Morning Report: The DSL Pirates at the Halfway Point, A Lot Has Gone Wrong

I was waiting until the DSL Pirates reached the halfway point of their season before doing an update on the team, with the plans of splitting an article up into the top five things that have gone right and the top five things that have gone wrong. When I started going through all the stats and my notes from the season, I realized that an article like that would be impossible to do without making two concessions. The good list would have to include a lot of older players who aren’t really prospects, while the bad list would need to be cut down to include just five things. To put it bluntly, it hasn’t been a good season for the DSL Pirates.

This team does have a couple legit excuses as to why they are bad. Going into the season, we knew they were a very young/inexperienced team, and there were a lot of injuries, mostly minor, but a few major. Due to those two issues, there weren’t high expectations for this season, at least from me. The handful of players I talked to before Opening Day all thought they had a good team for this season and maybe they would be good if there weren’t so many games missed due to injury. As they sit now, they have a 15-22 record and they are dead last in the 38-team league with a 5.28 ERA.

Just to show how bad the injuries have been, here is a breakdown of the players that have missed some or all of the season:

Ivan Cespedes, Eumir Sepulveda, Saul de la Cruz and Jherson Esqueda have all missed the entire season so far and I don’t believe any are due back soon. Those aren’t the most familiar names, but for those that don’t know, they are all pitchers. So right there you’re missing quite a chunk of the pitching staff right from the start of the season and they needed to be replaced with someone else who wasn’t part of the plans before the injuries. On top of that, starters Adonis Pichardo and Brian Sousa both missed a short time with minor injuries. Oddy Nunez was sat for over a month by MLB while they went over his contract and Cesar Santos was released because he wasn’t good enough to fill out the worst staff in the DSL. That was due to conditioning on his part, though he also broke his hand last year during a game.

Then you go to catchers, where things started off bad as a signing from last year was cut before this year started. Roberto Noguera had vision issues and never actually played for the team, unless you count the DSL version of the Fall Instructional League last year. He was replaced by Julio Gonzalez and then he got hurt in Spring Training. Raul Hernandez and Gabriel Brito were also signed last year, with Brito getting a $200,000 bonus. They were both hurt in Spring Training. That left Mikell Granberry and Ramy Perez, two returning players, to get all the catching time early.

The Pirates sent catcher Paul Brands from the Netherland to the DSL while he awaited his work visa to go to the United States. He is in the GCL now, but he got into a game in the DSL and was injured in the third inning. Then Granberry was out for a week after getting hurt during catching drills, which at one point, meant that they had six catchers there and the only healthy one was Ramy Perez. Some of the others were getting time at the DH spot, but were unable to catch. As of now, all of them are healthy at the same time. While the team wouldn’t use five catchers at once, there were plans to use Perez at 3B/2B occasionally, Granberry at 1B and Brito was expected to play a lot due to his prospect status, so they were going to get them playing time.

That would have been nice if the injuries stopped at 11, seems like enough for one team in half a season, but shortstop Christopher Perez had an arm injury that kept him out early. That caused him to be used sparingly until recently and he was definitely behind everyone else once he started playing. They also lost outfielder Eddy Vizcaino with a leg infection after a bad slide, and just recently, outfielder Eliezer Ramirez broke his hand and he is done for the season.

Johan De Jesus was supposed to see full-time action this year, his third season in the DSL, but he was suspended for the entire season due to a failed drug test. He hasn’t performed in the past, but third year players do have an advantage in the league with their age and experience, so he probably would have helped. Finally, Rudy Guzman could have been playing for the team, but he has been dealing with visa issues. In reality, he would be somewhere in the US by now if not for those issues, but he’s a really talented player that would have helped this team out early if he was playing. He only recently started playing and has been used mostly off the bench.

I think that paints a pretty good picture of what the team has been dealing with this year, but that’s not all. There is also the case of the entire starting rotation being first-year players and the team has a total of 16 first-year players getting regular time out of the current 32 active players. That means half the players are rookies and the top seven pitchers in innings pitched are as well. So the rookies are getting a majority of the innings, while the rest who are all second-year players, except third-year Luis Brun and his 7.30 career ERA, have thrown a total of 95 innings.

So we now see why the team has legit excuses for being bad, but the performance of some of the top signings from last year, could be classified as disappointing. Here are the stats, along with the bonus total for the eight players that got six-figure deals last July:

Yondry Contreras: .189/.292/.250 with 46 strikeouts in 32 games. He has one homer, one stolen base. $400,000 bonus.

Gabriel Brito: .250/.378/.333 and has only played 12 games. $200,000

Domingo Robles: 5.14 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in 35 innings, with 19 strikeouts. $175,000

Brian Sousa: 3.31 ERA, only 16.1 innings due to lat strain. 1.59 WHIP and 9:8 BB/SO ratio. $160,000

Christopher Perez: .143/.250/.175 in 20 games, though only 63 at-bats. Just two walks, no steals, eight errors. $150,000

Adonis Pichardo: 6.00 ERA and 1.73 WHIP(plus eight hit batters) in 30 innings. Has 28 strikeouts, but he’s already 19 years old too. $105,000

Yerry De Los Santos: 5.23 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in 31 innings, with only 13 strikeouts. $100,000

Roger Santana: 8.28 ERA and 1.84 WHIP in 25 innings. $100,000

You can say that none of them have performed well, while realizing they represent half of the new players this year.

Eddy Vizcaino may have got a six-figure deal because he was good enough for the Dominican Prospect League, but his bonus was never announced and he signed after July. He has played well at times in his rookie season, hitting .282/.420/.321, with a very impressive 17:6 BB/SO ratio. He is about to turn 19 on Sunday, so he is old for a rookie. You also have rookie shortstop Melvin Jimenez doing great with a .322/.404/.427 line, but he’s just shy of his 20th birthday. So there are rookies doing well, just not the right ones as far as prospect status.

I can assure you it hasn’t been all bad so far. Yes, some of the best hitters are older, or in the case of Huascar Fuentes, too old for Low-A ball right now(he’s 23), and he’s been in a bad slump recently after a tremendous start. Mikell Granberry is hitting well, especially for a catcher, but his defense hasn’t been good this year. He is 4-for-39 in throwing out runners and that’s in just 12 games. If he can catch, his bat makes him a legit prospect, but he’s been seeing time at first base(and DH) and there his bat ranks as just average. The best pitcher has been 21-year-old reliever Angel Vasquez, so that tells you a lot. Oh yeah, I was getting to the good.

As I mentioned above, I had one legit good for my list without stretching to get it to five for symmetry. That good is the progress of Jeremias Portorreal(pictured above) this season. He signed for $375,000 last year, the second highest total behind Adrian Valerio, who moved up to the GCL. Portorreal had a rough 2014 season, but it should be pointed out that he was 16 most of the season and he’s only five weeks older than Yondry Contreras, who signed the Pirates’ biggest deal a year later.

Portorreal has drawn 30 walks in 30 games this season, putting him one behind the league leader. He had 35 of all of last season, which isn’t a bad total, but last year he had a .167 average and .240 slugging. This season, keeping those numbers in mind, he has a .236 average and .368 slugging, and when combined with his OBP, he has seen his OPS go up 256 points. He has also cut down on strikeouts, which were a big problem last year, when he average one per 3.30 plate appearances. The numbers aren’t great, but we are more interested in seeing improvements from a 17-year-old and he’s raised that strikeout ratio to one every 4.52 plate appearances.

When I asked which returning player improved the most over last year, I was told that Ramy Perez was a totally different player. That’s good because he had a .410 OPS last year. His attitude, work ethic and approach at the plate has changed, and it shows in his numbers. He is playing more than ever, showing strong defense and he has an .810 OPS. The problem is that he is a third year player and 20 years old, so while he could be a late bloomer, you’re talking about someone that with be in his fourth year at pro ball the first time he reaches the U.S., so he needs to move quick through the system in the future.

It would be nice to report better news, but no one on the team has really improved their prospect status based on what we knew prior to the season. The top bonus players from last year aren’t getting it done and the pitching staff has been bad. The best players on offense are either too old, or don’t have the tools to be considered legit prospects.

Last year we saw breakout seasons from Raul Siri and Yeudy Garcia, plus Victor Fernandez came out of nowhere and with his game-changing speed, that alone gives him two tools(defense/running) that are plus tools. Then add in that he can drive the ball well in the gaps and you have a potential prospect. That team last year also had strong seasons from rookies Adrian Valerio, Luis Escobar and Edison Lantigua, who were all top bonus players. So far, this year’s team hasn’t shown any of that potential, but there is still half a season to go.

Pirates Game Graph

Source: FanGraphs

Playoff Push

The Pirates trail by 2.5 games in the division to the Cardinals. They have a 5.5 game lead for the top wild card spot.

Indianapolis is 3-7 in their last ten games. They have a two game lead in their division.

Altoona is 5-5 in their last ten games and they are one game behind first place with Bowie, who they will play this afternoon.

Bradenton and West Virginia did not win their first half title. Their second half records are included below in the schedule.

Today’s Schedule

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates won 6-5 over the Cardinals in ten innings on Sunday night. They are now on their All-Star break until Friday night, when they start a three-game series in Milwaukee.

In the minors, Billy Roth will make his fourth start of the season. In his last outing, he gave up four runs on five hits and four walks in three innings. In each of his first two starts, he went five innings, with one walk and six strikeouts. Jayson Aquino hasn’t looked good in his last two starts, giving up a total of eight runs on 16 hits and three walks in 9.2 innings. Indianapolis is now on their All-Star break. They will be represented by Elias Diaz, Alen Hanson and Blake Wood in the All-Star game on Wednesday night. Altoona goes on their All-Star break after today’s game. West Virginia has the day off. You can view last night’s prospect watch here.

MLB: Pittsburgh (53-35) @ Brewers (38-52) 8:10 PM 7/17
Probable starter: TBD

AAA: Indianapolis (52-39) @ Toledo (40-51) 7:00 PM 7/16 (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD

AA: Altoona (48-40) vs Bowie (49-39) 12:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Zack Dodson (3.64 ERA, 16:43 BB/SO, 96.1 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (42-46, 10-8 second half) @ Daytona (46-41) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Jayson Aquino (4.11 ERA, 18:43 BB/SO, 65.2 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (50-37, 13-5 second half) vs Hagerstown (44-42) 7:05 PM 7/14 (season preview)
Probable starter:  TBD

Short-Season A: Morgantown (10-12) @ Vermont (9-13) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter: TBD

Rookie: Bristol (7-11) @ Kingsport (11-9) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter:  Billy Roth (6.23 ERA, 6:15 BB/SO, 13.0 IP)

GCL: Pirates (12-6) vs Astros (5-12) 12:00 PM (season preview)

DSL: Pirates (15-22) vs Yankees2 (20-17) 10:30 AM (season preview)


We usually have hitting highlights, once in awhile pitching, but not enough defense, so here is a double play from Max Moroff, Adam Frazier and Dan Gamache.

Recent Transactions

7/12: Wilfredo Boscan recalled. Steve Lombardozzi optioned to Indianapolis.

7/10: Pirates sign Ike Schlabach and assign him to GCL.

7/10: Pirates sign Tate Scioneaux and assign him to Morgantown.

7/10: Jesus Paredes promoted to Morgantown. Oderman Rocha sent to GCL.

7/9: Pirates sign Sherton Apostel.

7/9: Mike Wallace sent from Bristol to GCL.

7/7: Clay Holmes added to Bradenton roster. Harold Ramirez placed on temporary inactive list.

7/7: Trace Tam Sing added to West Virginia roster. Tito Polo placed on temporary inactive list.

7/6: Josh Harrison placed on disabled list. Travis Ishikawa added to active roster.

7/6: Justin Seller assigned to GCL on rehab.

7/5: Pirates claim Travis Ishikawa on waivers.

7/4: Pirates sign five international players.

7/3: Pirates sign Kevin Sanchez and Samuel Inoa.

7/3: Pirates trade Clayton Richard to Chicago Cubs for cash considerations.

7/2: Chris Volstad sent outright to Indianapolis.

7/2: Pirates sign Larry Alcime Jr and Kyle Simmons.

7/1: Alen Hanson activated from disabled list. John Holdzkom and Hunter Morris placed on disabled list.

7/1: Paul Brands assigned to GCL Pirates from DSL.

6/30: Corey Hart sent on rehab to Indianapolis.

6/30: Jose Tabata outrighted to Indianapolis.

6/29: Jeff Inman and Gift Ngoepe promoted to Indianapolis.

6/29: Pirates sign Daniel Zamora.

This Date in Pirates History

Seven former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including one that played eight seasons for the Pirates.  We start with third baseman Lee Handley, who played for the Pirates from 1937 until 1941, then again from 1944 until 1946. Usually when you see a gap for a player during the early 1940’s, it’s due to military service, but Handley actually injured his arm during an off-season automobile accident and spent those two years in the minors. During his time in Pittsburgh, he hit .269 over 843 games and played solid defense.

As for the other six former players born on this date, we have 2011 outfielder Ryan Ludwick, 1997 relief pitcher Clint Sodowsky, first baseman Rich Aude(1993, 1995-96), lefty pitcher Frank Bork(1964) and 1899 second baseman John O’Brien, who was one of the players going to Louisville in the famous Honus Wagner trade. We also have Jiggs Donahue, who caught for the 1900-01 Pirates. He has an interesting note to his career that you may have never seen in a Major League game, depending on how old you are. Donahue was a lefty catcher, one of four in team history.

  • Lee Handley. Nickname of “Jeep”. I wonder if he got injured in a jeep?

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    July 13, 2015 9:23 am

    I think what would be interesting is if someone had the information to post a list of the top 10-20 hitters in the DSL, by average, and top 10-20 starting pitchers, by ERA, along with their signing bonuses. Just to see if the Pirates DSL team has not only had a rash of injuries, but is also over matched playing against teams with multiple players with 7 figure bonuses.

    John – could you post that kind of information? I ask, because when I look at the DSL standings, I see the Yankees (who have 2 teams), Red Sox, Cubs, all near the top of the standings.

    • John Dreker
      July 13, 2015 9:51 am

      I won’t have time to look it up today, but I will tell you that DSL records are usually based on age of team and not talent. Some of the best Pirates teams had almost no prospects and were older than league average. If you look at the Yankees and Red Sox, there are clear differences in their two teams and that usually happens because they will load up one team and if a player starts doing well for the “B” squad, he will move to the other team.

      The one Red Sox team is awful, worse than the Pirates. The other is third best in the league. The two Yankees teams are 9th and 12th, so not really top teams, but their one team is much better than the other even though they are only three spots away. The Astros have the same thing going on with one great and one awful team. Rarely do you see two good or two bad teams from the same organization because they usually stack one

    • Agree that would be interesting – Team, Age, stat, and bonus. Top 10-20 pitchers and hitters.

      • When you mention teams with seven-figure international bonuses, there really aren’t any teams loaded with players like that. There aren’t many seven-figure bonuses first of all and they don’t all go to the DSL, plus as mentioned in the other comment, a lot of teams have two teams. There is also the fact that if a team “loads up” on high bonus players, that could literally mean 3-4 out of a 35 man roster and they would still need to fill out the other 31 players and that is where the scouting comes in.

        If you surround three high bonus players with 32 players that are fillers and old for the level, that doesn’t help you figure out if those players are making a difference. The difference makers in the DSL are usually the roster fillers, which is pretty evident from the Pirates this year. Their best players right now are not prospects.

        • BuccosFanStuckinMD
          July 13, 2015 3:22 pm

          I understand all that, but I still think it would be interesting to see what kind of correlation seems to exist in how much a guys gets signed for, and his actual production at the DSL level…my guess is, that the top 10-20 are going to have more guys signed for say $500k and above, then below…..but, I don’t know for sure…

          • John Dreker
            July 13, 2015 8:31 pm

            In the past, the top guys are almost always older players. You have to remember that the top bonus guys stay one year almost always and they are 16-17, while this league has fillers that are 20-22. Like I said with the Pirates, just look at Huascar Fuentes, best hitter by far, he’s 23 and not a prospect and not a big bonus guy. That happens a lot

  • Hopefully a couple of the DSL players can turn it around in the second half. Maybe they are concentrating on their educations.