Morning Report: Pirates Have Seen Struggles from Players Making the Jump to the States

Exactly one year ago, I mentioned that the players coming over from the Dominican Summer League were struggling with the jump to the United States, with most of the players going to the Gulf Coast League. There were some exceptions, like Yeudy Garcia going right to the West Virginia Power and pitching great, but for the most part, it was the players on offense who were having the most trouble.

The reason I wrote that article is because it was a carry over from the previous season, where some top hitters came over and struggled. Both years looked good for prospects and both years we saw some of the best hitters in the DSL, turn into below average hitters in the GCL. Earlier this season, I wrote about the differences between the two leagues as far as the way pitchers went after hitters. The players coming over from the DSL are seeing pitchers who throw harder, have more control, and they are throwing different pitches.

This season was clearly a down year for prospects coming over from the DSL. None of the 13 players they brought over would have ranked among the top five prospects in either of the two previous seasons. So it’s an interesting comparison to see how players with lower expectations are performing with the jump. I should point out that many of these players are still in the 18-20 range, so a lot of physical growth and maturity as a player can go on in a short time in that age range.

Here are the 13 players with their early season performances. You could also reference yesterday’s Morning Report about other foreign-born players in their first year in the GCL this season. At the end of last season, with a lot of help from multiple people who saw these players frequently last year, I put together a top 12 list for prospects. Some of those players were based more on future potential and less on how they performed last year. Of those 12, seven of them were promoted to the States this season. The mix was six hitters and seven pitchers, who are all listed below by group:

HITTERS

Yondry Contreras – Contreras is an interesting case because he wasn’t invited to the Fall Instructional League last year, which is usually the best indicator of a player making the jump to the U.S. He showed improvements in the Dominican though and that got him sent to the States, then those improvements continued. Early on, the stats are better than last year and he’s only 18, so we are seeing him possibly take a big step this season. Other players have struggled with the jump, so if his stats look better than last year, then that would count as a positive, even if the numbers don’t really stand out. Except for possibly Miguel Hernandez (listed in the pitchers) Contreras has the most upside among these players.

Huascar Fuentes – Fuentes is the only player from this group who went higher than the GCL. He’s at Bristol now, which isn’t a surprise since he is 24 years old. Fuentes signed very late because his parents wouldn’t allow him to play pro ball. Then when he finally did sign on his own, he got injured early in his first year and missed all but five games. He has some nice power, but he needs to be putting up bigger numbers as a first baseman in the Appalachian League to be considered a possible prospect. Fuentes has a .709 OPS in 17 games.

Mikell Granberry – Granberry did a lot of catching his first two years, but when he started having throwing troubles last year, they moved him to first base to keep his bat in the lineup. During Extended Spring Training, he was splitting the two spots fairly evenly, but once the season started, he has been at first base almost every game. That takes away some of his value because he has to hit more if he’s going to be a first baseman. He struggled early in the season, especially with strikeouts, but a recent adjustment at the plate has his numbers on the rise.

Raul Hernandez – Hernandez was a very low profile signing, who was only reported here and we didn’t find out about it until a month later. He didn’t sign until he was 18 because he his bat seriously lagged behind his defense, which included a plus arm behind the plate. Hernandez developed a bat once he joined the Pirates, hitting .304 last year and taking some time away from higher-profile signings. He’s the starting catcher this season and even got to fill-in briefly for Bradenton when they were short a catcher. Hernandez has a .599 OPS, though that comes with an impressive six strikeouts in 57 at-bats.

Melvin Jimenez – Jimenez was the team MVP last year and had a strong all-around season, especially at shortstop where he committed just two errors in 35 games. He was voted the best defensive infielder on the team and he showed excellent patience at the plate and the ability to steal bases. He would be a great player to see how his stats translated, because he’s close to being a polished player (he turns 21 in early September). The problem is that he suffered a hamstring injury in the first game of the season and missed two full weeks, then hurt his foot the other day and has missed two games, with at least a couple more days until he returns since he isn’t currently going through workouts. An incomplete grade here.

Felix Vinicio – Vinicio was described as a solid player with no standout tools. He just plays the game right. He’s 21 and has an empty .274 average, with two doubles and three walks giving him a .609 OPS. He’s a good player to have around because of how he plays, but the upside is very limited.

PITCHERS

Ronny Agustin – Agustin is the type of pitcher we warn about. A soft-tossing lefty, who throws strikes and has an advanced off-speed pitch. Those type of players can look great all the way up to Double-A before the get sorted out. Agustin hits high-80s, with a strong changeup and a curve that looks plus at times. He is going to be 22 in September, so he is old for the GCL and he’s currently dealing with a minor injury that has had him out almost two weeks.

Miguel Hernandez – Hernandez is a player with huge upside, who still may never make it past Low-A due to his shaky control. He has thrown shutout ball three times this season, and also had two bad outings with too many walks. That was the story during Extended Spring Training as well. If he was a couple years younger like two of the pitchers below, we would be much higher on him, but he turns 21 right after the season ends. There is a lot to like with the 6’5″ righty, it’s just hard right now to say where he could end up. Basically he is one of those players who could end up as an MLB starter or never make it out of Low-A, with every option in between possible. As scouts would like to say, he’s a player you can dream on.

Oddy Nunez – No pun intended with his first name, but he was an odd player to bring to the States this year. Nunez was signed right before the season last year and then he had to sit out a month due to age verification. He’s a red flag player, a 6’5″ lefty with high 80s velocity and a very good slider, which has led to a 2.25 ERA in 12 innings. He’s big though and room to fill out (only 19 years old), so we could be talking about someone with upside if he adds to that fastball.

Domingo Robles – Robles only turned 18 in late April. The young lefty has upside if he can add velocity. He has hit 92 in the past, but he sits 87-88 and right now that isn’t working in the GCL. At least not without better command and secondary pitches. His curve/change both have potential, but they are works in progress. In my opinion, and others said it as well, he probably could have used another season in the DSL pitching in their rotation so he gets more work in this year. He has room to fill out still and age is on his side, but early results aren’t good.

Argenis Romano – A low upside, 21-year-old, right-handed pitcher. His main selling point is his control, but the better hitters seem to be hitting him harder than last year, at least according to his .310 BAA. As the high upside high school players all start extending their outings, Romano will likely lose out on some innings.

Brian Sousa – The Pirates weren’t able to get a good read on Sousa last year in the DSL because he had two separate shoulder issues, both times trying to pitch through it (meaning he didn’t tell them about it right away) before being shutdown. He’s a 6’3″, RHP, 18 years old, and he has pitched two years in the Panama winter league against much older competition. He can hit 93 MPH, so everything added up makes him intriguing. His first three outings were three runs over 14.1 innings. His last two were eight runs over 4.2 innings. The real Sousa is probably somewhere in between those two pitchers at this point.

Julian Villamar – Villamar is having his share of troubles with the jump to the States and it probably has to do with more disciplined hitters. He had control issues in the DSL, but occasionally you would get this pitcher hitting 94-96 consistently with a hard curve that was a plus pitch. He was doing it in extended outings in relief as well. Unfortunately, that pitcher hasn’t shown up and the Pirates have him sacrificing some velocity for better control and that isn’t working to this point.

PIRATES GAME GRAPH


Source: FanGraphs

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates lost 9-5 to the Brewers on Wednesday night. Francisco Liriano gets the start tonight, his 19th of the season. He had gone less than six innings in seven of his last ten outings. He has a 3.94 ERA in three July starts. Liriano has not faced the Brewers this season. Milwaukee will counter with Matt Garza, who has a 5.74 ERA in 31.1 innings, with 19 strikeouts and a 1.72 WHIP. Garza was out of action until mid-June due to a right lat strain.

In the minors, it’s a good day for prospect watching on the mound with Trevor Williams, Clay Holmes, Yeudy Garcia and Dario Agrazal all making starts. Williams has allowed one run over 20 innings in his last three starts combined. Holmes has given up two runs or less in each of his last six starts. Garcia has been in a funk lately, allowing ten earned runs over his last three starts. In his previous seven starts combined, he allowed four earned runs. He leads the Florida State League with 96 strikeouts. Agrazal has surrendered four earned runs over 26.1 innings in his last four starts combined.

Second round pick Travis MacGregor makes his fourth pro start for the GCL Pirates, while Nicholas Economos goes for Bristol.

MLB: Pittsburgh (48-46) vs Brewers (40-52) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Francisco Liriano (5.11 ERA, 62:93 BB/SO, 98.2 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (49-50) vs Charlotte (45-54) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Trevor Williams (3.24 ERA, 15:33 BB/SO, 58.1 IP)

AA: Altoona (52-44) vs Akron (53-45) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Clay Holmes (4.27 ERA, 40:71 BB/SO, 97.0 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (51-44) vs Daytona (49-44) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Yeudy Garcia (2.86 ERA, 37:96 BB/SO, 85.0 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (48946) vs Charleston (53-41) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Dario Agrazal (4.11 ERA, 13:54 BB/SO, 96.1 IP)

Short-Season A: Morgantown (15-17) vs Connecticut (20-12) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter: Danny Beddes (3.16 ERA, 9:21 BB/SO, 25.2 IP)

Rookie: Bristol (12-14) vs Bluefield (11-14) 7:00 PM (season preview)

GCL: Pirates (10-13) vs Phillies (16-7) 12:00 PM (season preview)

DSL: Pirates (15-24) vs Indians (18-20) 10:30 AM (season preview)

HIGHLIGHTS

Here are highlights from Wednesday’s Indianapolis game. Stick around until the end for a nice double play.

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

7/20: Jose Regalado assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab.

7/20: Ryan Vogelsong assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.

7/19: Francisco Cervelli activated from disabled list. Erik Kratz designated for assignment.

7/19: Jameson Taillon activated from disabled list. Chad Kuhl optioned to Indianapolis.

7/19: Frank Duncan placed on disabled list.

7/19: Elias Diaz assigned to Indianapolis.

7/19: Justin Topa assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab.

7/17: Jonathan Schwind assigned to Altoona.

7/16: Elias Diaz assigned to Altoona on rehab.

7/16: Gerrit Cole activated from the disabled list. Josh Bell optioned to Indianapolis.

7/15: Pirates sign Austin Shields. Assigned to GCL Pirates.

7/15: Pirates sign Boomer Synek. Assigned to GCL Pirates.

7/14: Francisco Cervelli assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.

7/14: John Kuchno assigned to Altoona.

7/14: Jordan George promoted to West Virginia

7/13: Daniel Zamora placed on West Virginia disabled list.

7/13: Colten Brewer activated from temporary inactive list. Nick Neumann placed on Bradenton disabled list.

7/12: Rob Scahill claimed off waivers by Brewers.

7/10: Ryan Vogelsong assigned to Altoona on rehab.

7/9: Jonathan Schwind promoted to Indianapolis.

7/8: Pirates sign Josh Outman.

7/8: Josh Bell promoted to Pittsburgh. Tyler Glasnow optioned to Indianapolis.

7/8: Nick Kingham assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab.

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

Two former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a trade of note. On this date in 2003, the Pirates traded away closer Mike Williams to the Philadelphia Phillies for minor league pitcher Frank Brooks. During that season, Williams was one of the worst All-Stars ever, making the team despite a 6.27 ERA. The Pirates only got 17.1 innings out of Brooks, but the trade was a win by default, as Williams was having a poor season and wasn’t worth his salary. The Phillies let him go via free agency after the season and he never pitched in the majors again, giving him the dubious honor of being selected for the All-Star team twice, making it in each of his last two season.

As for the two players born on this date, neither played a big role with the team, but one did have a very interesting nickname. Dick Smith, infielder for the 1951-55 Pirates, was signed out of Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania. He is the last of only three players from that school to make the majors. Smith played five seasons with the Pirates, but only got into 70 games and hit .134 in 186 at-bats. The Pirates were his only Major League team. He turns 89 today.

Also born on this date, Irv Young, who pitched for the 1908 Pirates. Due strictly to his last name, he had the pressure of being named Cy the Second, as in the second Cy Young. Irv never came close to that potential and during the middle of the 1908 season, he was dealt to the Pirates for pitcher Harley Young. Harley wasn’t anywhere near as talented as Irv, but you may have already guessed that he was nicknamed “Cy the Third”. In his brief time with the Pirates, Irv Young had a 2.01 ERA in seven starts and nine relief appearances.

  • John, the Pirate prospects struggle with the jump because they are not that talented. Contreras is currently a strike out machine at this point. With other players with the same issue you or PP indicated that to be a potential problem but since he got a big bonus he still has potential. You say there is no way to tell who the best international players are going to be and you may be right but the scouts and Baseball America list the top 20/30 every year and the Pirates are never in on any of them, why? I would love to see the Pirate international players succeed and prove the pirate way of acquiring international talent is the way to go but the truth seems to be it is not working that well. They sign 17/18 year old players on the cheap in my opinion these are prior year leftovers. Maybe they developed late and the Bucs got a bargain Maybe they got more roster fill. The current DSL squad does not appear to be doing well. Why not compare the top 10 bonus babies from the past 5 years with the Pirate signings so that we can determine if spending the money will produce a better level of talent? What do you have to lose and I am sure that if I am wrong you will accept my apology.

    • John Dreker
      July 21, 2016 3:49 pm

      The point of the first time I wrote the article was to basically show how big the difference is between the two leagues. I don’t think anyone said anything bad about Michael de la Cruz after his first season, he was one of the best players in the DSL, then he came over and struggled. Raul Siri set a DSL record with 25 doubles, he was older and one of the best hitters in the league, yet he struggled going up one level. Luis Perez was a .300 hitter with above average plate discipline and he was older for the GCL and he did nothing last year. Edison Lantigua was a top 20 prospect in the DSL according to Baseball America and the scouting reports were great on him. He struggled with the jump.

      What you’re looking for is players who either made it or failed in the majors, while I’m trying to show that the best players in the DSL are having troubles going up one level. I wasn’t going by scouting reports, I picked guys who succeeded in a big way in the DSL and couldn’t handle moving up one level, while basically playing against players who are the same average age.

      The Pirates aren’t just sending random players over for the Fall Instructional League, they pick the guys who are ready to come over and if they feel they aren’t ready for the jump, like Jeremias Portorreal this spring, they won’t bring them back over.

    • A team which was willing to spend $5M on a HS player years ago, shouldn’t they be willing to sign some Cuban talent? Financially, the PBC is in much better shape than then.

  • Mike Williams and I attended the same HS, but at different times. I had no idea it had been that long ago that he pitched.

  • Hey John congrats on having the site mentioned during the Pirates Broadcast. I will let you in a note. a few months back I sent Root an email about what I felt they needed to do to improve the sports network. I mentioned a Pittsburgh Sports show (updates on all three major sports Pirates, Pens, Steelers, plus Maybe local college teams if they want, but also updates on Minors from both Pirates and Pens, and even the practice squad guys for the Steelers. I said in the email they have a great source to help with the Minors in baseball in the fact they can get tons of info from you guys here at Pirates Prospects where I go for my info. At least last night you did manage to get some props from Greg Brown. Keep it up. I might be an ODD thing to point out to you. 🙂

    • boy, what a suck up you are. 🙂

      (seriously…..good job of getting the word out)

    • Greg Brown has mentioned the site a few times in the past. He talked about the Prospect Guide for a half inning during a Spring Training game. I also remember John Wehner reading an article once. I forget what it was about specifically, may have been some pitcher or group of pitchers doing really well and he was reading the stats. Tim did their pre-game once down in Miami talking about prospects

      • Actually now that you mention it I do remember Greg Brown talking about the Prospect Guide. I still think they could get you more involved. Especially when they have rainouts, delayed games. I realize that you all may be tied up watching games but not like they wouldn’t have a heads up when they know and couldn’t reach out to y’all for a potential phone call with some inside info on what is going on “down on the farm.” I mean I can only watch IPB so many times over and over again.

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