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 2014-15 signing class. If you missed it last week, we looked at the 2015-16 class, which looks like it could have some solid prospects in the early stages. Prior to that, 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.
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 as well, but we have a better idea with some of these players. The 2014-15 class has now put in three seasons and we have a much better idea on these players. That doesn’t mean there still can’t be a breakout player, because some of these guys are younger than college juniors being drafted this year, but it’s less likely to happen at this point.
The 2014-15 international signing period saw the Pittsburgh Pirates with $2,200,300 to spend in their bonus pool. They spent more than two-thirds of that money on the first day, then spread around the rest, finishing with two signings totaling $185,000 on the final day of the signing period to max out their bonus pool. Below you will find the updates on all of the 22 players signed during that period. Twenty of those players are still in the system.
Outfielder Yondry Contreras was by far the biggest signing in the group, with his $400,000 bonus being exactly twice as much as the next highest signing. His signing alone took up 18% of the bonus pool, so there was a lot riding on just one player. Contreras has not lived up to the hype. He’s shown flashes of why he has got that much, displaying strong defense and an above average arm in center field, while also showing some nice raw power and above average speed. However, he has a lot of swing-and-miss to his game and he has made very little progress. His 2017 season at Bristol was his best, but he hasn’t done enough to make it to full-season ball yet.
Cristopher Perez signed for $150,000, which was about $1,000 per pound for the wiry, 6’1″ shortstop. Perez hasn’t shown much in three seasons, spending last year in the GCL, where he played every infield position except his natural spot at shortstop. He looks like he hasn’t put on any weight (he turns 21 in August) and he hasn’t hit his first pro home run yet. It’s hard to see upside for him at this point.
Catcher Gabriel Brito was one of five backstops the Pirates signed during this period, back when they had just one team and a decent catcher in Mikell Granberry already with the team. Brito received the second highest bonus at $200,000, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s important to remember just how much of the bonus pool that amount took up. Brito hit well in his first year, then surprisingly repeated the league and his stats dropped in 2016 at the plate, then went down even more in 2017 in the GCL. His defense also wasn’t up to par last year. Catchers usually take longer to develop, but this is a big season for him.
On July 2nd, the Pirates signed five pitchers for six-figure bonuses, led by Domingo Robles, who received a $175,000 bonus. He has distanced himself from the other four pitchers, who are all at Pirate City in Extended Spring Training*. Robles has put together back-to-back strong starts for West Virginia, where he has shown a plus curveball to go along with excellent control of a low-90s fastball and a solid changeup. At this point, he’s probably the best prospect of this group, with only one other player (see below) giving him competition for that honor.
Panamanian Brian Sousa looked like the best pitcher from this group, but he has run into some discipline trouble with the team and his skills have declined. I put an asterisk in the Robles write-up with no explanation. It’s for Sousa, who is supposed to be at Pirate City, but he is back in the Dominican as of right now. The Pirates have him on the Extended Spring roster, so it could just be a temporary setback. Either way, he hasn’t looked like the potential breakout prospect we saw at times during the 2016 season.
Adonis Pichardo was older for a July 2nd signing who received a six-figure ($105,000) bonus, but he made a lot of progress leading up to his signing. In three years, he hasn’t shown much, topping out at Bristol for a short stint last year, where he got hit hard.
Lefty Roger Santana had a rough first DSL season, then really rebounded for a strong 2016 season. He struggled with the jump to the GCL last year and he’s currently injured this year. He hasn’t made much progress with his pitching in three years.
Yerry De Los Santos received a $100,000 bonus and pitched poorly as a rookie in 2015. He had Tommy John surgery in 2016 and returned briefly to the DSL in 2017. Hard to say if he has any potential now, but he wasn’t looking like a prospect prior to the injury.
Oddy Nunez was signed just as the 2015 season started, but had to sit out for about a month due to identity issues. He might end up being the best from this group and he is currently right there with Robles for the top prospect honor. Nunez is a big lefty, who induces a lot of weak contact with each of his three pitches, but hasn’t seen the same velocity he had last year and doesn’t get a lot of swinging strikes. He was throwing 90-92 MPH last, which played up due to movement and the fact that he hides the ball well. He was down to 87-89 in his last start, which could just be an early season issue, but we were hoping to see him trend up with his velocity, not down.
Miguel Hernandez was a July 2nd signing, although he didn’t get a six-figure bonus, so his signing flew under the radar. He looked like the best of the group in the DSL in 2015 and looked like a potential top 50 prospect at times in the GCL in 2016, but he is extremely inconsistent and we saw much more bad than good in 2017. He has the ability to throw mid-90s as a starter, just doesn’t always throw quality strikes, or just strikes in general.
Ronny Agustin was also a July 2nd signing who got no notice, but along with Nunez, he’s gone the furthest in the system at this point. Agustin has an outstanding curveball and a 90-91 MPH fastball, which could get him to the majors someday as a lefty specialist. That’s the path he is on right now, but a little bit better fastball command and maybe a few extra MPH, could make him a future middle reliever.
The Pirates added Argenis Romano as a July 2nd signing, although we didn’t hear about him until right before the DSL season started. He has moved from the DSL in 2015, to the GCL in 2016 to Bristol last year, but he has not had success at any level and he will be 23 years old when the short-season teams begin play this year.
Right-handed pitcher Vince Deyzel was signed out of South Africa in January and made his debut in the GCL in 2016. He’s spent two years there and is currently in Extended Spring Training. Deyzel was the top amateur arm in South Africa at the time, but the Pirates needed to make some adjustments to help get the most out of him. Basically he was raw and required a little more patience than the other players here.
Colombian catcher Robert Noguera was signed in July, but never played a game with the team due to vision issues. His contract was voided before the 2015 season started. The Pirates signed catcher Julio Gonzalez to replace him, but he ended up at third base in 2015, then on the mound in 2016-17, then was released earlier this week. He had a strong arm, but was raw as a pitcher and couldn’t hit as a position player.
The Pirates made a better catching signing in August of 2014, adding Raul Hernandez, who is currently with the West Virginia Power. He hasn’t hit much, but his defense is above average and that got him to full-season ball quickly. At 22 years old, he hasn’t shown the bat to be a future Major League player yet.
The Pirates added another catcher in May of 2015, signing Paul Brands out of the Netherlands. He showed some solid defensive improvements last year at Bristol and has shown some power in his bat, but the 20-year-old has yet to establish himself as a prospect. He’s currently in Extended Spring Training.
In December of 2014, the Pirates added three position players from the Dominican to their signing class. They inked outfielder Eddy Vizcaino and infielders Williams Calderon and Melvin Jimenez. Calderon spent three years in the DSL before moving up to the U.S. this season. Vizcaino spent two years in the DSL putting up solid stats, then had a bad leg injury derail his season last year in the GCL. Jimenez moved up one level each year, hitting well in Bristol in 2017, but he also turned 22 in September. Depending on his recovery, Vizcaino is likely the best of the group, but even he is far from being considered as top 50 prospect in the system.
On the last day of the signing period, the Pirates added two pitchers from the Dominican, who took up their remaining bonus pool money. Lefty Randy Jimenez received $100,000, while righty Wilmer Contreras got an $85,000 bonus. Contreras put up solid results in three season in the DSL, while Jimenez struggled with control in his two seasons. Both have moved up to the U.S. this year, but neither looks like a potential prospect at this point. Contreras due to pure stuff, although he pitches well enough that he could have lower level success. Jimenez just doesn’t throw enough strikes to predict future success for him.
Right now it looks like this class will depend on the progress of three pitchers, Domingo Robles, Oddy Nunez and Ronny Agustin, who all look like they have big league potential. They are still in A-ball though, and no one else seems to be threatening to jump into the top 50 prospect ranks at this time, so this could end up being a poor overall class. Those three pitchers could definitely change that thinking if they continue on their current path.