Ke’Bryan Hayes and Adrian Valerio Lead the GCL Pirates Top 10 Prospects

The GCL Pirates ended their 2015 season over the weekend after a very disappointing second half collapse. They went 25-14 to start the year, after a few long winning streaks, and jumped up to first place in their division. From there, they finished the year on a 3-17 stretch, and finished 11.5 games back in their division with a 28-31 record. The team featured some strong hitting prospects, with a lot of young, raw talent. The pitching wasn’t great, but they did have a few arms who could turn into prospects in the upper levels with further development. Only three pitchers made our GCL Pirates top ten list this year, and most of the best prospects were hitters. Here is our end of the year rundown of the best prospects at the level.

Top 10 GCL Pirates Prospects

The cutoff for eligibility on this list was 70 at-bats, 20 innings pitched, or 10 relief appearances. There were a few names who missed the list, such as Seth McGarry, Ike Schlabach, Jacob Taylor, Nathan Trevillian, and James Marvel. Most of the list is based on upside, rather than the results this year. These players are so far away that even their upside is hard to peg.

1. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B – The Pirates drafted Hayes in the compensation portion of the first round, using the pick they received for losing Russell Martin over the off-season. He was praised for his good hitting skills, but more importantly, his strong defensive skills at third base. Hayes lived up to the reputation as a strong defender, looking smooth at third with good glove work and a strong arm. After watching him, there are very few doubts that he could stick at third for the long-run. His hitting was also impressive this year, with a .333/.375/.434 line in 144 at-bats in the GCL. He showed off great plate patience, some gap power, and a strong ability to make contact. Hayes might not project to have an impact bat in the future, but he does have the skills to be a good MLB hitter, and his defense will provide value at a hard position to fill. He was promoted to Morgantown at the end of the year, and should make the jump to West Virginia next year.

2. Adrian Valerio, SS – While Hayes got a lot of fanfare heading into the GCL season due to his draft status, only hardcore fans of the Pirates’ farm system would have been looking forward to Valerio. He was signed for $400,000 in 2013, and made the jump to the U.S. this year after one year in the DSL. Valerio is a smooth fielder at shortstop, with great hands and the arm strength to stick at the position. He was a bit wild at times this year, either making some wild throws, or getting a little out of control at times when trying to make difficult plays. But there is very little doubt that he can stick at shortstop, and he could end up being the best defensive shortstop in the system one day. Offensively, he fits a familiar profile as a guy with a great approach who makes good contact, drives the ball to the gaps, but doesn’t have a lot of over-the-fence power. He’s got a lot of speed, which gives him range on defense, makes him a threat on the bases, and allows him to rack up extra base hits with his line drive approach. With Cole Tucker out for most of the 2016 season, there’s a chance Valerio could get an aggressive push to play shortstop in West Virginia next year.

3. Luis Escobar, RHP – Escobar emerged this year as a very interesting lower level arm, even if the stats didn’t back that up. He had a 3.54 ERA in 40.2 innings, with a 37:13 K/BB ratio. Those are good numbers, but not great. He had a few disaster outings in there that made things look worse, with two starts where he combined for seven earned runs in just one inning of work, along with four walks and no strikeouts. But the stuff is what puts him on the radar here. He’s 19 years old, and usually sits in the 91-93 MPH range, touching as high as 95 on several occasions this year. He throws a slider, curve, and a change, but mostly relies on his fastball at this point, with the key focus being his command of the pitch. He’s got the best arm on this team, and will be a guy to watch going forward. He was recently moved up to Morgantown for their playoff run.

4. Michael De La Cruz, OF – De La Cruz has been on the prospect radar for a few years, including last year when he made the jump to the GCL. That jump wasn’t great, as he ended up with a .485 OPS and struggled with injuries and home sickness issues in his jump to the U.S. This time around, he did much better, posting a .256/.341/.379 line. He was hitting the ball harder, and showing off the same traits as the first two hitters — a good approach at the plate, some line drive power, and solid defense at a premium position. De La Cruz does have some projectability in his frame, which could allow him to hit for more power in the future, although he doesn’t project to be a big home run hitter. He’s got some speed, but hasn’t been a good base stealer, with just six steals in 13 attempts this year, and 24 in 43 attempts (55.8% success rate) in his career.

5. Edison Lantigua, OF – Lantigua is a very raw prospect who didn’t put up great numbers in his jump to the GCL this year. He had a .207/.250/.306 line in 121 at-bats. Some of the struggles could have been due to a few minor injuries that limited his playing time this year. Then there’s also the fact that he was 18 and making the jump to a new country. Both of those issues led to struggles for De La Cruz last year, and he rebounded well in his second GCL season. Lantigua gets ranked here due to his raw tools, which include power potential, a good approach at the plate, and the potential to make good contact. He also has some defensive upside with a strong arm. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him return to the GCL next year, much like De La Cruz did this year.

6. Chris Plitt, RHP – Plitt doesn’t have great velocity, usually sitting in the 86-88 MPH range with his fastball, and seeing a drop in his velocity in later innings. And that’s not a great range to be in at the age of 20. However, he has a tall, skinny frame which has plenty of room for added weight. He has loose arm action and an effortless delivery from a high three quarters slot. That combination could give him added velocity if he does eventually add weight to his projectable frame. Plitt already has good command of the pitch, throwing it on a downward angle and pounding the strike zone, which led to just three walks this year in 40.2 innings. He throws a slider and a curve, with the slider looking like the better pitch at the moment. He had the best numbers of any pitcher on the staff, although he probably won’t repeat those numbers in the upper levels if he doesn’t add some velocity to his fastball. That’s not something to rule out, and as a result, it makes Plitt a very interesting project to follow.

7. Raul Siri, 2B – Siri opened some eyes last year by hitting for a .324/.434/.521 line in 238 at-bats in his first season in the DSL. That was good enough for him to make the jump to the GCL this year and get a large amount of playing time. He’s got the potential to be a strong all-around player, with the ability to provide defensive value at second, some speed, and the potential to be a good hitter. He didn’t show the best results this year, with a .640 OPS, but the Pirates liked him enough to give him a late-season promotion to Bristol. I don’t think he’d be a candidate to jump to West Virginia next year, but a promotion to Morgantown could be a possibility, with the chance to continue getting a lot of playing time and hopefully repeating the offensive success he had last year.

8. Nicholas Economos, RHP – The reports we got after the draft were that Economos could hit 94 MPH but had control problems. When I saw him, he was working 88-90 MPH with a good mid-70s curveball, and had better control. On the season, he had a 3.98 ERA in 31.2 innings, with a 29:11 K/BB ratio. He ended up being a much different pitcher than the draft reports indicated, although it’s possible the Pirates had him slowing things down in order to improve the control. The big question going forward is whether he could get that 94 MPH velocity back, and keep this new control with that fastball. A 6′ 6″ pitcher throwing a mid-90s fastball, paired with his strong curveball, would give him enough to be a solid relief prospect.

9. Yoel Gonzalez, C – In his second year in the GCL, Gonzalez struggled offensively, seeing a drop from a .572 OPS last year to a .434 OPS this year. He gets on this list due to his strong defensive skills behind the plate. He’s got a strong arm, and is a good receiver with the potential to be an excellent framer. He’s also got an athletic frame and good agility, with strong blocking skills. Catchers usually take longer to develop with the bat, especially when they’ve focused so much on their defense. For that reason, Gonzalez gets a bit of a pass for the offensive struggles. He will need to move up next year to stay on this list, and you’d like to see better results at the plate eventually, as he looked over-matched at times. For now, the defense is the strong part of his game.

10. Sam Kennelly, IF – Kennelly has a good frame and can play all over the infield. He spent most of his time this year at first base, but also had some time at third at the beginning and end of the year when Hayes was out of the lineup. He’s played middle infield in the past, but fell on the depth chart this year due to Valerio and Siri taking up the middle infield spots. He comes from a good baseball background, with three brothers who have played in pro ball, and two who have made it to Double-A. With his versatility and frame, Sam could be the third Kennelly brother to make it to Double-A.

Other Notable Players: Cristian Mota is a 23-year-old left-handed pitcher who hits mid-90s and put up a 1.69 ERA in 26.2 innings, with a 21:10 K/BB ratio. He moved up to Bristol at the end of the year. Victor Fernandez showed a lot of speed, with 16 stolen bases in 18 attempts. Jhoan Herrera has a lot of raw power, although that only showed up in the form of extra base hits, with 13 doubles on the year and one home run. Right-handed pitcher Richard Mitchell made a late-season mechanical adjustment, and had a strong final outing, with one walk and one hit in 2.2 shutout innings in relief, along with seven strikeouts.