If you’ve been following the prospect rankings for the Pittsburgh Pirates this off-season, then you have seen the name Sherten Apostel quite often. Fangraphs had him ranked as the 14th best prospect for the Pirates, while Keith Law and John Sickels both had him as the 19th best in the system. We normally don’t see players from the Dominican Summer League mentioned among the top prospects in the system. In our rankings, we don’t even include those players anymore. We wait until they play in the U.S. before we include them in our top 50 rankings.
In our DSL recap, we had Apostel as our second best prospect for that team behind Jean Eusebio, who I wrote about last month. Apostel has been getting a lot of press recently, so I figured that Wednesday afternoon was a good time to have a long conversation with the 18-year-old third baseman from Curacao.
I have talked to Apostel before, mostly right after his younger brother Shendrik signed with the Pirates last year. He’s Sherten’s workout partner, and I caught up with the older Apostel right after their practice ended on Wednesday. Since the conversation started with mentioning his workout, the first thing that I asked Sherten about was his current weight. Minor league players often go by their signing weight for a long time, and for someone who signed at 16 years old, that was something that has likely changed a lot by now.
Apostel is a power-hitter with a 6’4″ frame, who had plenty of room to fill out when he signed. He has done that since signing in July of 2015 for a $200,000 bonus, going from 200 pounds then, to a solid 228 pounds now. His younger brother is even bigger and built like house. It will be interesting to see how he does as a rookie in the DSL this year, but it’s Sherten Apostel who is the one getting all of the attention now and for good reason.
Apostel put up a .258/.422/.495 slash line over 61 games for the DSL Pirates this past season. He started hitting for power a month into the season and that power display quickly turned him into a feared hitter in the league. He started drawing a lot of walks, with 19 base on balls over an 11-game stretch in late July. Apostel hit .234 and homered just three times over his final 25 games in 2017, but word had spread of his power and he was walked 32 times during that stretch. That can happen quickly in the DSL where they play a lot of the same teams often during a 72-game schedule.
When he began to get walked often and didn’t see any pitches to hit, Apostel said it was frustrating at first, but he used it as a real learning experience. It allowed him to see a lot of pitches and he got better with his pitch recognition. He was able to look for a mistake pitch in his zone and be ready to capitalize on it. Apostel said that seeing so many pitches out of the zone made him a more patient hitter. Before all of the walks started, he was going up to the plate ready to swing. After the walks started piling up, he didn’t have that swing-first mindset. He was looking for his pitch and if it didn’t come, he was willing to take the walk to help his team.
During his rookie season in 2016, Apostel was far from a feared hitter. He batted .205/.308/.275 in 48 games and struck out 61 times in 201 plate appearances. Those stats didn’t just look bad on paper, they took a lot out of Apostel, who lost all confidence in his baseball abilities. He had been a top prospect in Curacao, but in the DSL, he was struggling to hit his listed weight. He told me that he was questioning whether he was even good enough to play pro ball. It stayed with him over the 2016-17 off-season and the coaches could tell that he didn’t fully believe in himself when he returned for the 2017 season.
Apostel called it a wake up call this year when everyone started telling him to trust his ability and be confident that he belonged there. He said having the year of experience in the league helped him improve in 2017, but he still needed to have more trust in himself to take it to the next level. The skills were there to be a strong hitter, but now he needed the mentality to go along with it. Once he actually believed in himself, he said that his season turned around.
It’s a side of the game that doesn’t often cross into your mind. At 18, he’s still a young kid and he’s away from home and his family for a long stretch. For some of those players, they are dealing with adversity for the first time and it’s no longer just a game, it’s their job and hopefully their future. If they struggle for too long, their opportunity can slip away.
His new-found maturity wasn’t just on the offensive side of the game, it was also on defense, where Apostel was very open about his high error total.
He was known for his strong arm when he signed with the Pirates. A side note in his scouting report mentioned that he had a fallback option down the line as a pitcher if the hitting didn’t work out. He was considered a raw player back in 2015 and his defense was a bit rough as far as footwork and a steady glove. That actually led to him being used more often as a DH during his rookie season, though he was putting in the side work to get better at third base.
Apostel worked hard on the defensive side during the 2016-17 off-season and said that early on this past year, his problem was something that should have never happened. He made six errors in the first five games and 18 total on the season. Many of his early season errors were from Apostel showing off his arm. He said that he would get the ball in plenty of time, take his time to let the runner get down the line and then unleash a strong throw across the diamond, which wasn’t always a successful technique.
The coaches scolded him, told him that they already knew he had a strong arm and he needed to know when to use it and when to take the easy out and not think about his throws.
When you’re a young kid who lacks confidence in your hitting, you want to show something special to the coaches. The arm is a plus tool, but when it’s costing your team outs, then you’re really not showing your club anything. Apostel knows now that what he was doing was the wrong way to go about things and he made a promise to himself this off-season that he was going to be a better defensive player in 2018.
The third stage of maturity came at the very end of his season while in the Fall Instructional League, where he showed off some nice power at the plate when we got live looks at him. He called the four weeks in Bradenton an amazing learning experience as a player, but he feels that the last week of camp turned him into a man. That last week is tough physical and mental team training program called Crucible Week by the team, and referred to often by the players as Hell Week. It can be a grueling and intense time, but it’s something that Apostel truly appreciated after the fact.
“I loved instructs because I learned so much and they gave me new things to work on this off-season. Crucible Week was the part I liked the most because it turned me into a grown man and gave me a great mindset. It was hard, but at the same time it was good.”
Before Edgar Varela left for a coaching job with the Minnesota Twins in December, he was a long-time coach with the Pirates and spent the 2017 season as the Latin American Hitting Coordinator. I talked to him about Apostel and he gave me a quote to sum up the overall player.
“Sherten is a smart baseball player with instincts and ability to impact the ball as well. Strong and will continue to get stronger as he fills into his body. As he matures with the league he will be someone to watch. He’s got the ability to lead as well.”
The ability to lead isn’t something you would have heard about Apostel before his broke out as a player in July. He didn’t just break out as a player though, he broke out as a person, and now he will report to Bradenton on February 25th for Spring Training in a much better place than he was at the same time last year.