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.