It was a busy Friday night in Venezuela for players from the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system. We start off with Zack Dodson making his winter ball debut. He never played fall ball either, so this was his first off-season pitching outside of the instructional league and he put together a terrific performance. Pitching for Caribes de Anzoategui, he threw six shutout innings, giving up two hits and two walks, while striking out five batters. Dodson threw 70 pitches on the night, 43 for strikes. As mentioned yesterday, he hits minor league free agency once the postseason ends unless the Pirates re-sign him before then, so this performance should get him some notice this winter. He led all pitchers in the Pirates’ system with 162 innings pitched this season.
Gorkys Hernandez was behind Dodson in center field and he reached base three times with a single, double and a walk. The double was his second in three games and he also stole a base.
A couple relievers made their season debuts and had some trouble. Julio Vivas gave up a run on a walk, hit and wild pitch, while recording just one out. He threw six of his 14 pitches for strikes. Jhondaniel Medina also had some control issues, walking three batters in his 1.1 innings. He allowed a run, which was unearned, but it ended up being the winning run, saddling him with the loss. Medina threw 33 pitches, 18 for strikes.
As mentioned yesterday, Elvis Escobar will be a player from the Pirates to watch this winter. The off-season leagues can be used as a measuring stick of players progress. When Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte first entered the Dominican league, they barely played and both struggled. As they got closer to the majors, they were able to see more action in the league and in Polanco’s case, he won the league MVP award. Marte also had an excellent off-season the winter before his made his major league debut.
We also saw Stetson Allie and Tony Sanchez struggle in winter ball last year and neither showed any progress this season. For younger players like Escobar, they will only get playing time in Venezuela if they deserve it, so if he is playing a lot, it means he has shown progress since last year when he was a seldom-used bench player. Unlike minor league ball where prospects play through struggles, the object for winter ball teams is to win. This is actually their regular season, so if someone doesn’t perform, then they get benched or sent home. Escobar went 0-for-2 on Friday night, after collecting a hit and dropping down a sacrifice bunt in his debut on Thursday. He also committed an error in left field. Escobar had just two plate appearances last year in his five winter games.
In this same game that Escobar played left field for Lara, two Pirates saw action for the other team in left field. Junior Sosa went 0-for-2 at the plate before Jose Osuna hit a pinch-hit single for him in the seventh inning, then stayed in the game on defense in left. It was the winter debut for Osuna, who went 3-for-26 in 11 games last year in Venezuela.