The Pittsburgh Pirates put together a large international signing class with their 2017-18 bonus pool money. They gave early indications that they would need a second Dominican Summer League team in order to get time for every player, then went all in on that idea in December when Junior Vizcaino took over as the Scouting Director for Latin America.
The biggest signing from this class ended up coming late and only happened after the Pirates acquired bonus pool money in the Andrew McCutchen trade. Then they voided the $230,000 bonus of shortstop Gregori Custodio after they couldn’t get the right paperwork to confirm his age. Shortstop Ji-Hwan Bae took what was likely all that was left of the bonus pool when he signed for approximately $1,250,000 last month.
I’m going to give a summary right now for the signing period, while mentioning that it’s still possible that the Pirates add to their class. Even if they spent their entire $5.75M pool, they can still trade for money, plus any player who signs for $10,000 or less, doesn’t count against the pool. This current signing period runs until June 15th, which is followed by a 17-day period with no signings, then the 2018-19 bonus pool goes into effect.
The Pirates signed nearly 60 players since July 2nd and most of them will be in the Dominican this summer, where Spring Training is just beginning. A few players, including Ji-Hwan Bae, came to the U.S. to begin their pro careers, but the DSL is going to mostly be new faces making their pro debuts. That’s because over 20 players from last year’s DSL team were moved up to the U.S. this year. The players returning to the DSL from last year’s club won’t even make up half of one of the two affiliates.
The top two prospects in the DSL this year will be outfielders Angel Basabe and Juan Pie, who were the top two signings before Bae signed. Basabe got $450,000 while Pie received a $500,000 bonus. They may not put up the best stats because they will be among the youngest players in the league, but they are both 16-year-old lefty bats with a ton of potential.
As far as bonuses, it drops off after those two players, with catcher Jommer Hernandez and shortstop Norkis Marcos each receiving a $250,000 bonus. Those are just reported bonuses, so there could be some higher. None of the bonuses from Venezuela were reported due to the turmoil in the country. Basabe is from Venezuela, but he does not live there anymore, so that’s why we have his number. We also didn’t get any recent bonus numbers besides Bae, so there could be something in that group, especially with some very interesting players signed since December.
The Pirates signed a total of 33 pitchers (there might be a 34th that we are looking into now). The highest reported bonus in that group was 16-year-old right-handed pitcher Bryan Torres from Nicaragua, who received $180,000 to sign. The most interesting pitcher they got could be Estalin Ortiz, a 19-year-old lefty, who bloomed a little late, then priced himself out of the market, actually raising his asking price at one point, before finally coming down to an acceptable number. We don’t have his signing bonus, but it could exceed the one Torres received, based on what we know.
As for other pitchers, you’ll also want to keep an eye on Jordy Ortega, the first signing by Vizcaino. He seemed like a strong prospect two years ago when he first became eligible to sign, so it could be another case where his bonus demands exceeded his perceived worth at the time. You’ll also want to follow Fernando Fernando, for obvious reasons. I’m just hoping he goes by that name, because like many international players, he has two last names, but he also has a nickname he prefers. I just can’t get behind a player who might go by Franklin Celestin instead.
Possibly just due to the sheer number of pitchers signed, the Pirates ended up with nine left-handed pitchers. That comes one year after signing just one left-handed international player. Besides Estalin Ortiz, they also got 16-year-old southpaws Yeison Santos and Luis Peralta, who both received $110,000 bonuses.
The Pirates really stocked up on catching and just made a move to clear up some space in the DSL to accommodate them. Catcher Yair Babilonia, who wasn’t invited to the Fall Instructional League, was promoted to the U.S. this week. That left Ruben Gonzalez as the only leftover catcher from 2017, so it’s going to be a young group behind the plate, led by the aforementioned Jommer Hernandez. The Pirates were very high on Juan Mena, who signed on July 2nd out of Venezuela. They also signed Yeison Ceballo in January, who was one of the top available international catchers. Finally, the got 16-year-old switch-hitting Jhan Polanco in December.
The infield has some interest besides Norkis Marcos, who was mentioned above. Emilson Rosado received a six-figure bonus on July 2nd, as a 6’4″, 16-year-old middle infielder. Shendrik Apostel, the younger brother of Sherten Apostel, looks like the bouncer at the DSL academy, standing 6’5″, 225 pounds, at 18 years old. As you may expect, he has tremendous raw power. He will play first base, along with returning DSL player Ronaldo Paulino, who is built the same and has that same light tower power.
The Pirates signed middle infielders Mariano Dotel and Edgar Barrios late, but both are interesting players. Barrios has a long track record of success, while Dotel trained with his father, who was a middle infielder in the minors for many years. You also have highly touted Colombian infielder Carlos Arroyo, who signed on July 2nd at 16 years old. Plus there was third baseman Tilsaimy Melfor, a 17-year-old power hitter signed out of Curacao last month.
In the outfielder, Basabe and Pie are the top players to watch, along with Pedro Castillo, who was a top signing in 2016, returning from last year. Venezuelan outfielder Daniel Rivero received a lot of praise, while outfielder Stiwatt Valerio has shown in game power already, and players like Mario Maldonado and Joseivin Medina have big frames to fill out and could be interesting players. We haven’t confirmed yet if he’s staying in the Dominican or still waiting on his work visa, but Fernando Villegas was a highly-rated prospect out of Mexico when he signed in February. Two of their outfield signings, Fabricio Macias and Cristian Navarro, each skipped the DSL and went straight to the U.S.
With two DSL clubs, there are going to be plenty of fillers, especially since it appears that the Pirates will have two full 35-man rosters. With two clubs, teams usually don’t carry two full rosters because the fillers can switch between clubs whenever there is a need. I wouldn’t expect a huge signing class this upcoming year despite the similar bonus pool money. Once you fill a second roster like the Pirates did already, there isn’t a need (or room) for a huge signing class. That’s not bad news though, because that means that the money will go to fewer players, so the amount of significant bonuses should increase.