The winter league season is winding down, so now is a good time to recap the action. Only five players from the Pittsburgh Pirates are still in action and that number will drop very soon. You’ll probably get one more winter recap article next weekend, but that won’t drastically change any of the season performances listed below. With that in mind, I’m going to break down the players by league so it’s easier to explain how their performance translates to success. For example, a .700 OPS in the Dominican league this year would be well above league average, but if that same player put up that number in Venezuela or Mexico, he would have had a below average season.
We start in the Dominican Republic because it’s the league with the most talent. It was heavy with pitching this year and as a result, the league combined for a .619 OPS. It had what could be considered the closest thing to a breakout winter for a member of the Pirates. Pablo Reyes finished his first season in the Dominican with a .333/.362/.364 slash line in 21 games, seeing starts at second base, shortstop and third base. He spent the 2016 regular season in High-A ball, which is a big step down in talent from the Dominican. When you take into consideration the strength of the league, his age and experience, and the fact the league was dominated by pitching, you see how impressive his performance was this winter.
Eric Wood finished his long season with a stint in the Dominican. After having a breakout performance with Altoona, then tearing up the Arizona Fall League, he fell back to Earth with his performance in winter ball against the better competition. His stats weren’t as bad as the .202 average and 27 strikeouts in 25 games would indicate. He still drew 16 walks and put up a .694 OPS, so there were some good signs. Fatigue may have also played a factor, as he basically played games non-stop for nine months when you include Spring Training and the Fall Instructional League. Wood mostly played left field and first base in winter ball.
Jason Rogers joined the league late and got in ten regular season games. In those games, he batted just .194, but he drew ten walks and posted a .745 OPS. Then in the playoffs, which are still going on for him, he started hitting for some average. Rogers got some time in left field, which could help with his versatility, although he shouldn’t be considered an everyday player out there due to a lack of range and his inexperience.
Alen Hanson gets an incomplete grade for his winter. He injured his wrist in his third game and missed a month. He was 1-for-15 before he stopped playing, though that includes a handful of at-bats after the injury occurred. Hanson hit .310 in nine games after finally returning to action, but the regular season ended and his team didn’t make the playoffs. He spent all of his time on defense at second base.
Edwin Espinal had a disappointing winter in a sense that he was named his team’s starting first baseman on Opening Day and he quickly lost that job. At 22 years old, and only Double-A experience, he’s still very young for the league. In 15 games, he hit .154/.283/.359, which still put him above average for OPS. He also had six walks and just five strikeouts in 45 plate appearances, so there were still good signs. You don’t like seeing someone lose a starting job so quickly and not see any action over the last month of the season. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s one of the better players next winter.
The Pirates signed Eury Perez as a minor league free agent well after his winter season started. He had a really tough time during the regular season this winter, but a look over his winter league career shows that he has rarely played well. Since he posted a .684 OPS in 2011 as a 21-year-old, he hasn’t reached that mediocre standard since then. Perez’s winter performance has basically mirrored his prospect status. He was once a high ranked prospect, who never reached his potential. While he is still just 26 years old, he doesn’t look like he will ever be more than a AAAA player. He was doing a great job in the Dominican playoffs until his season ended early due to an ankle injury.
Joey Terdoslavich signed this week with the Pirates. His season in the Dominican was over long before he signed and it was due to his performance. He batted .120 in 11 games and lost his starting job after just five games. The same thing happened last year in the Dominican, though he was completely done after five games and a .100 average.
On the pitching side, Miguel Rosario and Julio Eusebio were the only Pirates who were with the team during the entire winter. Lisalverto Bonilla, Jason Stoffel and Nefi Ogando were added during the off-season and each saw time in the Dominican. Both Bonilla and Stoffel had marginal results in limited time and were done playing before joining the Pirates. Ogando is still playing and posted a 1.13 ERA in 17 appearances during the regular season, and now hasn’t allowed a run in the playoffs.
Rosario would rank as the third best relief prospect for the Pirates behind Edgar Santana and Dovydas Neverauskas, though I’ll point out that it’s a big drop-off from them to him. He has a sidearm delivery in which he hides the ball well and has a ton of movement on his pitches, making him tough to square up. He pitched 11 times this winter and allowed just five hits in 12.1 innings, though his command wasn’t as strong as usual with eight walks. The good thing though, is he never walked more than one batter in an outing. Rosario pitched just once in the playoffs and struck out Jason Rogers.
Eusebio pitched twice and threw 1.1 scoreless innings the first time, followed by three runs on three hits while recording just one out. He pitched this season in West Virginia and did well as their closer. The Dominican league is obviously a big jump for him, though at 24 years old, that closes the gap a little. He will likely get a bigger role next winter.
Venezuela and Mexico are about the same in talent, just a step below the Dominican. We start with Venezuela because they had more players and better prospects. Jose Osuna had a breakout winter last year, and that led to his strong 2016 campaign, which resulted in him being added to the 40-man roster. His winter this season was fairly quiet after a fast start. He finished with a .279/.361/.387 slash line in 60 games. Osuna was having a great five-game playoff stretch before leaving for the winter mini-camp in Bradenton two weeks ago. In his last game, he reached base safely seven times, but his team dropped the last two games without him and that ended his winter.
Elias Diaz started winter ball late due to the Pirates holding him back following September surgery due to a leg infection. He lasted just ten games this winter before he got hurt, then tried to come back early from his oblique strain and made it worse. Diaz had a .745 OPS in 12 games, though just like with Hanson, his stats would’ve looked a little better if you take out the games he tried to play through injury. He gets an incomplete for his winter, but he was feeling 100% during winter mini-camp, so that’s good news.
Elvis Escobar had a strong winter for a player his age (22), and with only a month of Double-A experience. Under normal circumstances, a mid-level prospect will have his breakout a year later than Escobar did. A foot injury sidelined him for a short time and he stats suffered a little after his return, but you still have to like the .265/.280/.388 slash line he put up, especially coming from a player with tools that include defense and speed that are at least average, and a strong outfield arm. With reinforced rosters during the playoffs, he’s serving strictly as a bench player, getting all of his appearances as a pinch-runner or defensive replacement.
On the pitching side, John Kuchno and Julio Vivas both saw action. Kuchno got his innings in early, just to add to his season totals, while Vivas is a regular in the league and had his action spread out throughout the winter. Kuchno had a 2.63 ERA in 24 innings, while posting a strong ground ball rate and a decent strikeout rate. He started five times and pitched in relief twice. Vivas had marginal results in 10.1 innings over 12 appearances. Having never pitched above A-ball, it’s a big step in competition for him.
Luis Heredia had strong scouting reports this winter, though it didn’t translate into his stats. He posted a 5.45 ERA and 1.82 WHIP in 34.2 innings. There was one possible sign that the Pirates haven’t given up hope just yet. Heredia made a start this winter and pitched a couple times in extended outings. Heredia himself noted earlier in the year that he didn’t have any limitations to his usage. The Pirates stepped in shortly after and told his team he couldn’t make anymore starts. They likely aren’t going to interfere with a non-prospect like that, so you can assume the scouting reports they received were also positive. Heredia becomes a minor league free agent at the end of 2017, so this is a big season for him.
Carlos Munoz had a tough season, posting a .610 OPS. He didn’t display his usual plate patience, which has consistently been among the best in the system. Munoz had 13 walks (three intentional) and 30 strikeouts in 172 plate appearances. Those rates are worse than the ones he put up last winter in Mexico when he had a .718 OPS. Munoz went 5-for-20 with a homer in his team’s first round playoff loss. Just like Heredia, he will reach minor league free agency after the 2017 season, so he’s likely going to need a big season to stick around.
While his playing time was limited, Francisco Acuna could qualify as the biggest surprise of the winter. The level of play in Colombia is probably equal to about High-A, so you wouldn’t expect a 16-year-old to play shortstop in the league and hit well. That’s exactly what he did though, after being the top draft pick of the league for new players in Colombia. A hitless doubleheader on the last day hurt his final line, but Acuna hit .233/.327/.326 and struck out just five times in 50 plate appearances. It was an impressive showing or someone who shouldn’t have been expected to make his debut in the league for at least a couple more seasons.
Sandy Santos is closer to the type of player who should just be breaking into this league. The 22-year-old spent the season at Morgantown, where he put up solid stats, but his constant mental mistakes hurt his overall prospect status. He has the tools to be a legit prospect in center field, so he is still worth keeping an eye on for now. He struggled in Colombia in limited time, hitting .200/.256/.275 in 40 at-bats.
Henrry Rosario hit .232/.371/.295 in 95 at-bats this winter. He had 18 walks, compared to just nine strikeouts. Rosario put up great numbers in the GCL this year, but he had no business being in the league at age 23, and in his fifth year of pro ball. His age is in line with the Colombian league, even if he hasn’t played above Bristol, so the stats tell a good story of his prospect status.
Sam Street and Nick Hutchings were the lone representatives of the Pirates in Australia. Sam Kennelly was earlier in the year, but he was released by the Pirates about a month ago. Hutchings pitched just once, getting a start during the first weekend of the season, so you can’t take much from that performance. Street joined the league late and has struggled in relief, allowing five runs in 4.1 innings over five appearances. Without Kennelly, it’s been a quiet season in Australia. Prior to the season, Hutchings helped Australia to a silver medal in the World Cup tournament.
Danny Ortiz will be the 2016 example of why we always cover free agents during the winter who finished the season with the Pirates. Every year the Pirates ended up re-signing at least one and this year it was Ortiz. He won the batting crown with a .340 average this winter, while also leading with an .813 OPS. He is still playing in the playoffs, though he’s struggled. The small sample size doesn’t outweigh the solid winter season and the fact he has above average defense and solid power, which could get him to the majors still. Ortiz has plenty of Triple-A experience, while the level of competition in Puerto Rico would be equal to Double-A overall.
Anderson Feliz spent all of 2016 with Altoona serving in a utility role and had a decent season. He then played second base in all 55 of his team’s winter league games, including the playoffs. Feliz put up decent stats, but this is a case of a player being much better than the league. Nicaragua would be about equal to Low-A, though that might be a giving the league a little too much credit. He will probably serve the same role this year with Altoona that he did last year.