Pittsburgh Pirates Sign Outfielder Fernando Villegas from Mexico

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.

  • Thank you for answering the question floating around in my head: “Is this the same Mexican OF that…?”

  • From what you’ve told us here, I like this signing quite a bit. If he had a chance to make a AA/AAA quality team, I can’t imagine he won’t go to Bradenton, right? Good to sign a kid who can come to the states straightaway, start populating the levels closer to the Majors.

    • He will start off lower. You can’t compare them even up because Mexico doesn’t have the levels of player that the minors have available. Their academy is for young players, which would be equal to playing in high school showcases in the U.S. After that, he was loaned to a team in a lesser league. After that, the next step is the majors there. Since Mexico sells the younger players who are worth selling, then there isn’t that middle ground for talent to replenish. If they fail in the minors after 4-5 years, then they come back older and more experienced and can eventually play in the big leagues in Mexico.

      It would basically be comparable to the Pirates only having the GCL, West Virginia and the Pirates as options for players, with every prospect good enough to play for Bradenton/Altoona playing overseas somewhere. He would be comparable to someone like Adrian Valerio having a chance to sit on the Pirates bench this year. Sure Valerio could be there, but he’s unlikely to provide value.

  • Weren’t the Pirates looking at a Mexican catcher?

  • … and the Cubs sign Yu Darvish for 6/$126M + incentives

    • The Cubs sign players like Darvish because they have the silly and outmoded idea that baseball teams actually should try to field winning teams. Clearly they are not blessed with the wisdom of Dear Leader Nutting who knows the “financial flexibility “ is the ultimate goal of baseball.

    • SIx years for Darvish is a pretty high-risk move, given his recent injury history. I would have rather paid him $30 million/year to get him for just three years, I think, than depressing the cost to $21 million/year, but risking not having him on the mound much in the latter half of the deal.

    • He can opt out after 2 years. Cubs are probably hoping/praying he opts out after 2.

  • since only 25% of the bonus paid is used against the cap I would assume the Pirates still have money to spend?

  • Thanks. Yes. Last pitched for Mazatian on November 4, a couple of weeks before Pirates released him. He will be 30 years old, so my guess is he is done. Maybe he’ll catch on with an independent league team.

  • Speaking of Mexico, where is Yoandy Fernandez? After the Pirates released him on November 17, 2017, he played briefly for Mazatian in the Mexican Pacific Winter League. Is his professional baseball career over?

    • Fernandez played winter ball before he was released. Haven’t heard his name since.

      • Sorry if this has been asked many times before but how many latin signings have the Pirates averaged in the past 5-6 years? I follow moderately closely every year but can’t remember the numbers. Seems exceptionally high this year. I just read Fernando Villegas’ dad’s Mexican league stats so maybe I follow more than moderately.

        • I would say 25 is about average, some years fewer, some years more. At this point, it would be crazy if they didn’t have a second DSL team.