We plan to have an article dedicated to the international side each Sunday throughout the season. So until the Dominican Summer League begins play on June 2nd, 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 2013-14 signing class. If you missed it last week, we looked at the 2014-15 class, which has a few pitching prospect and not much else. The week before was 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.
The 2013-14 bonus pool was $2,426,000, which was slightly more than the 2014-15 class we looked at last week. The Pirates didn’t go as heavy as usual for back then on day one, because one of their biggest signings couldn’t sign his deal until his 16th birthday in August.
The top news from day one was the signing of Adrian Valerio, a slick-fielding 16-year-old shortstop from the Dominican, who was described as very athletic, but raw with the bat. He received the top bonus for this class at $400,000, which was almost 1/6th of the bonus pool. Valerio has established himself as a legit prospect now, though it still might be the glove that gets him to the majors if he can’t find more consistency with the bat.
Valerio’s biggest issue is his mentality at the plate. He has a tendency to swing for the fences at times, which puts him in a slump. He has enough power to hit mistake pitches for homers and when he’s on his game he uses the middle of the field well, going gap-to-gap. He has some speed to his game and does a good job of waiting for his pitch when he isn’t power happy.
After Valerio, the next biggest deal on day one went to Edison Lantigua, a lefty hitting outfielder, who the Pirates were very high on. He signed a $275,000 bonus and then put up strong stats in his only DSL season. The problems started after that with a thumb injury that affected his entire 2015 season in the GCL. He returned to the level in 2016 and did much better, then put up nice numbers in Bristol last year, albeit with a high strikeout rate. Lantigua was injured during Spring Training, which possibly prevented a jump to West Virginia, but he has returned to action.
With over 25% of their bonus pool, the rest of the first day was spent signing players who were all at least 18 years old. That group included two middle infielders and five pitchers. Four of the pitchers threw hard, with Cristian Mota, Junior Lopez, Yunior Montero and Julian Villamar all hitting 93+ MPH consistently. The other was Ramon Garcia, who didn’t throw hard, but he was the best pure pitcher in the group. All five are out of the system already. They were all low-priced signings and none of them worked out.
Luis Perez and Raul Siri were also signed that first day and both put up solid numbers in the DSL, with Siri having a big season. He came to the GCL in 2015 and destroyed the ball for the first ten days or so, then has done nothing of note since. He’s still in the system, while Perez was released this spring.
About two weeks into the signing period, the Pirates signed a group of young players from Venezuela, highlighted by 16-year-old outfielder Eliezer Ramirez. They also signed 16-year-old lefty pitcher Nestor Oronel and 17-year-old right-handed pitcher Edgardo Leon. This group really washed out quickly, with Ramirez being the biggest disappointment when he broke his hand early in his second season, then came back for his third year horribly out of shape and was released. Oronel made it to the U.S. and played for Bristol, but he was a soft tossing lefty who showed no progress.
On August 9th, the Pirates signed outfielder Jeremias Portorreal just after his 16th birthday for a $375,000 bonus. He was signed for his bat alone, as there wasn’t much else to his game and the reports from Extended Spring Training now still say he’s a below average corner outfielder. Portorreal struck out too much in his first run through the DSL as one of the younger players in the league. He added some power in 2015, but the strikeouts were still an issue.
Portorreal really turned things around in 2016 by making an adjustment with his hands at the plate. He already showed some plate patience, but he combined that with making much more contact and it led to a big season, with a promotion to the GCL before the year ended. Unfortunately for him, the strikeouts returned in 2017, and while he put up a solid hitting line in the pitcher-friendly league, it was still a disappointing season. Portorreal is hitting the ball well at Pirate City now as one of the best hitters there. The defense and lack of speed really limits his potential, so that bat needs to continue to improve and look more like what we saw in 2016.
Luis Escobar wasn’t a big deal signing. We announced it here shortly after it happened and it wasn’t mentioned anywhere else afterwards. He received a $150,000 bonus though, so we knew there was potential. Escobar was a third baseman until his coach moved him to the mound shortly before he signed. He was very raw on the mound, but he had a great fastball and could throw a curve. If you have followed this site since then, you know that we talked him up pretty early in his career and he’s turned into a solid prospect by now. This has all of the makings of a strong signing at this point, and one where you really had to squint to see this type of upside when he was signed.
In October, the Pirates signed three players from Mexico. Mikell Granberry (pictured above) is still around, playing first base and occasionally catching in Extended Spring Training right now. He’s a streaky hitter, who has been sidelined by injuries multiple times, including a broken hand. The injuries usually seem to come at the worst time for him. Just recently the players in Extended ST were measured for the hardest hits and Granberry ranked third on exit speed. Days later, he injured his hand on a slide. The other two players were pitchers Armando Bustamante and Eumir Sepulveda, who are both no longer in the system.
Edgar Santana was a quiet signing in the middle of the signing period and received one of the smallest bonuses in the class. He was an older player, who barely saw the mound during his first season. Our description of him was that he had all the makings of a filler signing, but his mid-90s fastball and plus slider said otherwise. Basically it was a “you never know” case, but the reality was that things really had to click for him to get anywhere.
Those hard-throwing signings mentioned above weren’t that different from Santana at the time. As an example, Julian Villamar was hitting 96 MPH and had a breaking ball. He lasted 12 games in the GCL before he was released and he was three years younger than Santana. Things obviously clicked for Santana and he’s seen big league time each of the last two seasons, with a chance for a bigger role in the future.
Victor Fernandez was an exciting player in the DSL in 2014 because he had legit 80 grade speed. We saw it during the Fall Instructional League in 2014, but multiple hamstring injuries and added weight really slowed him down. As “just” an above average runner, he lost range in the outfield, lost value on the bases and didn’t hit enough to stay around.
Outfielder Felix Vinicio is 23 years old, hasn’t hit much in four seasons or shown many tools. He’s still around though for now, after repeating the GCL last year.
Angel Vasquez, Raymond Rodriguez and Mister Luciano were all pitchers signed during this signing period, who weren’t announced until Opening Day of the DSL season when they were added to the roster. Not sure why you don’t mention a player named Mister Luciano, but that moment has passed. Rodriguez was the youngest pitcher signed that year, Vasquez had a great curveball and an arm injury and not much else. All three have been released.
The Pirates signed a total of 23 players during this signing period, with half of their bonus pool going towards the top four signings. Just eight of those players remain in the system, though they have seen a payoff with Edgar Santana in the majors already. You also have a top pitching prospect in Luis Escobar and a top infield prospect in Adrian Valerio. So it has a chance to be a pretty good class considering the bonus pool restrictions in place.