The Pittsburgh Pirates signed 19-year-old outfielder Fernando Villegas as an international amateur free agent out of Mexico on Friday afternoon. He recently completed a tryout in front of two scouts and Junior Vizcaino, who took over as the Director of International Scouting after Rene Gayo was let go by the Pirates in November.
Villegas has belonged to Saraperos de Saltillo, a summer league team in Mexico, since he was 14 years old. His father had a long pro career in baseball playing outfield in the Mexican league for 16 seasons, 12 of them with Saltillo. The younger Villegas had not played for Saltillo yet because the level of player is about equal to weak Triple-A, but the team said that he would have had a shot to make the club this year if he wasn’t signed.
The Pirates gave him a tryout in Monterrey, Mexico, where he went through running drills, fielding, live batting practice and strength tests. His signing scout was Roberto Saucedo, who first scouted him in 2015 during a Pan-Am tournament. Since then, Villegas has participated in the Mexican league academy, where he hit .333 in 52 games, with a league leading 25 doubles in 2016. In 2017, he went to Spring Training with Saltillo, then played 43 games in the minor league version of Mexican baseball. That’s usually the next step after players graduate from the academy.
Because teams in Mexico collect 75% of the bonus given to a player, they usually put a high price on the players and will hold on to players until they get their price. If no teams meets their price, then the player ends up playing for the team. Because of that practice, many players out of Mexico end up signing 2-3 years after they are first eligible. The flip side to getting them later is that they are being developed by those teams and you’re getting a more polished player.
Villegas is the 45th international player signed by the Pirates since July and the fourth from Mexico. As of his signing, the Pirates had not decided whether he will go to the Dominican or report directly to Bradenton and skip the DSL.
For those who might remember the article last month, this isn’t the same 19-year-old outfielder from Mexico who the Pirates have been scouting. That was Fabricio Macias, who went to the Dominican Republic for two weeks of tryouts recently (he may still be there). He has not signed anywhere yet. Macias plays with the same Saltillo team and saw time in the advanced league this year, so his required bonus is likely higher than Villegas.