Back in 2012, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed Michael de la Cruz and Julio de la Cruz to $700,000 bonuses. They were the keys to the July 2nd signing class and no one has received a bonus that size since. Besides the common last name and the same bonus, they are very different players.

Michael has been the player that gets the most attention of the two because he showed off a ton of tools in the DSL in 2013, while Julio struggled at the plate and in the field. There was also the difference in age between the two, which was important at the time, but is getting less important as they get older. Just a note, for the rest of this article, I’m going with MDLC and JDLC, and just to add confusion, I’ll mention they have a pitcher named Saul de la Cruz in the Dominican academy right now. He would have been in the DSL this year, but he hurt his arm/shoulder during Spring Training.

JDLC missed being eligible for the 2011 signing class by five weeks. So that made him older for a first-time eligible player in 2012. MDLC had to wait eight days to sign in 2012 because his 16th birthday was on July 10th that year, so that made him young for the class. It’s only nine months difference, which is why it isn’t a big deal now, but that age is a key development time for most players. If you have a 16-year-old looking like one of the best players in the DSL in 2013 and a 17-year-old looking over-matched, there is going to be a big difference in opinion between the two, but that wasn’t the only reason MDLC got all the attention.

The reports from the DSL in 2013 basically painted MDLC as a player with four plus tools and they believed he could fill out and add power. The report on JDLC was that he showed a little power and more should be there, but not much else good was said. He wasn’t playing third base often, spending more time at DH and it showed last year when we got our own eyes on him. He is not a good defensive player, which likely means that he ends up at first base if he starts showing offensive potential, but you might as well see if you can turn him into a third baseman in the meantime. You don’t want to give a prospect struggling at the plate, a new position to learn too.

From there they both reported to the Fall Instructional League(FIL) in 2013 and the GCL last year. The prospect gap between the two players quickly closed as MDLC dealt with a skin rash that kept him out of action, followed by a minor ankle injury, which was injured a little worse in his first game back. With three minor issues to deal with and poor stats to go along with them, the 17-year-old away from home for the first time became homesick. That’s not uncommon during a long season and it’s even harder to deal with at his age and being in a different country. He looked much better in the FIL in 2014, so he didn’t totally drop out of the top 50 at that point.

As for JDLC, he moved up despite the poor stats his first season. He saw his average go up 45 points in 2014, but his OBP went down because he drew just six walks. His slugging was similar, because he had eight less extra-base hits in 2014. So despite the batting average being that much better, he didn’t have a better season. That leads up to where they are today and why MDLC is still the player that gets more press despite what’s going on right now.

In the off-season and Extended Spring Training(EST), it didn’t look good for MDLC. He needed to fill out some over the winter and instead, he came back ten pounds lighter. Reports from EST also weren’t encouraging, so neither helped his case during the updated rankings, but he seems to be getting back on track during the GCL season.

JDLC just had a 14-game hit streak and 23-game on base streak snapped last night. He is a level higher than MDLC at Bristol and still not getting much attention. The reason for that is that the tools haven’t changed as he got older. He’s still not a good third baseman, he has no speed, he’s hitting .269 with five walks and 31 strikeouts in 34 games. JDLC also had one hit in eight of his last nine games and drew one walk that whole time, meaning he was doing the minimum to keep the streak alive most nights. He has ten extra-base hits this year, all doubles.

At this stage, performance is good to see, but players can still be rated higher off their potential. MDLC is a legit center fielder that can run and he has recently started to show some power with 15 extra-base hits this year, including triples in both games yesterday. There are still flaws to his game, which is why he didn’t make our latest top 50 list, but that doesn’t mean we are writing him off. His upside right now is still higher than JDLC due to his premium position and tools versus a likely future first baseman that hasn’t shown any average tools yet. While neither has lived up to the big bonus yet, they are both still 19 years old, so time is on their side.

Pirates Game Graph


Source: FanGraphs

Playoff Push

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

Indianapolis is 7-3 in their last ten games. They have a 3.5 game lead in the division.

Altoona is 6-4 in their last ten games and they are in third place, 5.5 games back of Bowie.

Bradenton is 6-4 in their last ten games. They trail Palm Beach by three games in the standings.

West Virginia is 7-3 in their last ten games and they have a six game lead in the division.

Morgantown is 4-6 in their last ten games. They are 3.5 games back in the wild card chase.

The Bristol Pirates are 5-5 in their last ten games. They are three games back in the division.

GCL Pirates are 3-7 in their last ten games. They are 4.5 games back in the standings.

The DSL Pirates have been eliminated from the postseason.

Today’s Schedule

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates lost 4-1 to the Diamondbacks on Monday night. Francisco Liriano will be on the mound tonight for the Pirates. He threw 6.1 shutout innings against the Diamondbacks earlier this season. Arizona will go with Chase Anderson, who has a 4.31 ERA in 117 innings. He gave up five runs over five innings in his last start.

In the minors, Chad Kuhl makes his second start after being skipped in the rotation due to his high inning total. After a poor start on August 1st, they decided to give him a chance to get some rest, so he could hopefully finish out the season strong. He was limited in his last start, but still pitched well over five innings, allowing one run. Kuhl is sixth in the Eastern League in ERA and 13th in strikeouts. Luis Heredia hasn’t made it through five innings in any of his last three starts, giving up a total of 22 hits in 10.2 innings. Morgantown is on their All-Star break until Wednesday. Four players have been selected to the NYPL All-Star team. You can view last night’s prospect watch here.

MLB: Pittsburgh (69-47) vs Diamondbacks (58-59) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Francisco Liriano (3.19 ERA, 48:149 BB/SO, 135.1 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (73-51) vs Norfolk (71-51) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Wilfredo Boscan (3.10 ERA, 44:68 BB/SO, 101.2 IP)

AA: Altoona (64-57) vs Portland (44-77) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Chad Kuhl (2.76 ERA, 37:88 BB/SO, 127.1 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (63-57, 31-19 second half) @ St Lucie (60-60) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Luis Heredia (5.60 ERA, 26:44 BB/SO, 72.1 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (71-48, 34-16 second half) @ Lexington (50-68) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Colten Brewer (5.02 ERA, 30:83 BB/SO, 95.0 IP)

Short-Season A: Morgantown (27-29) vs Auburn (26-28) 7:05 PM 7/19 (season preview)
Probable Starter: TBD

Rookie: Bristol (24-25) @ Bluefield (20-33) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter: TBD

GCL: Pirates (27-20) vs  Yankees2 (18-29) 10:00 AM (season preview)

DSL: Pirates (26-41) vs Brewers (30-37) 10:30 AM (season preview)

Highlights

Here is a home run from Mel Rojas Jr., who has really tumbled off the prospect chart this season. He’s hitting .300 with eight walks in his last ten games.

Recent Transactions

8/16: Jose Salazar retired.

8/16: Pirates sign Frank Herrmann. Jeremy Bleich placed on temporary inactive list.

8/16: Rob Scahill sent to Indianapolis on rehab.

8/14: Edward Salcedo traded to Royals. Robert Stock assigned to Altoona.

8/13: Angel Sanchez placed on disabled list. Andy Vasquez sent to Altoona.

8/11: Rob Scahill sent to Altoona on rehab.

8/11: Wilfredo Boscan sent outright to Indianapolis. Jeff Inman placed on disabled list.

8/11: Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.

8/9: Adam Miller promoted to Indianapolis.

8/9: Cole Tucker placed on disabled list. Erik Forgione sent to Morgantown.

8/8: Kevin Newman and Edgar Santana promoted to West Virginia.

8/8: Junior Sosa placed on disabled list. Isaac Sanchez activated from Bradenton disabled list.

8/7: Vance Worley sent outright to Indianapolis.

8/7: Deolis Guerra returned to Pirates from Indians and placed on disabled list. Wilfredo Boscan designated for assignment.

8/6: Rob Scahill assigned to GCL on rehab.

8/5: Indians claim Deolis Guerra off waivers.

8/5: Isaac Sanchez assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab. Stephan Meyer assigned to GCL from Morgantown.

8/4: Dovydas Neverauskas promoted to Bradenton. Robert Stock sent to GCL.

8/4: Jake Burnette activated from disabled list.

8/4: Jonathan Schwind activated from Altoona disabled list. Adam Miller assigned to Altoona.

This Date in Pirates History

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including the great Roberto Clemente. Last year in the Morning Report, I paid tribute to him on his 80th birthday. That article can be found here. Three years ago, I posted an article relating to the day the Pirates took him in the Rule 5 draft and the reactions around baseball to the news. You can see that article here. Other players born on this date include another Hall of Famer.

Burleigh Grimes spent five seasons with the Pirates but it took three different stints with the team to amass those five seasons. He was at his peak with the team in 1928-29, when he won 42 games. The next year, he had very high salary demands and the Pirates shipped him away. He came back four years later to finish off his career with 270 wins, which got him elected to the Hall of Fame in 1964.

Mike Lavalliere, catcher from 1987 until 1993. Hit .278 in 609 games for the Pirates. Came over from the Cardinals as part of the Tony Pena trade.

Paul Popovich, middle infielder for the 1974-75 Pirates. Hit .211 in 84 games for Pittsburgh.

Roger Bowman, pitched for team in 1953 and 1955. Won 22 games in the minors in 1954 and 131 games total in minors, but he picked up just two Major League wins in five seasons.

Bernie Duffy, 1913 pitcher. Made two late-season starts and one relief appearance in his only Major League action. Won 15 games in a row in the minors prior to joining Pirates.

Wally Gerber, 1914-15 shortstop. Pittsburgh gave up on him to soon and he turned into a star player, getting into 1500+ games in his career. Hit .207 in 73 games for Pirates.

The link at the beginning includes two trades of note on this date, including the 1989 swap of outfielders Billy Hatcher and Glenn Wilson.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. Considering both guys are still teenagers, i think its a little premature to peg them one way or the other. A lot can change – good or bad – in the next couple of years for these two (see Heredia).

    I personally have not seen either of these guys play, so I have to depend and trust in what others say (although everyone has their biases). JDLC is certainly still young enough to grow and develop into being a good or at least acceptable third baseman. If, in another year he doesn’t improve, maybe he could be tried at first base – assuming they separate him and Munoz so they are not playing at the same level?

    Its not like the system is loaded with great first base prospects (although third base is thin as well).

  2. Heredia/MDLC/JDLC….high bonus latin players….maybe it is better to spend that money on a bunch of latinos vice putting your ‘eggs’ in one basket?

    • A high bonus for 16-year-old amateurs has never come close to guaranteeing success, but you would probably have the same success if you tried it with 16-year-old American-born kids. Look how poorly high school kids do with making it to the majors, now picture drafting them after their sophomore year instead. You have no idea how money will change them, how they will develop and how passionate they will be about baseball once it becomes a job and they are no longer the best player on the field.

  3. John … Was the Rule V draft similar to today where the Pirates were forced to keep him in the majors all year? I ask because it took him a good 4-5 years to ‘make it’. And I wonder if his career could have been even better with another year in the minors.

    • The Pirates were bad during his first three years, so there was no problem keeping him in the majors. They didn’t have free agency to worry about, so there were no problems with service time issue. They couldn’t send him down in 1955, but by 1956 he was hitting .311, even if it came with no walks and some erratic play as a youth, he was still better than what they had.

  4. MDLC seems to have the much better upside, and is hitting for more power even though he must be very slightly built at 6’1″ 165 – about 30 pounds less than JDLC. As a CF, does he have the ability and foot speed to steal bases? At his current pace he could fill out as he matures and become even more of an EBH threat – his numbers would indicate a lot of bat speed – would that be correct?

    • Yes, he has plus speed and his weight is still probably around 165, since it’s hard to put on weight during the GCL season playing noon games in Florida. Since he isn’t big yet, that bat speed allows him to drive the ball to the gaps. The belief was/is that if he added some muscle it would translate to over-the-fence power, maybe 15-20 a year.

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