The 2015 GCL Pirates started their season Monday afternoon with a roster filled with 2015 draft picks and players from the 2014 Dominican Summer League team. There are also 15 returning players from last year’s team and a couple international players on the way.
Starting with the draft picks, the big name is third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, who was taken with the 32nd overall pick in this year’s draft. He should see plenty of time at the hot corner and if he holds his own, you could expect to see him make the same jump to West Virginia that Cole Tucker made this year, and both Reese McGuire and Austin Meadows made last year. Hayes is the top prospect on the team at this point.
Jacob Taylor will also open up his pro career in the GCL. The fourth round pick was highly rated, ranking as a possible 2nd round pick in our tiered ranking article before the draft. The 6’3″ right-hander turns 20 in July and should be a priority on the pitching staff when it comes to innings.
Other draft picks include Seth McGarry(8th round), Chris Plitt(14th), Austin Sodders(17th), who was just announced today, Nicholas Economos(21st), and 22nd round pick Nathan Trevillian, who received a reported $250,000 bonus. All of these players are pitchers.
The top players coming over from the DSL are outfielder Edison Lantigua, shortstop Adrian Valerio, second baseman Raul Siri, pitchers Richard Mitchell and Luis Escobar, infielder Jhoan Herrera and outfielder Victor Fernandez. These players represent seven of the top ten prospects from the 2014 DSL team. You can find full reports on all of them here in our top ten article.
As for the position-by-position breakdown, we start with the catchers. Yoel Gonzalez returns for his second season, but the 18-year-old is still one of the younger players in the league and the Pirates liked him enough to give him a $350,000 bonus in 2012 on his 16th birthday(August 1st). He has strong defense behind the plate, but the bat hasn’t caught up yet. That’s not a big deal considering his age and he could be one of the top prospects on the team by the end of the season.
The backups are Reggie Cerda, returning from last year, and Garrett Russini, who was just signed as a non-drafted free agent. Gonzalez should see the majority of the playing time. Also in a couple weeks, Paul Brands will join the team. He is currently in the DSL with visa issues that should be taken care of soon. He was signed out of the Netherlands this year.
The infield consists of Hayes, Valerio, Siri, Herrera, Sam Kennelly, Nelson Jorge and Luis Perez. I expect Hayes and Valerio to see most of the time on the left side, which should provide excellent defense for the GCL pitchers. Hayes got a lot of pre-draft praise for his defense, while Valerio is a defensive wizard at shortstop, capable of winning Gold Gloves in the future. Siri was the best hitter in the DSL last year, though he is a little older than most players on the team. He should see the majority of the time at second base. Herrera has been starting at first base, though his natural position is third. Kennelly can handle all four infield spots, so expect him to move around a lot.
They really seem to have too many infielders that should be seeing regular playing time. It wouldn’t be surprising to see someone move up to Bristol from this group, just to make room. Luis Perez can flat out hit and plays solid defense at second base, while filling in capably at shortstop. Nelson Jorge did awful last year after being taken in the seventh round, but he got a $125,000 bonus, so it seems unlikely he will be buried on the bench so quick. A lineup with Hayes, Valerio, Siri and Herrera/Kennelly is about as good as you will see at this level as far as prospects.
In the outfield, this group could be just as talented. Edison Lantigua was the top prospect from the DSL last year, while Michael de la Cruz(pictured above) returns for a second season and Victor Fernandez joins them. Lantigua is a terrific hitter with a high ceiling as a corner outfielder. He could play center field, but Fernandez and de la Cruz are better defenders. Fernandez is the fastest player on the team and possibly in the organization. He can hit for average, steal a ton of bases and cover a lot of ground in center. Eric Thomas Jr. and Luis Benitez round out the outfield.
De la Cruz is the most disappointing player returning because he ranked as the 20th best prospect in the system after the 2013 season and was named as one of the top DSL/VSL players in all of baseball. Last year he had three minor injuries, dealt with being homesick, which you really can’t get mad about with a 17-year-old away from his home country for the first time. Over the winter, we got reports that he lost about ten pounds, which was the opposite of what you like to see from someone who should be filling out. Then the reports this Spring Training weren’t good, so in a short time, he has really dropped. You still have a kid that has shown at least four plus tools, with power being a possible average tool down the line, and he doesn’t turn 19 until next month.
On the pitching side, you will see a lot of players fall into the 20-30 inning range. Luis Escobar started the opener and all five players that followed him profile as relievers. One was Jared Lakind, who is there on rehab at the beginning of the season. Another is Robert Stock, who was a catcher, who switched to pitching, then was purchased from an independent team back in April. Lakind started his career at first base, so both are similar projects, who will likely move up to a different level soon. Jameson Taillon will get the start on Tuesday, then after that the rotation is up in the air.
Nick Hutchings and Jose Batista are 19-year-old pitchers returning for a second season and both have started in the past. Nestor Oronel started last year in the DSL, so he could see the same role. He and Batista are lefties that top out at high-80’s, so unless they added velocity, there is limited upside. Another soft-tossing lefty returning is Gerardo Navarro, who made ten starts last season. He is 21 years old already, so he might lose out on innings to younger players.
The other starters could come from the draft picks, with Jacob Taylor being the most likely. I expect there to be a lot of games with two pitchers seeing 3-5 innings of work, and then some hard-throwing relievers following them from the bullpen. Of the draft picks, both Austin Sodders and Chris Plitt were starters this year, so unless the Pirates want to limit their overall innings, they are possibilities to start.
You could also see a player like Seth McGarry move quickly to a higher level. When drafted, he was said to be able to advance quickly as a reliever through the system and at age 21, he shouldn’t be in the GCL. I doubt he minds, since he is from Bradenton and basically pitching in his own backyard. If he moved up, that would open up more innings for other pitchers. Last year, the GCL Pirates had nine players start at least two games and six relievers topped 20 innings, so they do a good job of spreading the workload around to everyone.
Rounding out some interesting names in the bullpen, they will have Cristian Mota and Yunior Montero returning, two pitchers that can hit mid-90’s. I can’t leave out the best name in all of baseball, Mister Luciano, who picked up the save in the season opener. He throws low-90’s, with a hard-breaking curve and a change-up that is at least average. The giant(6’6″, 255) Jen-Lei Liao from Taiwan also returns. The 21-year-old struggled with command last year, but held batters to a .183 average.
One interesting player of note. Vince Deyzel was signed out of South Africa and he will join the club soon, possibly seeing some time on the mound. He just arrived in the States and I was told he is only spending 6-8 weeks here this time before returning for school.