Winter league baseball wrapped up this week, so now it’s time to look back on the entire off-season. There were 22 current Pittsburgh Pirates who saw action this winter. I didn’t include any of the players like Edwin Espinal, who signed with the Detroit Tigers, or Carlos Munoz, who is still looking to sign a free agent deal this year. The players below are all of the ones who are still currently with the Pirates. I sorted them by country to make it easier.
Starling Marte – Marte played winter ball for the first time in four years, as he tried to make up for some missed time this year due to his lengthy suspension. The Pirates allowed him to play for a limited time and he ended up leaving a few days earlier due to a hand injury. Marte was spiked on the hand while stealing third base. It was minor, but the Pirates felt it was a good time for him to leave. He also took a couple tough hit-by-pitches and had a flu that knocked him out for a few days, so he was lucky to leave with just a minor scrape. Marte started off very slow at the plate, then caught fire about halfway through his 30-game winter and finished very strong. He went 9-for-9 in stolen bases, picked up some outfield assists and posted a 1.207 OPS in his final ten games. You could say it was productive for him because he accomplished his goal and ended on a strong note.
Jung-Ho Kang – Kang had a horrible winter at the plate. After missing all of last year due to his visa situation, the Pirates wanted him to get winter at-bats. Kang was staying in shape during the 2017 season in case he was able to get to the U.S., then he got to the Dominican in time for their preseason and had three weeks of practice and games before Opening Day. He also had plenty of notice that he was playing winter ball to start to get ready. Throw in the fact that the Dominican is a step down in competition from the majors and Kang should have been able to hold his own in the league. Instead, his stats were awful. He finished with a .421 OPS and was leading the league in strikeouts when his team cut him 3 1/2 weeks before his season was supposed to end. About the only good thing to say is that his defense was getting some praise after he committed a few early errors.
Pablo Reyes – Reyes put up some strong numbers during winter ball in 2016, so it appeared that he would be one of the main players to follow this winter. He ended up hitting just .247/.317/.312 in 29 games, with his time limited due to performance, both on offense and defense. He played just one playoff game and that was as a pinch-hitter late in a one-sided game. Reyes received an invite to Major League Spring Training. He doesn’t have a shot at making the Pirates, but he can make a strong impression. He’s a versatile defensive player who has some pop in his bat and some speed. The infield in Indianapolis looks crowded, so his spring will be more about winning a job in Triple-A and not returning to Altoona.
Edgar Santana – Santana had a very odd winter, pitching poorly twice, then taking three weeks off before one more mediocre outing. That was the end of his winter and he didn’t have any injuries issues. In two total innings, he allowed four runs on four hits and two walks, with two strikeouts. That’s definitely not what you want to see from someone who should be a big part of your bullpen for years to come, but then again, it’s such a small sample size that it’s nothing to worry about. Santana will compete for an Opening Day spot with the Pirates. As someone with two options remaining, he could be a victim of the numbers game, but will be in Pittsburgh at some point in 2018.
Montana DuRapau – DuRapau had a tough winter on and off the field. He made just four relief appearances and got hit around, allowing five runs over three innings. He was done by late October, but his winter got a lot worse when he was suspended for 50 games due to a positive test for a drug of abuse. That was after he received a Spring Training invite, which was later taken away. He went from having a chance to show off in Major League camp, to missing the first two months, while a crowded Indianapolis pitching staff gets a chance to sort itself out.
Nik Turley – Turley performed very well in his four late-season starts, then became the second Pirate player to get suspended. Since he was on the 40-man roster, his suspension is for 80 games. The results as a starter were encouraging from Turley, who had a lot of trouble during his first shot in the majors this past season. Now he will miss half of the year serving his suspension and likely need rehab time in the minors to get back on track. He will have no minor league options left when he returns.
Richard Rodriguez – Rodriguez was one of the first minor league free agent signed by the Pirates. He was already in winter ball and didn’t do well during his first month. Not long before he signed, he started a streak of 18 straight games with no earned runs allowed. That streak was broken during the playoffs, but Rodriguez finished strong with nine strikeouts in four shutout innings during the league finals. During the regular season in the Dominican, he had a 30:2 SO/BB ratio in 21.1 innings. He has a Spring Training invite, but the Pirates have a lot of options ahead of him on the bullpen depth chart. We could see him sometime during the 2018 season in Pittsburgh if he can stand out among a strong group slated for Indianapolis.
Oneil Cruz – Players in Low-A (or lower) usually don’t get to play in the Dominican. Even when players like Gregory Polanco, Alen Hanson and Starling Marte were all prospects at that point, they barely got a chance to play until they reached a higher level. Cruz isn’t at the point those players were in their development in Low-A, so it’s no surprise that he played just one game as a pinch-hitter at the end of the Dominican season. If his power develops, he could be a big part of our winter coverage in the future.
Tyler Jones – This one comes with an asterisk because Jones was done with winter ball well before he signed with the Pirates. He did not pitch well during his month in the Dominican. Jones had a 6.48 ERA in 8.1 innings over 11 appearances. He had a .359 BAA, a 2.04 WHIP and six strikeouts. He will compete for a bullpen spot with Indianapolis. The Pirates gave him a Spring Training invite, but with no Major League experience and plenty of better options ahead of him, he figures to be one of the first cuts.
Jose Osuna – After Kang and Marte, the third biggest story of the winter was Osuna playing third base. Before the Pirates acquired Colin Moran, many fans wanted to see Osuna get some time at third base to get his bat into the lineup. Osuna was only allowed to play winter ball for one month and he played 14 games at third base during that time. The only report we got about his defense was from Osuna himself, who said the move to third base was tougher than he thought, but he was getting used to the new spot. Without seeing the games, it’s tough to tell how he looked. He had just 23 plays totals, committing three errors. That is an awfully low number of plays for a guy on a team with many ground ball pitchers, who didn’t rack up strikeouts. My guess is that his limited range and inexperience at the position led to the low total of chances. At the plate, Osuna tore up the league with a .915 OPS in 22 games and he ended with a 17-game hit streak, which is a record for his team.
Elvis Escobar – Escobar saw more playing time this winter than any other player listed here. He hit .272/.328/.342 in 61 regular season games, then put up big stats in the playoffs before his team was eliminated in the finals. Escobar was asked to work on his base stealing in Venezuela, so he had a surprisingly low total of eight steals attempted. While he received more playing time than prior years, his stats were very similar to last year during the regular season in Venezuela. Escobar picked it up during the playoffs, but the stats show a lack of real progress. There is going to be competition for the outfield jobs in Altoona and he’s in his last season before free agency now, so he’s in a tough spot for 2018.
Jerrick Suiter – Suiter showed up late in the season and was hoping for a longer run in the playoffs, but his team lost their first round series. He didn’t hit much in seven regular season games and by the end of the playoffs, he was on the bench for one game and pinch-hit for in another. It was a short winter season and he was mostly used as the DH, so not much was accomplished. Suiter goes into 2018 looking for a promotion to Indianapolis after a solid season with Altoona, but he might be held back due to limited roster space.
Mikell Granberry – Granberry finished the regular season in Bristol, so winter ball in Mexico was quite the jump in competition. He earned the third-string catcher spot for his team, which ended up giving him very little playing time, even though he was with the team for the entire season. That translated to seven strikeouts in ten at-bats over five games. Those are about the type of stats you should expect from someone with his experience, who spent most of his time as the bullpen catcher in an advanced league. Granberry is still about two years away from seeing regular time during winter ball. The experience he received being with the team all winter should help him this season, although he will likely remain in Extended Spring Training unless injuries open up a spot at West Virginia.
Christian Navarro – Navarro was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in July, then showed up in the Fall Instructional League in October. That rarely happens. Everyone else they signed in July went to the Dominican for their version of the instructional league. Navarro took it a step further by playing in the Mexican league before he played his first pro game. The level of competition is at least Double-A and is closer to Triple-A, so that’s an extreme jump in competition. He was mostly kept around for his speed, playing in ten games total, with only seven plate appearances. Navarro made just one start, which happened to be his last game. It was an interesting story line from the winter, but I wouldn’t expect him to start higher than Bristol as a pro and he probably won’t receive extended winter playing time for a few years.
Johnny Hellweg – As a foreign player, Hellweg had a very short leash in winter ball and he was done after three poor outings. The former big leaguer is trying to work his way back to the majors, first signing with the Pirates late in the 2017 season, then going to winter ball to help make a better impression. He did look good in his brief time with Altoona, but his winter experience didn’t do him any good. I expect him to be back at Altoona in the bullpen this year because Indianapolis is going to be crowded enough that some of the better Altoona pitchers from 2017 get held back.
Jin-De Jhang – Jhang saw his winter end early due to a right elbow injury. We never got an update on it, but a good sign might be the fact that he got a Spring Training invite a few weeks later. Jhang put up a .697 OPS in 12 games, while also throwing out 70% of runners attempting to steal. He was trying to make up for some missed time during the regular season due to an oblique injury in Spring Training, so he didn’t accomplish his winter goal. If he is indeed healthy, he will be one of four trying to earn a catching spot on the Indianapolis roster along with Jacob Stallings, Ryan Lavarnway and Jackson Williams.
Michael Suchy – Suchy missed time in 2017 with a broken hamate, then didn’t do much when he returned. His winter was about making up for lost time and trying to get on track with the bat. Offense was very high this year in Australia and Suchy took advantage of that, hitting .299/.376/.540 in 38 games. He had a 22-game on base streak that was snapped on the last day of the season. One highlight for his winter was the fact that played a lot of center field during the second half of the Australian season. Suchy has played very little center field with the Pirates. He’s in a similar spot as Elvis Escobar this upcoming season, though Suchy won’t be a free agent. Both players will be fighting for playing time in an outfield that looks crowded.
Robbie Glendinning – Glendinning was the first draft pick of the Pirates to play winter ball during the same year he was drafted in at least ten years. Winter stats by team didn’t go back any further, so it may have been much longer since it last happened. The 21st round pick out of Missouri grew up in Australia, making his winter (actually it’s summer there) more of a homecoming. He played shortstop full-time for Perth after Christmas and hit .333/.408/.506 in 21 games, then went 3-for-12 with two doubles in the playoffs. His defense faltered at the end when he made four errors late in the season. He had just two errors through his first 70 chances. It seems like everyone here is competing for a spot in 2018 and Glendinning is no different. He could end up in Bradenton, West Virginia or stay in Extended Spring Training depending on how things go in Spring Training and how the Pirates want to use him. He at least made a nice impression with his play in Australia, which is a step up from the level of play he saw with Morgantown after being drafted.
Sam Street – Street made eight appearances this off-season, posting a 3.38 ERA, with 12 strikeouts and a 1.03 WHIP in 10.2 innings. He also had one brief playoff outing, recording one out while allowing a hit and a walk. In a year where the offense was high in Australia, those are strong stats. Street has played three years of winter ball and these are his best stats, which is obviously a good sign when the league went from neutral his first two years to hitter-friendly this year. He has spent the last two seasons in Bradenton and looks to make the jump to Altoona in 2018. He is one of the softest throwers in the system sitting mid-80s, but he has movement and deception from his sidearm delivery, which helps him get results.
Connor MacDonald – One of the strangest stories of the winter, the Pirates signed the 21-year-old after he pitched one shutout inning in a one-sided game. It was the first game he had pitched in six seasons of winter ball and four seasons of pro ball with the Astros. The really strange part is that he hit ten homers this winter, tapping in to his raw power for the first time. The only reports about his pitching said that he threw hard and threw strikes. So the Pirates have a 6’5″ right-handed pitcher now, who is still young, and a major project. He will spend his time in Extended Spring Training before joining one of the short-season teams in June.
Francisco Acuna – Acuna impressed last year by holding his own against older competition in Colombia before he even played his first game as a pro. After spending the year in the DSL in 2017, he came back to Colombia and put up better stats, hitting .243/.374/.322 in 38 regular season games, then going 4-for-14 with a walk in the playoffs. He just turned 18 after the season ended in Colombia, where the level of competition is close to High-A, so this winter was a big step up for him. He was the everyday shortstop and he defense was solid, save for one three-error game. Acuna gets a lot of credit for the things he brings to the table besides plus speed and excellent plate patience. Coaches credited his baseball smarts, instincts and work ethic for making him a better player. He should be the starting shortstop in the GCL this year and a prospect to watch.
Hector Quinones – After Glendinning did something we haven’t seen in at least ten years, Quinones joined him in that group of draft picks playing winter ball during their first season. The season in Puerto Rico was shortened due to the hurricane damage on the island, and Quinones was only able to pitch five times. He was shaky in his first two outings, then finished strong in his final three games. He will likely play for a short-season team next year, but could make the West Virginia bullpen, either on Opening Day or if a spot opens up during the season. Quinones took a job as a pitching coach for an amateur team in Florida earlier this week and will be doing that until he reports to Spring Training.