The Dominican Summer League is holding its All-Star game today, and most clubs have played exactly half of their schedule now. The Pirates1 have a 17-19 record at the break, while the Pirates2 are 14-21, needing to make up one postponed game during the second half. Neither club is close to a playoff spot at this point. The Pirates1 trail by seven games, tied for fourth in their division. The Pirates2 are nine games back, trailing by 9.5 games. So playoffs seem unlikely for both clubs.
I’ve talked to many players in the DSL over the years and the playoffs are extremely important to them. To fans though, it’s not such a big deal. Just a handful of extra boxscores to check out. Besides, there are teams like the Orioles who have zero prospects in the league, but they are running out a pitching staff older than many teams in the New York-Penn League and they have a 24-12 record. If the choice is between 17 or 18-year-old prospects and winning a DSL title with guys who have no business being in the league, fans will take the younger players every time.
The Pirates are somewhere in the middle of those two groups, although that was bound to happen when there is a bonus cap on international signings, plus you expand to two teams out of nowhere. Not to mention that the biggest international signing, Ji-Hwan Bae at $1.25 M, is in the GCL, so that means there needed to be some fillers just to get to two full rosters. There are still plenty of interesting players for the two teams and this article is a look at their progress.
We start with the two All-Star players, who don’t have much in common besides their on-field success. The Pirates sent Angel Basabe and Yoyner Fajardo to the All-Star game today. Basabe received the second highest bonus ($450,000) among players for both DSL Pirates. He signed at 16 years old on the first day of the international signing period. Fajardo signed in March just before his 19th birthday, on the same day Bae signed. Fajardo was no more than a name among a big group of eight players signed that day and yet he’s easily outperformed all of them.
Basabe is hitting .313/.411/.500 in 20 games. He missed a little time with a minor shoulder injury. Fajardo is batting .365/.476/.548 in 31 games. He was playing infield until recently moving to the outfield. Fajardo ranks fifth in the league in OPS, just 35 points out of first place.
Juan Pie ranks 15th in the DSL in OPS (.928) and he’s second to Fajardo among Pirates with enough plate appearances to qualify for league leaders. Pie is the top prospect for the Pirates in the league and at $500,000, his bonus was the highest given out to any current player for the DSL Pirates.
These three players are the top highlights so far this DSL season. It’s great to see Pie and Basabe perform well because they are among the younger players in the league and they were the top targets for the Pirates, even if they were the targets of a different group of scouts than the current group. Pie only turned 17 in April, four months after Basabe, so he is very young for the league. Fajardo is hopefully a hidden gem and not just an older player beating up on younger pitchers. He’s 19 years old, so that’s not really bad for this league, but it’s top-end for what you want to see from hitting prospects.
Some other hitters of note include Daniel Rivero, a 17-year-old outfielder from Venezuela, who is hitting .309, though it’s a fairly empty average at this point because he has a .712 OPS. Rivero is showing excellent contact skills, with 13 walks and nine strikeouts in 140 plate appearances. The Pirates really liked him when he signed on July 2nd last year and when he fills out, he should add some extra-base power.
Norkis Marcos, a 17-year-old shortstop who signed for $250,000, has been off to a somewhat slow start. He’s hitting .240/.411/.280, showing extreme plate appearance, which has led to 26 walks, but also 26 strikeouts in 29 games. He has just two extra-base hits and two stolen bases, plus 13 errors, so it’s been a mediocre first half. He’s holding his own, but things could be better.
Catcher Jommer Hernandez also received a $250,000 bonus. He has not hit well, yet that almost seems like a given with young (he’s 17) first-year catchers. None of the recent six-figure signings for the Pirates among backstops had big first seasons. Hernandez is batting .183/.277/.225 in 22 games. He has four errors in 14 games behind the plate, but he’s also thrown out 44% of runners.
Emilson Rosado received a $135,000 bonus, which was the seventh highest known bonus (likely a few others ahead of him among the unknown) from the 2017-18 signing class. Rosado is hitting .241/.369/.337 through 26 games, which is fairly average for the DSL, a league that tends to favor pitchers. The 17-year-old from the Dominican has been playing third base only and he’s putting up solid defensive numbers. He is big at 6’3″, 229 pounds, which is already well above his signing weight a year ago. He’s strong, but also looks like he could be in a little better shape.
Shendrik Apostel and Ronaldo Paulino have combined for seven homers at the first base position for the Pirates1. They are both huge players, who hit the ball as hard as anyone on the team. Paulino has major strikeout issues, while Apostel could use some work in that area, but he’s clearly the much better contact hitter of the pair.
Carlos Arroyo is an interesting second baseman, putting up a .711 OPS so far. He is the youngest player for the Pirates, turning 17 earlier this week. He was also one of the top prospects in Colombia before he signed. The defense has been solid, he has more walks than strikeouts and he’s stolen six base in eight attempts, so it’s a nice start for him.
Two Pirates1 players off to slow starts should be of interest during the second half. Yeison Ceballo signed late, but he was one of the top available catching prospects at the time He has a .584 OPS in 20 games. Outfielder Stiwatt Valerio has great raw power, which hasn’t translated to results at all yet, with a .320 OPS in 44 at-bats.
On the Pirates2, Pedro Castillo has been hitting well since returning from a groin injury that occurred while running the bases two weeks ago. He has a .274/.389/.379 slash line in 27 games. He’s one of the few returning players on either team and his OPS is 206 points higher than last year.
Around the infield, Tilsaimy Melfor returned from a shoulder injury and he has a .748 OPS in 13 games. Edgar Barrios, another top Colombian prospect signed by the Pirates, has a .585 OPS in 32 games. He has more walks than strikeouts and he’s stolen eight bases in 11 attempts. Mariano Dotel has a .595 OPS, and not much has gone right. He has 12 errors and a 6:21 BB/SO ratio, but he is 8-for-9 in steals and should do better in the second half. Eduar Ramirez, one of the last signings of the 2017-18 signing period, has an .871 OPS in his first 11 games.
On the pitching side, the first half recap is much quicker because it includes a lot of unknowns at this point. The Pirates don’t spend heavily on international pitching most years and 2017-18 was no different. The starting rotations mostly include players who were signed late. The biggest name in the group is Bryan Torres, a 17-year-old out of Nicaragua, who received a $180,000 bonus. He was pitching great until his last start. He’s been throwing strikes and holding batters to a .227 average, but he’s still more of a project because he doesn’t throw hard yet, averaging 90 MPH with the fastball. He has plenty of time and a nice frame that will fill out.
Lefties Yeison Santos and Luis Peralta received $110,000 bonuses. Peralta has 34 strikeouts in 24 innings, but it comes with 15 walks and a 4.13 ERA. Santos is the opposite, posting a 2.12 ERA, which comes with a high hit total and low strikeout rate. Neither is in the starting rotation. Angel Suero received a $100,000 bonus in 2016 and is the only returning pitcher from the 2017 club on the DSL Pirates2. He is picking up strikeouts, 30 in 30 innings, but that comes with a 5.10 ERA.
Two of the more interesting late signings were righty Jordy Ortega and lefty Estalin Ortiz. Ortega just returned from injury, so he has only pitched three times in relief. Ortiz started off very poorly, but has bounced back nicely with three runs and 16 strikeouts over his last 17.2 innings. He’s a big, tall lefty, who can crack it up to mid-90s. He’s 19, though he isn’t a typical old signing. Ortiz priced himself out of the market when he was first eligible, then got better and raised his asking price. It slowly came down over the last year before he signed. His bonus wasn’t announced, but he had offers of $250,000 and $300,000 that he didn’t sign early last year before finally agreeing to a deal with the Pirates.
The best performing pitcher for the Pirates2 has been long reliever Braham Rosario, who has a 1.69 ERA and a .169 BAA. The 18-year-old southpaw has 20 strikeouts and an 0.98 WHIP in 21.1 innings. The best on the Pirates1 has been Valentin Linarez, who has a 1.29 ERA in 14 innings over ten appearances. He’s an 18-year-old righty, born just four days before Rosario. Linarez is 6’5″, 226 pounds, so that’s some good size for a young pitcher.
Part of the reason there isn’t much to talk about here is that the Pirates promoted four pitchers to the GCL already, and it wasn’t long after the DSL season started. That took away four of the better pitchers in one shot, though none of them appear to have top prospect potential at this point.