the depth? The bats that stand out to me that should be on the market are Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Josh Harrison, Travis Snider or Starling Marte.
    Alen Hanson could be rushed a bit if needed to fill either Neil Walker or Josh Harrison’s position. Both are coming off career seasons and would fetch a real shiny piece or two. These may be the type of players to get a player of Hamels caliber.
    Andrew Lambo is ready and would probably outproduce Alvarez at first or Snider in RF, Alvarez is power although is a 1 year rental, and Snider had his second breakout year which may also excite a team looking for power. I could see prospects coming from a deal for these guys.
    Polanco would be an excellent LF at PNC while Snider mans RF if Neal the Deal offers Marte clearly the Ace in the hand. A player of elite talent and with upside still – Marte could bring a boatload of talent back to the burgh. A return like Sano and Alex Meyer a 6’9″ RHP with a big time arm? Maybe throw in Jorge Polanco an excellent switch hitting infielder if Pedro goes with him – again you won’t even miss him.
    Hopefully Neal Huntington doesn’t miss this opportunity of selling his bats while the market is paying big time to get them.

    • I doubt a Marte for Sano trade would happen straight up. Sano is the #4 prospect in baseball, arguably #1, coming off a 35 homer 100 rbi season as a 20 year old in AA. He’ll likely be in the majors next year. Its nice to dream about and I love Marte, but Sano has crazy power. Like, he and Kris Bryant have steroid era caliber power

      • Potential will get you fired. Not sure I’d take that deal if the twins called with it. Project-ability is substantially more valid for the 3rd MLB year of a steady progression , vs an oft injured, man among boys , AA prospect muscling long balls against over matched pitching. Not to mention if Sano does meet lofty expectations it’s doubtful to match the team friendly deal Marte is locked into. – I say no thanks… You can say I told ya so in 3 years.. Maybe… But the Bucs will be busy trying to win 90 NOW.

      • I think Miguel Sano is an over-sized, over-rated version of Willy Garcia. Only Willy is already in a corner OF spot , where Sano may end up before landing at DH.. Willy is a plus defender too… Sano best hope is as a right hand Pedro. He is already putting up Dave Kingman like HR or bust strikeout and poor batting / OB numbers.

    • I actually love the idea of Hamels. I am the king of railing about value as the #1 component to allocating payroll.. But if come July we are in contention and the Phils find themselves sputtering again , and haven’t yet moved Hamels , I think it is reasonable to consider. We certainly have the pieces to offer.. Realistically we can out bid anyone with a trade package of youth.. And the reality of the pitching market is Cole Hamels for 2.5 yrs from that point is a premium value for under $50m…..Especially for the Buc’s, Lefties are sparse all thru the system , not only on the 25 man.

    • We are finally in a win now mode… FINALLY ! No way I am parting with an established , still improving young star like Marte…. Not even mentioning his team friendly deal , for prospects. I also think the Phillies desire top tier , A-1 , controllable prospects.. Tho I am sure they’d take Marte , it is one situation where I would much prefer part with a blue chip prospect.

      – All things being equal , I would even much , much rather gamble on a team controlled Pedro , at least thru arbitration , then risk him hitting 50 homers in the AL , while we cross our fingers on some kid panning out or not blowing out a knee etc. , before he even arrives..

    • You’re out of your mind if you think the Pirates would be smart to trade Marte or Harrison for prospects or Pitching! Because of their age and experience level, it’s logical to believe they will be as or even more productive the next couple of years than last season. Harrison is in 1st year of Arbitration, and Marte just entered into a team friendly long-term contract. So there’s no financial reason to make a deal either.

      These two are part of a young core group of every day players who the Pirates are counting on to keep them competitive with the best teams in the NL for the next several seasons. Under no circumstances would NH even consider trading them this off-season no matter how desperate other teams are for hitters of their caliber.

  • Off the subject a bit….bit I saw today that Kyle Blanks was let go by the A’s…..he is still only 27, can play first base and left field. Blanks could always hit, but was frequently hurt. Is he worth a look as a possible pairing in a first base platoon?

    • I think we’d be downright stupid to not take a chance on him. It would cost little, and could only help. If he hits like crap, you cut him, nothing lost. He could be the right hand version of pedro and that is really what we need.

  • Thanks john.. I have a request if you don’t mind elaborating on.. hopefully I can communicate it well.. lf a prospect is say 19-21 and had strike out issues, in your opinion do you believe it’s unlikely he will correct and therefore not contribute? The same question applied to pitcher control? Much appreciated in advance

    • I think control is a little easier to improve upon because some pitchers have to make mechanical adjustments as they grow. Glasnow is a good example of that as he was a late bloomer that grew to 6’7″. It takes some pitchers time to adjust and get used to the height. Batters are a little more difficult, but they shouldn’t be. The problem is that some go by the theory that the way they play got them to where they are, but they don’t realize that it will only get them so far. The bating issue is more mental, while the pitcher’s control is more physical. You will see guys do well in the lower levels despite poor BB/SO rates because the pitchers are worse, but if you watch those players against guys with good secondary stuff, their flaws stand out more

  • John (or anyone), can someone explain what happened with Tony Sanchez at the plate. I always thought his hitting was at least ‘decent’ (even in his major league call ups), but for some reason, in the last 6 months, his numbers seem terrible.

    Can anyone explain?

    • The winter ball stats right now are too small to worry, since he came into a league that was in progress. We can try to let Sanchez himself explain the regular season slump…

      • Do the winter leagues keep defensive stats John? Saw the 1 for 4 but how is Sanchez doing behind the plate with regards to the lack of yips?

        • You can just get the basic stats and I haven’t seen any errors on passed balls yet. The SB% I’ve been keeping track of

      • Hey John. Is it true that Tony was never projected as much of a hitter , and that was with catcher expectations applied , not a 1st baseman.. Wasn’t Tony projected as low as a 3rd round value by some… And we made him a top 5 overall for the purposes of sign-ability and spreading more funds later for above slot bonuses, to land and stockpile right handed HS power arms? Which ,especially considering the circumstances of the draft at the time , I can totally support… But doesn’t also mean we have to temper our expectations of Tony offensively? Which leaves my real question …. What happen to the premium defense we were supposed to be assured behind the dish?

        • Sanchez was supposed to be a late first round pick. I believe Baseball America had him ranked 32nd at the time and scouts had him a little higher. He was a lot like Cole Tucker this year, didn’t hear his name associated with the Pirates(or anyone near the top) until the last minute. There were definitely questions as to whether he would hit enough to be a starter in the majors, but most said he would be an average hitter with at least average defense, possibly better. The defense has definitely been the more disappointing part of his game and it’s hard to explain why he isn’t as good now as he was during college. It’s good to see him playing winter ball and he knows how big this off-season is for his future.

          • You’re right , Sanchez & Tucker have that same make up , attitude and perceived work ethic. I feel much more hope for Tucker simply because he is out of H.S.. Probably the primary cause of the feeling of a sort of cop out , was Tony Sanchez had 3 years of college behind him. You can’t pretend everyone missed a vast untapped potential , to value him 30 spots higher than the consensus. Tucker has that attitude and maturity , and I can buy that they recognized a potential that others have overlooked. Moreover , He is a 17 year old switch hitting shortstop with plus speed and athleticism and a 6’3 frame to grow into. Also, forty something to 24 isn’t as dramatic of a leap as #4. I do believe they wanted him and felt he would be off the board at 39.

            – The list of players passed on in 2009 , even lower slot than Sanchez projection , is difficult to look at… Ugh.

            • I wasn’t comparing them as players, just grouped them together because of how they were drafted. The first time I heard Tucker’s name as a possible first round pick was literally two minutes before he was picked and I didn’t believe it. Sanchez was the same way, no one mentioned him as a possible #4 pick until shortly before it happened, wasn’t as late as Tucker, but there really wasn’t rumors associating him as a high pick, so I didn’t think they would take him #4 until I heard his name called.

              • How did you feel about Sanchez at the time? Do you feel more hopeful for Tucker than you did at the time with Sanchez?

                • I don’t know why I looked at that 2009 draft.. Hindsight being what it is , I knew it would be disturbing…. I don’t fear the same remorse 5 yrs from now to look back at the 2014 Draft.

                  • I hated the pick of Sanchez until I saw all the picks they got with his savings. Zack Von Rosenberg and Colton Cain obviously haven’t done anything, but they were both highly rated HS prospects and it’s doubtful either would have been signed without saving money on the Sanchez pick. At the time, it looked like they got a guy who had a chance to be an average MLB catcher and two pitchers that were like extra 2nd round picks. It wasn’t until I saw ZVR and Cain in person in 2011 that I reconsidered my stance because neither was anything near advertised. Cain was supposedly a workhorse that could hit 94 MPH and I saw a kid throwing 86-88 and leaving everything up in the zone. ZVR was throwing 87-89, straight as an arrow in the middle of the plate and getting crushed.

                    With Tucker, there are too many mixed reports to get too excited right now. Not every scout is sold on him staying at SS as he fills out. I saw plenty of video from him because we had someone taping GCL home games and he looked okay, nothing standout on offense or defense, except he ran better than average. He made a couple good plays in the field and botched a few routine plays. He hit a couple line drives and looked over-matched at times.There is a big difference between his floor and ceiling now and a lot depends on how he fills out.

                    • Awesome. Thanks. I do remember loving those two pitchers.. Especially Cain. How do reports get so out proportion ? Is it mainly with pitchers? Did Cain simply project as a horse based on body type, until put thru the paces and broke down? Is there less wild fluctuation into today’s more digital world , where there is video everywhere of everyone?

                    • Cain was a big-bodied pitcher as an 18-year-old, so you could see him being the type that could go 200 innings every year. He probably did hit 94 MPH, but it wasn’t a speed he could throw for strikes or hit regularly. You will see pitchers hit numbers that they can’t maintain. Glasnow has hit 100 MPH, but he regularly sits 93-95 MPH during his starts, with the occasional 96-97’s. Some kids being watched for the draft will ramp it up to get noticed. If you hit 95 once, the ball could hit the backstop on the fly, you still hit 95 MPH and that’s what gets written down.

                      The Pirates have a pitcher that was in the GCL this year named Dario Agrazal Jr. His dad was a famous pitcher in Panama and his coach. He has the easiest, simple mechanics you will see in the system and he hits 91 MPH regularly with no effort. It’s one of the reasons I really like him, because you know there is more in his arm, plus he is a pitcher and not a thrower at a young age.

  • I do think the Pirates got a steal in Valle. It is rare to get a AAA catcher that is under 27 with upside off waivers. At worst he will be a good defense 3rd Catcher with power. That is a great get for free!

    • They actually signed him as a minor league free agent, which is cheaper than a waiver wire pickup, which has a transaction fee attached. I saw him a lot between 2009-10 at Lakewood. I’m shocked at where his career has gone since then. He didn’t have the best plate patience, but he was 19 at the time and hit the ball with some authority, plus his defense was advanced for his age and he was very athletic for a catcher. He’s 24, so he could surprise. Two years ago, there was a huge difference in prospect status between him and Elias Diaz, so I wouldn’t totally write him off.

      • How do you compare the prospect potential of E. Diaz and S. Valle John? Who is the better player?

        • Diaz is the better player right now because he has progressed nicely the last two years, while Valle has fallen off big time. He has the same problem Willy Garcia has, although not as extreme. Valle provides you with excellent defense, but he doesn’t walk much and strikes out a little too much. When I saw him at 19, I figured it was something he could work on, but he hasn’t got any better. In 2012, Valle probably would have been a top ten prospect in this current system(2012 Valle vs 2014 everyone else). The BB/SO would have been a concern, but he made it to AAA shortly after he turned 22. The problem was he repeated AA the next year and had an awful season. He sort of bounced back in winter ball, but the Phillies shuffled him around the minors this year, so they didn’t think too highly of him. He is 24, just a couple months older than Diaz, with a half season more of AAA experience, so he might still have a chance at becoming something. While Diaz has a chance to be an average starter in the majors if he continues to progess, Valle is probably going to be a defense-first backup in the majors someday.

          • Thanks!

          • John: Something that caught my eye about Valle was the SB/CS percentages in 2014 – at AA and AAA they were around 50%. What happened? His numbers have never been that good – do you think he is finally maturing and working harder?

            • Could be better mechanics or a change in the Phillies system may have helped him. The Pirates didn’t worry about holding runners on in the lower levels, so some of the catchers had numbers that didn’t match their ability. The higher you go in the system, the more veterans you get and usually, they hold runners better. Might just be a combo of experience and better pitchers holding runners