Last weekend, we posted a summary of the 2017-18 international signing class of the Pittsburgh Pirates. That class grew by two players this week, including a 17-year-old pitcher from the Dominican who has already hit 95 MPH. In the years to come, it’s going to be an interesting group to follow due to the sheer size of the class (now at 60 players signed) and the fact that the Pirates switched in December from Rene Gayo to Junior Vizcaino as their Latin American Scouting Director.
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 I wanted to take a look at the progress of the 2016-17 signing class.
Before I get started, it’s important to note the difference between this current signing period and the previous ones we will look at over the next month. Before this current signing class, Major League Baseball gave each team international bonus pools based on their record from the previous season. When the Pirates won 98 games in 2015, that gave them the second lowest bonus pool in baseball, allowing them to spend just over $2 M on their entire international class.
The latest Collective Bargaining Agreement based the international bonus pools on team revenues, which makes much more sense than punishing a team like the Pirates for making the playoffs for three years straight. That gave the Pirates the largest bonus pool during this current signing period, nearly tripling the amount they could spend in 2016-17.
The 2016-17 class revolved around one main player, who took nearly 30% of their entire pool. Jean Eusebio is a toolsy outfielder, who is currently in Extended Spring Training and he doesn’t turn 18 until late August. He signed for a $550,000 bonus. He didn’t put up great stats in the DSL last year, but he was far from being a disappointment. I didn’t check every roster, but due to the fact that the 2016-17 international signing class had a birth date cutoff of August 31, 2000 and Eusebio was born nine days earlier, he may have been the youngest player in the entire 41-team league.
Besides the tools he displayed in center field and on the bases, Eusebio was praised for his advanced plate approach, quick bat, and ability to use the entire field. As he ages and fills out, he should add some power to his game to make him a potential five-tool center fielder. The Pirates signed a total of 23 players during the 2016-17 signing period, but Eusebio’s progress will easily be the most important for the class.
The second best player from the class looks to be Francisco Acuna, but he is currently back in the Dominican due to a disciplinary issue. It’s unknown at this time if he will be back in the U.S. this year (he was here for the Fall Instructional League last year). Assuming that his issue is behind him, then Acuna is also an intriguing player, who displayed an advanced feel at the plate and has been praised for his baseball smarts. He’s got speed and the ability to stick at shortstop. Acuna played in the Colombian Winter League this off-season and more than held his own in a league much more advanced than the DSL.
Pitcher Noe Toribio signed for $100,000 and looked to be the best pitching prospect for the 2017 DSL Pirates. He is currently in Extended Spring Training (EST for future reference) and could be a pitcher to watch this year in the GCL. He has reportedly hit 97 MPH in the past and has a solid 6’2″ frame, with some more room to fill out. The best sign from him last year was his ability to hold his velocity late in games.
As far as progress made already, Samuel Reyes was in the GCL last year, so he is ahead of everyone else. The younger brother of Altoona prospect Pablo Reyes, Samuel can hit mid-90s as a reliever and he throws strikes. He just turned 22 last month, so he’s considered a late bloomer and someone we could see jump to Morgantown this season.
Staying on the pitching side, you also have right-handed pitcher Santiago Florez, who didn’t put up the best results in 2017 due to control issues, but he’s 17 years old and stands 6’6″, 223 pounds. He was sitting low-90s last year with a sinker that was tough for batters to square up. He is in EST currently and should see plenty of innings in the GCL this year.
Jose Marcano was the only lefty pitcher signed during the 2016-17 signing period. While he looked strong last year, especially with his fastball command, he is back in the DSL right now. That’s a bit surprising, since he was invited to instructs last year, which usually leads to a promotion to the States the following season.
Luis Arrieta had some of the best pitching stats for the DSL Pirates and he’s currently in EST now, but the reports on him weren’t glowing for a young pitcher who put up good stats and received a $130,000 bonus. Reports said that he had a nice fastball that touched 92 MPH and he commanded well, but that was his only pitch that showed potential. He’s someone who could make a lot of progress quickly if he shows the signs of decent off-speed stuff to go along with his fastball.
Osvaldo Bido has a big arm, hitting 95 MPH as a starter. He also has a 6’3″ frame with room to fill out. The problem is that he is 22 years old and doesn’t have much control, which is probably why he wasn’t signed until age 21. He’s currently in EST and could be very interesting if they can get him to throw more strikes.
Pablo Santana showed a solid three-pitch mix last year, including an above average curveball. He’s in EST now and while he wasn’t a big signing, he could be an interesting sleeper if he can add a few ticks to his 90 MPH fastball without sacrificing any command.
Among other players in EST right now, outfielders Emison Soto and John Lantigua have some intrigue. Soto is the younger brother of Elias Diaz. He’s very small, but has four solid tools and no power. Lantigua adjusted his swing this off-season to add power. He also got into tremendous shape this season after suffering multiple minor injuries last year. Lantigua and Soto both have above average speed.
Besides the surprising return of Jose Marcano and the disappointing return of Francisco Acuna to the DSL, there are plenty of other 2016-17 signings back in the DSL for a second season. Tops among them would be Pedro Castillo, a 17-year-old lefty hitter, who signed for $170,000, which was the second most behind Eusebio. Castillo’s carrying tool is his bat, which didn’t show much during his first season. He did have a quad injury that slowed him down, but he was looking over-matched before that happened. He was described as raw, so it shouldn’t be a total surprise. We will see how he does with a second season in the league.
Among the other guys going for a second DSL season, Ronaldo Paulino is a big first baseman with huge power and a lot of swing-and-miss to his game. If he can make some more contact without sacrificing power, then he could be very intriguing. Angel Suero had a great Spring Training last year, suffered a minor arm injury at the end of spring, then never appeared in a game last year because he completely lost his ability to throw strikes. Pitcher Julio Rosario received a $125,000 bonus, but showed very little in his first run through the DSL.
Two final players of note. Cuban pitcher Dany Hernandez is the only player from the 23 players who has been released already. He was old for the class, but threw hard, hitting 96 MPH. The problem is that he had no control and was extremely ineffective. Pitcher Haicheng Gong from China hasn’t made his official debut yet, though he has pitched in both instructs last year and Spring Training/EST this year.