We plan to have an article dedicated to the international side each Sunday throughout the season, so until the Dominican Summer League begins play, we will look at recaps of the previous international signing classes and see where they currently stand. Today we look at the progress of the 2015-16 signing class. If you missed it last week, we went over the very early results from the 2016-17 class. We also looked at the 2017-18 signing class during the previous week. At the bottom of this article, you’ll find four more signings for that class, which is now up to 65 players signed since July 2nd.
I mentioned that the results from the 2016-17 class are in the early stages, way too early to write anyone off or assume a strong start means future success. It’s still very early for the 2015-16 class, but we have a better idea with some of these players. This was a very small group of signings, with eight players of note signed early and they took up almost 75% of the Pirates bonus pool. We later found out about eight more names signed around July 2nd who weren’t announced and they took up almost the entire remaining bonus pool. So the Pirates nearly spent their entire bonus pool in the first week of the 50-week signing period. They added three more signings later for a total of 19 players signed.
Lolo Sanchez was the top signing ($450,000) for the Pirates. He was described as a shortstop/center field, with plus-plus speed and strong bat at an early age. Sanchez did not have a strong rookie season in 2016, though he was slowed right at the end of spring training by a leg injury. He moved to the U.S. after one season and really impressed everyone who saw him in the GCL. This season he skipped two levels to West Virginia, where he is off to a slow start early on. At this point he is easily the top prospect from this group.
Rodolfo Castro put up solid numbers in the DSL and GCL, which earned him a jump to West Virginia this year. He was signed as a shortstop and that’s probably not in his future. He’s still got a strong bat with plenty of potential and he’s not even 19 years old yet. Plate patience could be an issue as he moves up the system, though you would hope it’s part of his progress still at such a young age.
Sherten Apostel had a very rough first season in the DSL and returned there in 2017. Coming from Curacao, he was behind the players from countries where baseball is more popular. So it’s not surprising there was an adjustment period and he really made huge strides in 2017, showing power, patience, maturity and a better understanding of the strike zone. He missed a month this spring with a hamstring injury. Assuming it’s not going to be a nagging issue, then you could expect big things from him in the GCL. The 6’4″, 225 pound Apostel just needs to maintain the approach that saw him have so much success last year.
Samuel Inoa is basically a repeat of the Apostel story, just coming from a much smaller player. Inoa is small for a catcher, yet the bat packs some power when he gets a hold of a pitch. He didn’t get much praise in 2016 for anything on offense or defense, then was a completely different player in 2017, showing leadership and improved defensive skills, while crushing the ball at the plate. He was injured twice, which limited him to 34 games. It was enough to see huge improvements across the board.
Larry Alcime and Kyle Simmons were both signed out of the Bahamas at the same time. Simmons actually got into action in 2015, which is rare because most (meaning 99%) July 2nd signings start playing the following season. Simmons hasn’t shown much in three seasons, but Alcime at a $350,000 bonus, was the much bigger signing. He has not made much progress in two years. There were reports that he looked better coming into 2017, but he was rarely 100% healthy, with nagging minor injuries all season. Both players were promoted to the U.S. last fall and returned this spring.
Leandro Pina and Yeudry Manzanillo were the two main pitchers signed. Pina showed a lot in 2016 in the DSL, thanks to excellent fastball command and an above average changeup. He then struggled in the GCL in 2017 and had some off-the-field issues that were taken care of late in the year. Manzanillo didn’t pitch well in the DSL in 2016 or the GCL in 2017. I wouldn’t write off either of them yet. Both have 6’3″ frames with room to fill out and they are both teenagers still, so this should be an interesting season for them and seeing whether they can become prospects.
Carlos Garcia had an awful first season in 2016 and then showed a lot of improvements in 2017 in the DSL. He was described as raw when he signed, but the Pirates liked him enough to hand out a six-figure bonus. He just turned 19 and he’s in the U.S. this season, so it’s possible he’s a sleeper player to watch this season. The problem is that all of his value is in his bat, so as a corner outfielder, he’s going to have to hit a lot to have value.
Pitchers Kleiner Machado and Luis Diaz were both signed out of Venezuela. The lefty Diaz has barely pitched since signing due to a shoulder injury. He made a ton of progress as a pitcher before signing with the Pirates, but we haven’t seen any results due to his time missed. Machado made his progress after signing, cutting his walks in half, while doubling his strikeout total from 2016 to 2017. He’s in the States now.
Joel Cesar was said to be hitting 100 MPH after he signed. We haven’t seen/heard that since he started pitching in 2016, but he’s already in the bullpen for West Virginia so that’s a good sign. He’s usually in the 95-96 MPH range, touching 97 on occasion. His off-speed pitches need some work, as does his control. He’s also not big, so his future is probably as a one inning reliever, but with some improvements, that could be in the majors.
Victor Ngoepe was signed out of South Africa. The younger brother of Gift Ngoepe had a lot of the same traits, although different body types. Victor still has room to fill out and he could use that extra power so pitchers don’t knock the bat out of his hands. He has potential due to his defense and speed, but has made mild progress so far.
Sergio Cubilete and Jose Delgado were two older pitchers signed at the same time. Delgado is already out of the system. He threw hard, but had very little control and wasn’t getting any better. Cubilete is starting for West Virginia this year, although he took a line drive to the face earlier this week and is currently on the disabled list. He has shown some nice low-90s stuff, getting up to 95 MPH with his fastball.
Oliver Garcia was a scrawny kid when the Pirates signed him, but the 6’3″ right-handed pitcher has filled out nicely and looks like a completely different player. He had strong results in the DSL last year and he’s in the U.S. this year, where he will pitch for either the GCL Pirates or possibly Bristol.
Lefty Reymundo Pena pitched two innings early in 2016, injured his arm and hasn’t pitched in a game since. He has spent most of his time at Pirate City in Bradenton rehabbing, but returned to the Dominican this spring. He’s 22 years old already, so the clock is ticking on him.
Finally, Francisco Mepris and Yair Babilonia were two lower profile signings and neither has performed well in limited roles. Both are 20 years old now and they were backups last year in the DSL, though they each moved up to the U.S. (Mepris last fall, Babilonia this spring). Hard to see future success for either, though the promotion to the U.S. is the first big step.
So out of 19 players signed, 18 are still in the system. Many of them are still teenagers, while four of them (Sanchez, Castro Apostel and Inoa) have shown the potential to be top prospects in the system. Four of them have already progressed to West Virginia.
2017-18 Signing Class Continues to Grow
The Pittsburgh Pirates signed four players from the Dominican on Friday, three pitchers and an outfielder. That gives them 65 international players signed since July 2nd. These late signings probably include roster fillers since we believe the Pirates are running on empty with their remaining bonus pool. Any signing for $10,000 or less doesn’t count against the pool. There could be at least one exception in this group though. Right-handed pitcher Raydel Velette is still only 16-years-old, so you would assume a player that young wouldn’t be so eager to sign for a low amount.
The other players are 18-year-old lefty pitcher Elvis Contreras, 19-year-old outfielder Germin Lopez and 20-year-old right-handed pitcher Xavier Concepcion.