Last July, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed two players out of the Bahamas. They signed 18-year-old infielder Kyle Simmons and 16-year-old outfielder Larry Alcime. While they were signed at the same time, the Simmons signing flew under the radar (we announced it a couple hours later). Alcime received a $350,000 bonus, which was the second highest bonus handed out by the Pirates last year. Simmons was one of those rare July signings, who actually got into games during the same year they signed. As a 16-year-old, Alcime signed a contract for the following season.
I talked to Simmons right after he signed and he had a typical story for players signed by the Pirates. He had already been to their Dominican academy before he signed. All the players I have asked in the past were at the academy before they signed with the Pirates. Every team in baseball brings in players for a short time, and they get a chance to see them in action before signing them. Until I talked to Alcime, I thought every player went through that process, especially the high-priced players, but he informed me that the first time he went to the academy was a week after he signed.
He also told me something very interesting, which isn’t typical of high-priced international players. We see 16-year-old kids sign on July 2nd, which is the first day they are eligible to sign. Most teams work out deals with their bigger signings well in advance, sometimes more than a year before they sign. Alcime told me that the first time he heard from the Pirates was two weeks before he signed, and he didn’t know they could be the team to sign him until the night before he signed. That’s quite a difference than the typical high-priced signing on July 2nd.
The Pirates scouted Alcime while he was in the Bahamas playing Freedom Farm baseball. He had some tryouts in the Dominican, and also played some national team trips outside of his home country, but the majority of his baseball was played in the Bahamas. It’s a place that has’t had many Major League players over the years.
Since Andre Rodgers made his debut with the 1957 New York Giants, only five other players from the Bahamas have made the big leagues. Of those players, only one has appeared in a game since 1984. That was Antoan Richardson, who was signed by the Pirates last winter, but he was traded away early in the year after playing just six games for Indianapolis. Richardson is 32 years old and he has played 22 Major League games. So you can see that it isn’t really a hotbed for baseball talent.
Judging by the bonus, the Pirates obviously saw something they liked with Alcime. He’s a very athletic player, who was a center fielder before signing. He also has a quick bat and some raw power. Talking to Alcime, it was clear that his signing was based more on projection than his in-game abilities at that time. He was an excellent player in the Bahamas, but that hasn’t translated to success in the Dominican. The caliber of play is much higher in the Dominican because of the huge talent pool, so there is going to be an adjustment period for players from areas where baseball is less popular.
That adjustment period began a week after he signed when he reached the Dominican academy for the first time. While the DSL Pirates are playing games and we see the results from those games in the daily boxscores, we don’t hear anything about the players who were signed after the July 2nd signing period starts. While the main games are going on from late May until late August, the new players are competing in a league specifically for them which starts in July.
Almost every Major League team provides these new players, who break up into teams and compete in the Tricky League. The league plays between 15-30 games per team, with no real set schedule and no mention of stats. It’s basically like Extended Spring Training for the Dominican. It’s mostly made up new players, but could also include rehab players and players waiting for age/identity verification from MLB. That is where Alcime got his first real taste of pro ball.
After the regular season ends in the Dominican, the players return home. Some of them stay home for a short time before reporting to Pirate City in Bradenton for the Fall Instructional League in early September. The others return to the Dominican academy in early October for the Dominican Instructional League. Some of those players who go to Bradenton for five weeks, will go back to the Dominican academy when they are done and basically have 12 weeks of Instructional ball. That’s just as long as the DSL season lasts for the players who attend both Instructional Leagues.
In the Dominican, instructs are a little bit different than in Bradenton. Players go for a total of seven weeks and the first three weeks consists of practice and inter-squad games. The last four weeks includes four games a week against other teams.
As I mentioned, that’s the next step for most players, but Alcime informed me about something I’ve never heard about before. Once the 2015 regular season ended, he remained around for another three weeks with other players signed in July/August and attended the New Rookie Development Program. For three weeks, the strength and conditioning coaches worked with the new players, getting them into a routine to help (not to be redundant) their strength and conditioning. The training program Alcime picked up there was part of his winter routine to get into shape for the 2016 season.
After the New Rookie Development Program, Alcime had about three weeks off before attending the Dominican Instructional League. The next step was Spring Training the following April, which is no different from Spring Training in the U.S. The players spend some time getting into shape, then start playing around 20 exhibition games until the season starts.
While we don’t see anything from these new players signed during the July 2nd signing period until the following DSL season starts, there is actually a lot of work going on that doesn’t show up in the boxscores.
To recap for Alcime after he signed, he spent about seven weeks at the Dominican Academy playing in the Tricky League and training. He spent another three weeks working on his strength and conditioning with the staff of the Pirates. He spent seven weeks at the Dominican Instructional League, where he got in more game action. He played more games in Spring Training the following year. All of that before he played his first pro game with the DSL Pirates on June 8th of this year.
I mentioned above that Alcime was a center fielder in the Bahamas, but it’s a position he didn’t play at all this season. If you check his fielding stats for this season, they say he played part of one game in center field. He told me that never happened, and the only time he has played center field since signing with the Pirates was one game in the Tricky League. We occasionally find mistakes in DSL boxscores and report them to MiLB.com, but a center fielder playing center field didn’t stand out, so that’s something that will probably remain incorrect on his stats.
Alcime split his playing time between left field and right field this season. During the Instructional League in 2015, he only played right field. He has no preference between the positions, but so early in his development, it would probably be better if they gave him one position and he stuck with it for now. As a 17-year-old kid learning two new positions and how the ball comes off the bat differently for each spot, that isn’t a simple task just because he played center field in the past. It’s especially true because the game is much faster at this level than what he saw while in the Bahamas.
While he was learning two new positions, Alcime was also facing tougher competition at the plate. We probably had unfair expectations on his offense coming into the season based solely on his large bonus. As I learned from talking to him, any expectations should have been tempered a bit this season.
Alcime didn’t start playing baseball until he was ten years old. That’s a later start than most players, but it also means he was only six years into playing baseball when he signed with the Pirates. He was playing in the Bahamas, where the level of competition was much lower than kids see in bigger baseball countries such as the Dominican, Venezuela and Mexico, which make up a large part of the players in the DSL. That difference in competition can be summed up in this quote from Alcime when I asked about adjusting to the pitchers in the DSL:
“Seeing pitchers throwing 85+ on every team was good. I had to get adjusted to seeing different pitches and reacting to them.”
We look at the $350,000 bonus and then look at the .138/.193/.188 slash line, with 40 strikeouts in 138 at-bats, and it’s easy to come to the conclusion that this season was a bust. It doesn’t take into account his inexperience with the game in general from getting a late start. It doesn’t take into account that he’s playing in a league where pitchers consistently hit 90+ MPH and he wasn’t used to seeing pitchers throw 85 MPH. He also wasn’t used to see different pitches (mostly curveballs in the DSL), so reading those pitches out of a pitcher’s hand was another adjustment.
Once teams saw him multiple times, then they had a scouting report and he noticed a pattern after awhile with how they pitched him. It’s hard to look at his stats this season and find any positives, but there was one I noticed before talking to him, so I made sure to specifically ask about it. Alcime had 20 strikeouts in 52 June at-bats. He struck out 17 times in July, while also picking up 52 at-bats that month. In August, he struck out just three times in 34 at-bats. He made an adjustment in his approach and while it was a small step in the right direction, it was a major improvement in an area in which he was struggling.
“I cut down on my strikeouts in August because I changed my approach to let the ball get deeper in the zone before I attack,” Alcime said. “When I got two strikes, I fought in my at-bats and didn’t just switch to going at pitches out of the zone”
The change was made late in the season, so there wasn’t a good chance to see what he could do by letting the ball get deeper in the zone, and not chasing pitches with two strikes. That last part was his response to a scouting report that said he had a tendency to chase with two strikes. World was getting around and he noticed that pattern. It helped cut down the strikeouts, but as a kid who is 6’2″, and a solid 200 pounds, we could see much better results next year in the power department with the same approach.
The best thing I got from Alcime was his desire to get better in all aspects and he’s willing to put in the work. When talking about the strength and conditioning program, he mentioned multiple times that he thought it was a great program and it helped him become a better athlete. Part of that athleticism he possesses his his ability on the bases. He went 4-for-5 in stolen bases this season and while he doesn’t have plus speed, he believe he can make a difference on the bases by being more aggressive and forcing the opposition to make mistakes.
“I want to work on steal breaks and my speed over this off-season so it can be bigger part of my game,” Alcime said. “I want to be more of a threat on the bases. I know I’m not an extremely fast guy but I still want to be a guy who can put pressure on the defense to force bad throws, and hopefully it will be a more effective part of my game.”
The next step for Alcime is the Dominican Instructional League next week. He clearly has the desire to get better and knows there is a lot of work to do to reach his goal. He mentioned that the 2016 season was a great learning experience. He will go into the 2017 season with that added experience and look to improve in all facets of his game. The velocity and off-speed pitches won’t be new to him, the position change won’t be new, and we get a chance to see if his adjustment at the plate turns into better results.