The Dominican Summer League season began yesterday and the Pittsburgh Pirates have two teams in the league this season. The DSL season is 72 games long and runs from June 2nd until August 25th this year. With a large portion of last year’s team being promoted to the U.S. last fall and this spring, it’s a whole lot of new faces to follow this year.

The Pirates just signed their 70th international free agent since July 2nd. We have the full chart here. They actually signed 74 players total, but four had their contracts voided, three pitchers due to pre-existing injuries and one due to insufficient paperwork for the identification process. Three of those players are still listed on the full chart, while the other was voided early in the process before we started the list. One of those players was a significant loss. Shortstop Gregori Custodio signed the sixth highest deal (among known prices) that they handed out, receiving a $230,000 bonus at the time.

If you look at that chart in the link, you’re basically looking at the players on the two DSL Pirates clubs, named Pirates1 and Pirates2. Just three of those players are in the U.S. (Ji-Hwan Bae, Fabricio Macias and Christian Navarro) and another three are in the Dominican but not on a roster yet. One (Juan Henriquez) was just sent from the U.S. back to the Dominican in a rare late move. The other two are likely injured. Only nine players from last year are on the Opening Day rosters again this year, though a few more are there and also likely among the injured at this point.

The key returning player is Pedro Castillo, a lefty hitting outfielder, who was among the top players signed by the Pirates during the 2016-17 signing class. He struggled in his first run through the DSL, but he was considered raw when he signed, so it was sort of expected, even if it was disappointing. He had a few minor injuries too, so that didn’t help his case last year.

After Castillo, you have Angel Suero, who was a strange case from last year. He was pitching well during Spring Training before suffering a minor arm injury. While working his way back, he stopped throwing strikes and was so bad that they never used him last year in a game. That says a lot because we have seen many pitchers over the years average a walk per inning or more. If we see the pitcher they signed and the one who was pitching well just weeks before the 2017 season started, then he’s a very interesting name to watch this year.

They also have Ronaldo Paulino, who many told me was hitting the ball harder than anyone last year. The problem was that he also hit nothing but air more times than not. Right-handed pitcher Julio Rosario signed for $125,000, then couldn’t throw strikes or get any outs. Southpaw Jose Marcano¬†(pictured above) was a surprise return to this team, considering he pitched well last year and went to the Fall Instructional League in the U.S. He should see plenty of innings this year.

The four other returning players on the Opening Day rosters are Matthew Mercedes, Ivan Rosario, Rayvi Rodriguez and Ruben Gonzalez. All were lower price signings who had poor rookie seasons. There are no players there right now (on the active rosters) who were signed prior to the July 2, 2016 signing period.

Those New Faces

Before you read this section, there is a disclaimer. I broke them down into teams, but these players can change teams at any time. In fact, many players will end up playing for both teams during the course of the season. That’s what happened the last time the Pirates had two DSL teams. I’m just using the Opening Day roster, but they could move guys tomorrow, so keep that in mind.

Right away the most interesting thing to watch this season is the outfield for the Pirates2. Pedro Castillo is joined by Juan Pie an Angel Basabe, who are the top two signings at $500,000 and $450,000 respectively. You might be talking about the top three prospects for these two clubs all in the same outfield. All three are young lefty bats with a lot of potential at the plate. They also have Stiwatt Valerio, who has a lot of raw power that they hope translates into game power.

Sticking with the Pirates2, their other players to watch are the aforementioned Angel Suero, two 17-year-old lefty pitchers who signed for $110,000 bonuses last July in Luis Peralta and Yeison Santos, and 19-year-old lefty Estalin Ortiz, who is a big kid, who throws hard.

On offense, catcher Yeison Ceballo was highly rated before being signed, while small middle infielders Edgar Barrios and Mariano Dotel hold some intrigue. Barrios has been highly rated in Colombia among his peers for quite some time. Dotel’s father played pro ball for five years and made it up to Double-A. His father was also his trainer.

The Pirates1 have the aforementioned Jose Marcano and Ronaldo Paulino. Besides them, catcher Jommer Hernandez and shortstop Norkis Marcos are their top two players to watch. Each of them received $250,000 bonuses in July and should see plenty of playing time.

They also have Nicaraguan Bryan Torres, who signed for $180,000, which is the highest known bonus handed out to a pitcher by the Pirates during this current signing period. Third baseman Emilson Rosado signed for $135,000 on July 2nd, which is the highest known bonus among infielders on the Pirates1 after Marcos.

As for other players to watch, you have infielder Carlos Arroyo, who is another player from Colombia who was rated highly in his home country. First baseman Shendrik Apostel, the younger brother of Sherten Apostel, is one to watch. The elder Apostel is going to be a top 50 prospect in the system when we re-rank in July because he’s a big athletic player and his bat has huge potential. His younger brother is even bigger, listed at 6’5″, 245 pounds, and that’s not a bad 245, he’s just built and still possibly growing.

The outfield has no big (known) bonuses, but there are players to watch. Daniel Rivero was highly rated by the Pirates. He likely received a six-figure bonus, but since he’s from Venezuela, there was a group effort not to release the bonus amounts for players from that country. The bonus for Angel Basabe was released only because he no longer lives in Venezuela. Fernando Villegas was signed out of Mexico a few months ago and he has played at the highest level there, so the DSL is more of an intro to pro ball, rather than a good level for him.

Pitcher Jordy Ortega is also interesting because he was hitting low-90s back in 2016 in a tournament in the U.S.

Those are 22 names to watch, but there will no doubt be other players who establish themselves. As anyone who follows draft coverage knows, a lot of development happens with high school players in their senior year and many of these new DSL players would be juniors and seniors in high school right now. So there is no doubt that with 67 new players total for the DSL Pirates 1&2, there are going to be some sleepers who establish themselves as players to watch over the season.

One added side note is that the best pitcher right now with the Pirates, won’t even get on the mound. Yunior Montero, who was released at the end of March, has become a coach for the Pirates in the Dominican. He spent last year with Bradenton and around this time a year ago, he was sitting low-90s with his fastball and throwing a sharp slider that was getting solid results. His control wavered as the season went along and wasn’t any better this year, but he’d probably win the DSL version of the Cy Young award if he pitched there this season. Montero has a great background story, so this new chance in baseball hopefully turns into a successful coaching career for him.

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