The Pittsburgh Pirates released two lower level minor league players on Monday. That brings their total to 17 players released over the last week. With 37 players signed during the 2017 draft and 23 international players invited to the Fall Instructional League this year, it was inevitable that a lot of lower level players would get cut.
The players released on Monday were infielder Nelson Jorge and pitcher Claudio Scotti. We normally wouldn’t post an article in this situation, waiting for some other type of transaction to happen and packaging these players in with that article. Jorge has played four seasons in the lower levels and never showed any signs of why the Pirates took him in the seventh round in 2014 and gave him a six-figure bonus. He was drafted as a shortstop and played a total of four games there. He had difficulties at second base, so even that didn’t seem like a possible spot and he didn’t hit enough for a corner spot. Jorge didn’t make it above Bristol in four seasons.
The other player is Claudio Scotti, a 19-year-old pitcher from Italy. I have been doing articles on players recently who we didn’t cover much during the season. Scotti was one that I already talked to, wrote up and planned to post later. I picked him because I wanted to show what it was like to sign out of Italy and how difficult it was to make it to the majors. That’s even more relevant now, which is why I decided to include the article as it was written up without any changes. There is more to his release than on field issues, which we won’t get into here, but if you want to see what it takes to sign out of Italy and what he went through in two seasons with the Pirates, this article is for you.
We have posted articles in the past about signing out of Mexico, Australia and the Bahamas, so this article was in line with that series. There is one coming up about South Africa. I talked at length with Vince Deyzel and Victor Ngoepe for that article, so Gift Ngoepe’s departure won’t change that article.
Claudio Scotti Story
As we have seen from the amateur drafts over the last 8-9 years, the Pittsburgh Pirates like tall, projectable right-handed pitchers. On March 16, 2016, they went to a new place to get one of those pitchers. The Pirates signed Claudio Scotti, a 17-year-old pitcher who was at a baseball camp in Florida. That’s obviously nothing new, plenty of pitchers sign out of Florida. However, Scotti came to the camp from Rome, Italy, a country that has not produced many Major League baseball players over the years.
There have been seven Major League players over the years who were born in Italy. None of those players spent time with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The first one was St Louis Browns pitcher Lou Polli in 1932. He would be joined by five more players over the next 21 years. Then from 1963 until 2010, there wasn’t a single player in the majors who was born in Italy. In 2011, Alex Liddi made his big league debut with the Seattle Mariners. He spent parts of three seasons in the majors. Those seven players born in Italy played a total of 985 games. So not only is it a place without many representatives over the 147 years of Major League baseball, those who made it saw very little success.
I got a chance to talk to Scotti recently about his baseball upbringing and what’s been going on since he signed with the Pirates.
Scotti got a late start with baseball compared to most kids in the United States. Scotti began at age ten, playing in a league near his house in Rome. Baseball isn’t as popular in Italy as it is in the U.S., and it falls well behind soccer for participation. So you can imagine that it’s hard to develop into a strong baseball player when the level of competition around you isn’t great. Baseball is becoming more popular in the country, and they do have their own Major League, but Scotti spent his entire youth learning baseball in Italy. He also got that late start, so he’s still considered very raw at this point.
Besides the late start, Scotti was also a position player at first. That was until he got some practice on the mound and realized that pitching could be his way towards success and a possible pro contract. His first real break came at age 15 when he began attending a baseball academy in Italy, where he spent almost three years. That academy led to international tournaments in the United States and then eventually to him being signed.
The Pirates first really took notice when they saw him play in the USA National Baseball Team Championships in Jupiter, Florida, while he was with a team from MLB Europe. That was in June of 2015, nine months before he signed. Scotti was back in Florida with the MLB Europe All-Stars in March of 2016 when the Pirates saw him again, and that’s when the two sides agreed on a contract. They didn’t see much action from him during those tournaments, but it doesn’t take much to know that a 17-year-old, who is 6’4″ and can hit 90 MPH, is someone worth giving a look. Within a month of signing, he was in Extended Spring Training in Bradenton.
We didn’t get to see much from Scotti last year in the Gulf Coast League. He made just five appearances and threw 5.2 innings total. We happened to catch his only home game out of those five contests and saw him throw a scoreless inning. It was too brief to get much of a read on him, but we saw a fastball that could get up to 92 MPH. Scotti was limited that first season due to the Pirates giving him a bit of a mental break on the mound, where he was removed from game action, but still threw on the side in bullpens and live batting practice. His biggest issue as a raw pitcher was the occasional poor control and they thought it was best to work on that on the side, where game-related nerves wouldn’t play a part.
When Scotti returned for the 2017 season, there were immediate signs of improvement during Extended Spring Training. We got reports that he went from 89-92 MPH last year, up to 91-92, touching 93 MPH this season. That was just a small jump, but he would eventually touch 95 MPH with his four-seam fastball. He was also a more confident pitcher, and while he had some trouble throwing strikes during the season, it didn’t affect him like it did in 2016. At one point, he was able to put up back-to-back outings of three innings each, giving up a total of one earned run on two hits. Those two outings combined were more innings than he threw during the 2016 GCL season.
In eight appearances this year, Scotti had a 2.70 ERA over 13.1 innings, holding batters to a .231 BAA. His 1.65 WHIP was a result of too many walks, although he didn’t have any games were the control was horrible. It was more of a case of spreading the walks around, losing control for short spurts rather than entire outings.
The mound time looks limited, but it wasn’t due to an injury or the Pirates not using him often. Right before the GCL season began, Scotti returned to Rome to attend his school graduation. He had pitched often in Extended Spring Training, but the time off from pitching while back in Italy meant that the Pirates reset his throwing program and had him building back up to game action. He didn’t make his season debut until July 25th and was limited to one inning at the time.
As with any inexperienced pitcher, you want to see them on the mound as often as possible. Scotti didn’t take part in the Fall Instructional League this season, but he has pitched during the off-season. He most recently pitched for Team Italy in the 2017 European Baseball Series against the Netherlands, where Italy took the best-of-three series. In September, he pitched in the playoffs for Cali Roma and struck out ten batters over five no-hit innings. He was on a throwing program in between those games as well.
Being there for Instructs would have been a nice learning experience, but he has likely pitched more innings away from Pirate City than he would have put in during four weeks in Bradenton. When you add in the Spring Training/Extended Spring Training innings, along with his regular season total and his off-season total, Scotti put in a decent amount of innings since March.
At this point, Scotti is nothing more than a young, projectable pitcher who we will keep an eye on. He turned 19 back in July and his late start to playing, plus lack of strong competition growing up, means that it could take him a little longer to develop. He has a 6’4″, 210 pound frame that still has plenty of room to fill out. The Pirates want him to add some weight and muscle this season to help out his stamina and possibly tap into even more velocity. A fastball that can reach 95 MPH is a nice starting point for success. He also throws a low-90s sinker, a changeup with nice separation from his fastball and a high-70s curve, giving him a four-pitch mix.
Scotti still has a lot of work to do, especially with commanding his fastball, which is the first big step. At this point, he’s closer to a 2017 draft lottery type pick out of high school. The difference being that he didn’t cost the Pirates a six-figure bonus that would have came along with someone who has a projectable 6’4″ frame and can hit 95 MPH.