Morning Report: The Gap in Talent Between the DSL and GCL

For the second year in a row, the top prospect coming over from the DSL, has had some trouble adjusting to the GCL. Last year, we saw Michael de la Cruz really struggle with the jump, though he had multiple injuries and a tough time being 17 years old and away from home for the first time. This year, Edison Lantigua is 18 and having trouble at the plate. He too has dealt with injuries, missing time at the start of the year, then injuring his thumb after a few games. Both these players dealt with injury problems, but is it too easy to just use that as an excuse, or has the gap widened between the talent in the DSL and GCL?

If you look at the DSL, they have 38 teams now and 35 players on the active roster and each team probably uses about five more players throughout the year. There are also four teams still trying to make the Venezuelan Summer League work and it should be noted that some of the better players signed to bigger deals just skip right over the DSL and head to the States. The Pirates did that most notably with Harold Ramirez and Luis Heredia, their only two seven-figure bonus players. So not only are you talking about 42 teams with 40 players each, you’re also not sending some of the best players there. The DSL has a lot of players considered roster fillers, but it might just be possible that with so many players in the league, it has watered the talent down too much.

Lantigua and de la Cruz aren’t the best examples to use to prove that point, because they are both very young and each dealt with injuries. So instead, I’ll go to another player that more was expected from. Raul Siri was one of the best players in the DSL last year, not just for the Pirates, but the entire league. He was one of the top hitters in the league, people I talked to praised his overall abilities and he is already 20 years old, turning 21 in October. That’s top end what you want to see in the GCL. I personally thought he would head to Bristol because of his advanced approach. Instead, he’s hitting .238/.329/.328 in 35 games and he had an incredible first week that keep his overall numbers from looking worse.

So it’s not only the top prospects coming over that are struggling, it’s one of the best hitters in the league and someone that is top-end in the age category. What about Luis Perez though? He hit .302 last year in the DSL and had an advanced approach at the plate, rarely swinging and missing. He also turned 21 back in January, so I really didn’t expect to see him in this league. Even with the advanced skills and age, he has a .512 OPS and a 2:11 BB/SO ratio. When you see that he had a 25:13 ratio last year, yes almost twice the amount of walks, it makes you wonder how he could be one of the worst hitters in the GCL this year.

Maybe it’s possible that one year in the DSL isn’t enough? Look at Jhoan Herrera and what he has done this year. The Pirates brought him to the States in 2014 and he injured his ankle late in Extended Spring Training. When he was healthy, they sent him back to the DSL to play. Now this year at age 20, he is hitting .310/.352/.442 in the GCL. Herrera didn’t come out of nowhere, he was a high profile signing in 2012 for a $300,000 bonus. Even last year, Julio de la Cruz and Yoel Gonzalez put up subpar numbers in the GCL. Gonzalez is repeated the GCL, while Julio de la Cruz moved up to Bristol, where he is having a decent season, but nothing special.

Instead of saying one year in the DSL might not be enough, would it just be better to let them come to the States and repeat the GCL if they struggle? If the GCL is the better league, and being in the States allows you to play against better players in Extended ST and the Fall Instructional League, then maybe it’s not a bad idea to bring them over if you feel they are mature enough to handle the cultural differences and being away from home at such a young age.

Someone told me on Thursday that 18-year-old shortstop Adrian Valerio was a humble, well-grounded kid, and he’s rebounded nicely these last 8-10 days from a horrible stretch at the plate. He never took those struggles into the field(with 21 straight errorless games) and worked his way out of it on offense, which hasn’t happened(or didn’t happen) with any of the aforementioned players when they were first in the GCL. He is doing well and it could be that his maturity helped him get through his slump, while the other young players can’t handle the failure on the field along with everything else different going on.

It’s very surprising to see Edison Lantigua with a .186/.205/.291 slash line this season. It was even more surprising to see Michael de la Cruz do almost nothing last year. If those were the best prospects, what does it say for the current group, which almost has nothing in the way of prospects? Should we be bracing ourselves for a poor season from whoever the top prospect is next season? I’d say it’s possible, but I’ll beat someone to the punch by pointing to the current right fielder in Pittsburgh, because his name always comes up with this topic.

Gregory Polanco had a decent 17-year-old season in the DSL in 2009, but nothing that stood out. His numbers there were still better than anything we saw the next two years. He came to the GCL in 2010 and hit .202/.245/.287 in 53 games. He then returned to the league and hit .237/.333/.361 in 48 games. Just like with Lantigua and Michael de la Cruz, the scouting reports were better than the results. Three seasons into his career, he didn’t look like much on paper, so it’s obviously still too early to give up on players with talent and youth on their side. They might not turn into the next Polanco, but they could still need the same amount of time to develop into the player they eventually become.

Pirates Game Graph

Source: FanGraphs

Playoff Push

The Pirates trail by six games in the division to the Cardinals. They have a 1.5 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 5-5 in their last ten games and they are in third place, 5.5 games back of Bowie.

Bradenton is 7-3 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 five game lead in the division.

Morgantown is 2-8 in their last ten games. They are 3.5 games back in the wild card chase.

The Bristol Pirates are 6-4 in their last ten games. They are 2.5 games back in the division.

GCL Pirates are 4-6 in their last ten games. They are two games back in the standings.

The DSL Pirates have been eliminated from the postseason.

Today’s Schedule

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates defeated the Cardinals by 10-5 score on Thursday. They now move on to face the Mets in New York for three games. J.A. Happ will make his second start for the Pirates, coming off a game in which he allowed four runs on nine hits and two walks in 4.1 innings against the Cubs. His opponent will be Bartolo Colon, who has a 4.76 ERA in 134.1 innings. In his last outing, he gave up four runs on nine hits in 6.2 innings against the Rays.

In the minors, Radhames Liz makes his tenth start. He has allowed a total of seven earned runs and pitched shutout ball in five of his starts. In one of the others, he gave up just one unearned run. Liz has a .173 BAA and an 0.98 WHIP. Steven Brault goes for Altoona, coming off seven shutout innings last time out. Between both stops this season, he has a 1.33 GO/AO ratio, a 1.22 WHIP and 104 strikeouts in 120.1 innings. Indianapolis has a doubleheader today. You can view last night’s prospect watch here.

MLB: Pittsburgh (66-46) vs Mets (63-52) 7:10 PM
Probable starter: JA Happ (8.31 ERA, 2:6 BB/SO, 4.1 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (70-49) vs Durham (57-62) 6:05 PM DH (season preview)
Probable starter: Radhames Liz (1.12 ERA, 20:63 BB/SO, 56.1 IP) and Brad Lincoln (3.72 ERA, 31:40 BB/SO, 46.0 IP)

AA: Altoona (62-56) @ Richmond (59-58) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Steven Brault (2.80 ERA, 13:59 BB/SO, 54.2 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (62-54, 30-16 second half) vs Charlotte (61-53) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Cody Dickson (5.72 ERA, 25:39 BB/SO, 67.2 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (69-46, 32-14 second half) @ Hickory (69-43) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Austin Coley (3.97 ERA, 20:92 BB/SO, 115.2 IP)

Short-Season A: Morgantown (25-28) vs Aberdeen (26-26) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter: TBD

Rookie: Bristol (22-24) vs Elizabethton (26-24) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter: TBD

GCL: Pirates (26-17) vs  Astros (15-30) 12:00 PM (season preview)

DSL: Pirates (24-40) vs Tigers (28-36) 10:30 AM (season preview)


Here is video of Josh Bell’s second walk-off hit since joining Indianapolis

Recent Transactions

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.

8/3: Michael Morse added to active roster. Jaff Decker optioned to Indianapolis.

8/2: Shane Kemp sent from Bristol to GCL.

8/2: Josh Smith activated from Altoona disabled list.

8/1: J.A. Happ added to active roster. Bobby LaFromboise sent to Indianapolis.

8/1: Josh Bell and Jeremy Bleich promoted to Indianapolis.

8/1: John Holdzkom placed on disabled list. Hunter Morris sent to Altoona.

This Date in Pirates History

Two former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a transaction of note. On this date in 1911, the Pirates sold first baseman John Flynn to St Paul of the American Association, which is where the Pirates purchased him from following the 1909 season. During that 1909 season, the Pirates went with Bill Abstein at first base all season, but despite the fact he was a regular and they won the World Series, he was not well liked. Fans believed that he didn’t always give 100% and he wasn’t the smartest baseball player. After the season, the Pirates brought in two minor league first baseman to compete for the job, with Flynn eventually winning over Bud Sharpe. By 1911, future Hall of Fame manager Bill McKechnie took over the spot and Flynn became expendable.

Dale Coogan, 1950 first baseman. He made the Opening Day roster as a rookie, but by July he was sent back to the minors for more seasoning. The Pirates actually called him up in September 1950 and 1951, but he never played after that first July. He ended up spending the next two years in the Army and he wasn’t able to regain his skills after the time off, spending the rest of his career in the minors.

Alex McKinnon, first baseman on Opening Day in 1887, the first Pittsburgh game in NL history. The Alleghenys moved from the American Association to the NL following the 1886 season and they purchased McKinnon that December. He was hitting .340 through 48 games in 1887 when he came down with typhoid pneumonia. He ended up passing away 20 days after his last game with Pittsburgh. You can read a full bio of McKinnon here.

John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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DSL/VSL-I think the Pirates did the smart thing by eliminating 1 Latin American and replacing it with a Appy League team. Probably every team should do that. 30 teams in DSL and 30 teams in Rookie Ball

joe s

These are young men, away from home for the first time, different food and strange language. Lets forgive them if they don’t become superstar prospects in the first or second year here. However, I still think the Pirates need to sign better more expensive players in the international market.


I see you’re sticking to this false narrative til the end. 😉


Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this a week since Worley reported to AAA? I’d assume he’s working on the side, but admittedly a bit surprised there hasn’t been mention of game action.


Thanks, John…couldn’t remember when all the moving parts fell into place.

Brian Bernard

I know it’s easy to do, but don’t write Happ off just yet. There is some talent there and with some tweaking he could put together some good work. His FB hit 95 in the last game… Just hoping there was good progress during his side work.


Brian…just going off of his history, he is a Zach Duke clone.

I spent 20 years with Duke-like pitchers in the rotation.


Gotta give Uncle Ray a few starts and some side sessions, I agree. Im not optimistic but its worth the look. Feels a lot like Bedard though, you know?


IF Ray works his magic he MIGHT turn him into Clay Richard?



Other than his emergency appearance I think Richard has pitched really well. When that went down, I thought Guerra should have been sent out. Then its possible you still have Sampson and never needed Happ.

Thats me, though.


Liz is pitching for Indy tonight. Happ is pitching for Pittsburgh.

What is wrong with this picture? 🙂


In case that they are asking “What is wrong with this pitcher?”


Kozy….shouldn’t have ordered IC Light? 🙂

Kerry Writtenhouse

It’ll make it easy to make a switch if it doesn’t go well!


IF? 🙂 🙂 🙂

Kerry Writtenhouse

I’m leaving a sliver of hope there!!


Lol. Probably not by accident either, now that I think about it.

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