Pittsburgh Pirates 2016 International Signing Review

Ben Badler at Baseball America posted his yearly international review for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday morning. Since the Pirates (and most other teams) don’t announce any international signings, the scouting reports on these players are hard to get until they actually start to play games. We will get updated reports on these players once they get to the Dominican academy for Spring Training next month, but for now, here is some additional information on the players the Pirates signed last year.

I’ll point out that the list runs from January 1 to December 31, so this is a combination of two international signing periods, but doesn’t include the top players from either of those classes. That’s because the best players from the 2015-16 signing period were signed in July of 2015, and the best player from the 2016-17 class was signed last week, when the Pirates and 16-year-old Dominican outfielder Jean Eusebio signed his deal.

One other thing I think is important to note, and that is the velocities you’ll read below. We have come across numerous cases where they end up being higher than what we receive in our reports once they start playing. A player might amp it up for a tryout so the scouts see what is available in the arm, but then once they start pitching, that velocity isn’t something you will see again. A 16-year-old might hit 94 MPH at some point, then not reach that number any time after they enter the system. It’s important to keep that in mind, and once we get updates on these players, then we will be sure to note their velocity in games.

We start with the one new bonus amount that we didn’t have in our international signing tracker and it’s now the seventh player to receive at least six figures during the 2016-17 signing period. Right-handed pitcher Julio Rosario signed for $125,000 back on July 2nd. He’s 17 years old, stands at 6’2″, 185 pounds. According to Badler, Rosario has a fastball/slider combo, and a feel for pitching, currently topping out at 90-91 MPH, with projectability. Badler also says that pitcher Angel Suero is almost exactly the same as Rosario, down to the age, bonus, arsenal, velocity, with the only difference being that he has a 6’4″ frame.

One big change from a list we got from the Pirates is the size of pitcher Santiago Florez. He was one of three players signed out of Colombia on July 2nd and he received the biggest bonus ($150,000) of the group. The Pirates listed Florez at 6’1″, while Badler has him at 6’6″, which I was able to confirm this morning as being correct. Badler notes that Florez threw a mid-80s sinker when he signed, and he’s now up to 92 MPH, with room to fill out and add more. I’ve seen a couple photos of Florez and he has a big frame with plenty of room to fill out, so this could be an interesting signing.

The Pirates biggest signing in 2016 ($170,000) was outfielder Pedro Castillo, who had growth spurt over the last year. We had video of him up on the site before he was signed, after Badler noted he was a target of the Pirates. Castillo was 5’11”, 165 in late 2015, but he is now up to 6’2″, though he only put on five pounds, so he has a frame with room to fill out. Castillo is described as a future right fielder with a good arm, whose bat is his best tool. He’s a lefty with a quick bat, who has power potential and uses the gaps.

Most of the players Badler mentions are pitchers, with the exception of Castillo and Francisco Acuna, who was mentioned here often over the off-season after he started playing winter ball in Colombia. Acuna was the first overall draft pick in the Colombian winter league and ended up starting at shortstop and doing well at the plate against much older competition.

At the time (for comparison sake) I pointed out that Tito Polo played in that same league and wasn’t able to make a significant contribution until after his GCL season when he was 19 years old, while Acuna was performing better as a 16-year-old shortstop with no pro experience. He received a $70,000 bonus, though the original agreed upon price was more than twice that amount, before coming down due to a snag in the negotiations.

As for those other pitchers, 17-year-old Noe Toribio could end up being the most interesting. Badler notes that he has hit 97 MPH and complements his fastball with a slider, giving him the possibility to be a power reliever. The Pirates will likely try him out as a starter before making him a reliever this early. Luis Arrieta hits 92 MPH, with secondary stuff that needs work. He signed for $130,000 out of Colombia.

I’ll throw in a couple that Badler didn’t mention and that’s Samuel Reyes and Sergio Cubilete. Reyes is the younger brother of prospect Pablo Reyes. We had report of him sitting 94-95 MPH in games, and he also has a mix of five pitches. The younger Reyes signed for $45,000, so he could be a hidden gem, as he was one of the best pitchers for the Pirates in the Dominican Instructional League. Cubilete was signed in February last year and is already in the United States due to a fastball that hits 95 MPH as a starter. He also throws a changeup with good separation, and a curveball that sits 79-82 MPH, giving him a nice three-pitch mix.

As mentioned up top, it’s not the most impressive group due to Badler using a calendar year for his recaps, rather than signing year, which run from July 2nd to June 15th. Next year’s list from Badler will include Jean Eusebio, plus the new players signed with the greatly increased $5.75 M bonus pool the Pirates will have to spend once this year’s July 2nd signing period begins.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    March 23, 2017 1:37 pm

    John or Tim – who was the very young SS prospect who played on their DR team last year? He had very good size for his age and he hit very well in his first season. I think he was just 16-17? Based on his numbers at such a young age, as well as his size, that is a player to keep an eye on him. I just can’t remember his name?

  • Two questions:
    1. Does Gayo get all the credit for the scouting and signing of these guys? And,
    2. They’ve pulled some guys from Europe and other spots (Free Rinku Singh!!)….Anything of note from non-latin spots?

    • Gayo usually sees most of the Latin American players, but he wouldn’t be the signing scout on them. There is no one from Australia anymore (unless you count Sam Street, who went to college in the US), so from Europe/Asia/Africa they currently have:
      Dovydas Neverauskas -Lithuania
      Gift Ngoepe, Victor Ngoepe, Vince Deyzel -South Africa
      Claudio Scotti- Italy
      Paul Brands & Danny Arribas – Netherlands
      Jin-De Jhang – Taiwan

  • Acuna is pretty interesting. Hopefully, he hasn’t already peaked. Seems like there’s a lot to work with there.

    Castillo is also intriguing. Left-handed right fielders with cannons have worked out alright for us in the past a few times.

    Reyes already throwing 5 pitches is nice, too. He can focus his development on getting good, consistent velocity, command, and improving his sequencing instead of searching for secondary pitches.

  • I’m glad we have our own Arrieta now.

    (It’s been a while since I made a terrible joke. You guys were probably getting worried.)

  • “One other thing I think is important to note, and that is the velocities you’ll read below. We have come across numerous cases where they end up being higher than what we receive in our reports once they start playing.”

    Also known as the Luis Heredia Disclaimer

    • I guess he would get top billing due to his name recognition, but the one year I was getting disappointing reports about three players, then it happened again, then again last year with Joel Cesar, so I’ve tempered my expectations when finding out about players. I finally put it in the recap this year at the top, with the hopes that others will too. Happens with draft picks as well. It’s actually recommended that a pitcher go all out on some throws. Even if it sails to the backstop, the number is what gets attention.

  • I love the quantity over quality approach, hopefully it keeps working out.

    • I’m not sure they will continue to do that with such a big bonus pool now. It made sense when they had $2-3M yearly to spend, because even the top 16 year old players are a complete crap shoot and only a small percentage work out. Now they could sign four players for $1M each and still go for the low six figure bonus approach to help give them better odds of hitting. With the bigger bonus pool, I think that is the best approach.

      • Do you think they’re going to try and take the same kind of players they are in the draft? For pitchers being projectable and hitters having one solid tool and hoping the others work out. If they’re getting 1M prospects will we start seeing some of the top tier all around players that show up on international prospect lists?

        • Since they are younger players being signed, almost every pitcher is projectable. Pirates will be picking up the same types I’m sure, tall, big frame, some present pitchability. For hitters, they tend to go athletic types up the middle, but they have signed players like Julio de la Cruz and Jhoan Herrera, who were more one-dimensional power bats when they signed.

          They will probably get players now on the top prospect list, but I’d hesitate to get too excited about that because they do quite often fail. We cover high school players here in the draft and many of them breakout late in their senior season, some don’t at all until college, while other players get in the system and make no progress after a certain age. We’ve seen multiple examples of that, where players peaked at 18.

          Now picture trying to figure out which high school sophomores are going to be MLB stars, with the added factor that many of them come from very poor backgrounds and change with a lot of money. I’ve heard multiple stories of players who received under $200k in bonus money completely give up on trying hard because they were rich already, so you can imagine about players who get more.

          Someday 20 years or so from now, I’ll write a tell-all book and a current international player will be featured heavily in the money changes players section. Don’t bother guessing because it’s not obvious and I’m not telling…yet.

          • Absolutely, instant financial gratification can be crippling for kids coming from the poverty that exists in their parts of the world.

            We have to appreciate the overwhelming majority of the kids from the Intl Draft that the Pirates have signed and present day performers like Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, They have achieved the dream with their multi-year, multi-million dollar contract extensions, and are still positive role models and hard workers.

          • It is more obvious than you may think, and I don’t mean Heredia. At least it would seem more obvious. LA player, got big bonus, got push from org, has seemingly done nothing to improve his game.

      • With a $5 million bonus, they almost have to sign some bigger deals. What would they be able to do with 50 kids signing every year for $100k? They would have to start up a third Dominican team, and another short season team.

        • Well, they also don’t have to spend it all. A second team in the Dominican is an option though, the academy was built to accommodate two teams

    • BuccosFanStuckinMD
      March 22, 2017 11:11 pm

      How can you say that with a straight face? What Latin American prospect have the Pirates signed in the past 6-8 years who has made it the Pittsburgh major league team and contributing? Zip, zero…I think even Polanco was signed more than 8 years ago…

      Who are the top Latin American position player prospects in our system, that have reached at least the High A level? Other than Osuna and Hanson (who is barely still a prospect), are there any others?

      • Some have been used in trades that helped the major league team. Dilson Herrera/Vic Black was traded for Marlon Byrd/John Buck. Harold Ramirez was a big piece of the deal that netted the Pirates Drew Hutchison.

        • BuccosFanStuckinMD
          March 23, 2017 1:33 pm

          No, almost everyone on this site now considers Ramirez an overrated single hitter and not a legit top prospect – that was the consensus right after the trade. Regardless, you could only name 2 which makes my point – in terms of top Latin American prospects, the Pirates may be the worst performing system in that category in MLB – certainly for position players….and its because they are essentially bottom feeders and they pretty much totally ignore any legitimate Cuban prospect….it is analogous to an NFL team deciding to sit out the first 2-3 rounds of the NFL draft each year, and just focus on Rounds 4-7 and think they will be able to assemble a competitive team year after year….

          • My sarcasm must not have carried through, had I added a quip about Michael de la Cruz, would that have helped? I thought the Hutchison comment should have been enough.

        • BuccosFanStuckinMD
          March 23, 2017 1:35 pm

          But the Pirates are big players in South Africa, Australia, and India!

  • I am not sure that even if the better prospects were profiled that the overall group would only show a glimpse of future projection, with none being mentioned as a sure fire top prospect. I have hope for Acuna to make it and give the remainder my best wishes for success. Now if the Pirates competed for the better know high end talent maybe there would be someone to follow, that might make a major impact on the Pirates. Lets hope that Guyo pulls another Marte rabbit out of his hat with this group.