The DSL roster for the Pirates this year will be extremely inexperienced. They signed 23 international amateur players this off-season and 21 one them will be with the team on their 35-man roster. Doing some quick math, you’ll see that they will have more new players than returning players. The Pirates didn’t bring a lot of DSL players to the Fall Instructional League last year. That’s usually the best indicator of which players will make the jump to the States the following season.However, they ended up bringing over four more guys this Spring Training who weren’t there for Instructs, plus all of the guys who were there made the jump, making it a large group and leaving an inexperienced DSL team behind.
This year’s DSL club will have five starting pitchers who are all first season players. They also have an unusually high amount of position players, which will make for some limited playing time for certain players. Here are the players by position, along with who should receive the most playing time. The playing time is based on bonus amounts (because high bonus players will get playing time) and the reports I received from Spring Training in the Dominican, which included the playing time each player received. The team plays a 72-game schedule, with games beginning on Saturday June 3rd and running until August 26th.
Samuel Inoa is one of the veterans on his team, meaning he was around last year. Still just 18 years old, he received a $240,000 bonus in 2015. He did not have a strong rookie season last year with a .593 OPS and a poor showing behind the plate. He will get the majority of the time behind the plate, with second-year player Yair Babilonia and rookie Ruben Gonzalez splitting the rest of the time.
First base will be manned by Matthew Mercedes and Ronaldo Paulino, who were both signed last July as third basemen. Both players were a little older when they signed and neither received a big bonus. In the case of Mercedes, he wasn’t allowed to sign until after he finished high school. Paulino has good size at 6’4″, 200 pounds.
Second base will be the most experienced position on the team. Both Williams Calderon and Kyle Simmons have been splitting the position this spring. They are both in their third season of the DSL and neither had much success during those first two seasons. Simmons played during the off-season for Great Britain in the WBC qualifier and actually looked really strong against much better competition than he was seeing in the DSL, so it’s possible he could have a big season this year. Both of these players should see time at other infield positions as well.
Shortstop will be one of the most interesting positions to watch. If you followed our winter coverage, you know who Francisco Acuna is already. He played well in Colombia during winter ball, getting regular playing time at shortstop and hitting lead-off in a league where most of the players are at least four years older than him. He turned 17 over the off-season and should be an offensive and defensive force for this DSL team. Ivan Rosario will get the other playing time. He signed as an 18-year-old on July 2nd last year and has good size for a shortstop, though he still has room to fill out.
Third base belongs to Sherten Apostel, who was signed out of Curacao in 2015 and has great size, with power potential and an above average arm. His overall stats as a rookie weren’t good last year, but the June/July struggles hide his .306 average and .787 OPS in August. He will be one of the top players to watch on this team. The aforementioned Ronaldo Paulino is the main backup at third base.
There is a logjam in the outfield, but the three players who received the most Spring Training time are the three you would expect. The Pirates top signing last year and highest bonus ($550,000) since 2012 is 16-year-old center fielder Jean Eusebio. He won’t turn 17 until late in the season, but he’s already been impressive against DSL pitching. I was sent video of five of his at-bats, and while they were obviously picked due to their results, each one was him hitting the ball hard to the middle or opposite field. He also showed excellent speed on the bases. He might not put up the best stats this year from this group due to being one of the youngest players in the league. Although if the videos are any indication, he may actually end up as the best hitter this year. Regardless of 2017 results, he is easily the best prospect for the Pirates at this point.
The other two starting outfielders are left fielder Pedro Castillo and right fielder Larry Alcime. At $170,000, Castillo received the second highest bonus during the 2016-17 signing period. He’s a lefty hitter with a nice line drive stroke.Reports from spring say that he’s a bit over-matched early, but he should still receive a lot of playing time. Alcime returns after a tough season last year, although he changed his plate approach late in the year and it helped cut his strikeouts down by a lot. He signed out of the Bahamas for $350,000 during the 2015-16 signing period.
Those three are expected to get the majority of the time at each position, and could also play occasionally at other spots for versatility. That still leaves four other outfielders on the team and only a DH spot to help them get at-bats. Emison Soto, Rayvi Rodriguez and John Lantigua were all lower profile signings last year. Slightly older players in the 18-20 range and none of them received a large bonus. They will still get playing time though, including Soto, who was extremely impressive on the backfields of the DSL last year after signing (called the Tricky League). The one early help for the logjam,which doesn’t help Lantigua, is that he is still recovering from an injury. It isn’t expected to keep him out long though.
The seventh outfielder is Carlos Garcia, who received a six-figure bonus in 2015 as a 16-year-old and struggled badly in limited time last year. During spring, he has been the backup in left field, while Rayvi Rodriguez has backed up in center, Soto has played right field and Lantigua has moved all around. It will be interesting to see just how much time the four backups take away from the three top prospects.
On the pitching side, the starters will be Noe Toribio, Jose Marcano, Santiago Florez, Julio Rosario and Osvaldo Bido. Toribio, Flores and Rosario all received six figure bonuses in July. Marcano also signed in July, and he is the only lefty in the rotation. Bido signed in February at the age of 21, then came into camp and impressed enough that he won a starting job, when the original plan was to put him in the bullpen. He hits 95 MPH as a starter, which makes him the hardest thrower of the group. Toribio reportedly hit 97 MPH before he signed, but as a starter he sits 91-92. He is the best prospect of the bunch right now. He may not be as good as Bido right now, but he is also four years younger. The best report on Toribio seems to be that he’s just as strong at the end of his outings as he is at the start. You don’t see too many first year DSL pitchers with that type of stamina/durability already. Florez might have the biggest upside, or he’s just the biggest kid there, at 6’6″, with a sinker than hits low-90s.
Out of the bullpen, you have an interesting name in Samuel Reyes, who is the younger brother of Altoona’s Pablo Reyes. He throws heat, sitting 95 MPH and has five pitches that he can throw for strikes. Angel Suero signed for $125,00 last year and throws low-90s with a fastball/slider combo. Luis Arrieta received a $130,000 bonus as a raw pitcher with upside out of Colombia. Those two are the biggest bonus pitchers in the bullpen. Reyes received $45,000 to sign, exactly half of what his brother signed for back in 2012.
You also have Saul de la Cruz, who signed three years ago and hasn’t pitched a game yet due to Tommy John surgery, plus Angel Vasquez, who was a strong reliever back in 2015 before missing all of last year due to a shoulder injury. Both have pitched well in Spring Training. Three other injured players from last year, Luis Diaz, Reymundo Pena and Yerry De Los Santos (who received a six figure bonus in 2014) are all still out with injuries. Pena isn’t even in the Dominican, he’s rehabbing at Pirate City in Bradenton.
The bullpen has many of the returning players from 2016, with Oliver Garcia, Wilmer Contreras (third year player), Kleiner Machado, Julio Gonzalez, Randy Jimenez and Angel Martinez all back for a second season. Machado signed for $90,000 in June of 2015 and has been pitching well this spring. They will be joined by Francis Del Orbe, a 6’4″, right-hander, who received a $75,000 bonus last July, 17-year-old righty Pablo Santana, and Luis Gonzalez, a low-profile 18-year-old signing out of the Dominican.
For more on the returning players, check out our 2016 season recap here.
You can also check out our 2016-17 international signing tracker here. I’ll note that Danny Hernandez and Haicheng Gong are both in the GCL, while the 21 other players are in the DSL.
Released from the 2016 club: Carlos Bustamante, Rudy Guzman, Ramon Garcia, Ramy Perez, Edgardo Leon, Raymond Rodriguez
Promoted to the States from 2016 club: Kevin Sanchez, Jeremias Portorreal, Gabriel Brito, Johan De Jesus, Adonis Pichardo, Yeudry Manzanillo, Leandro Pena, Jose Delgado, Sergio Cubilete, Roger Santana, Joel Cesar, Eumir Sepulveda, Eddy Vizcaino, Rodolfo Castro, Francisco Mepris, Cristopher Perez