The Pittsburgh Pirates had two teams in the Dominican Summer League in 2018. That’s despite the fact that they only had 11 players returning from last year and active rosters in the Dominican hold 35 players. The Pirates used a total of 75 players in the DSL during the 2018 season, with 64 of them being signed during the 2017-18 international signing period.
Those 64 new players obviously included some players who were more fillers than actual prospects. The Pirates had a $5,750,000 bonus pool for the 2017-18 international signing period and $1.25 M of that pool went to South Korean shortstop Ji-Hwan Bae, who was in the Gulf Coast League. The Pirates also signed outfielders Fernando Villegas, Fabricio Macias and Christian Navarro from Mexico, and all three debuted in the U.S. Pitcher Juan Henriquez, a July 2nd signing out of the Dominican, also debuted in the U.S. So a decent amount of the money they had to spend on international bonuses, went to guys who weren’t on either DSL team.
The two big names to watch this year in the DSL took up a large amount of the remaining bonus pool. On July 2nd last year, the Pirates signed lefty hitting outfielders Juan Pie ($500,000) and Angel Basabe ($450,000). They were the top two prospects going into the season and neither disappointed. Both players turned 17 just before the season started. Pie hit .258/.382/.421 in 58 games, showing some power with 12 doubles, eight triples and two homers. Basabe hit .260/.341/.414 in 50 games. He dealt with a minor shoulder injury early and slumped late, but he was named to the All-Star team and showed some real skills during the season. Both players were invited to the Fall Instructional League (FIL) in Bradenton later this month.
The next highest known bonuses went to shortstop Norkis Marcos and catcher Jommer Hernandez at $250,000 each. Outfielder Daniel Rivero may have got a higher bonus from what I’ve heard, but the bonuses for players from Venezuela weren’t announced last year. Angel Basabe is from Venezuela, but he moved away from home years ago and was training in Panama, so that’s why we received his bonus total.
Rivero sure played like a big bonus player, hitting .317/.380/.370 in 61 games, with more walks (20) than strikeouts (17). He mostly played center field and was an FIL invite. Marcos batted just .230, but he had a lot of plate patience, almost to a fault. He walked 45 times and struck out 50 times. That led to a .373 OBP. He went 14-for-15 in steals and played decent (for the level/age) shortstop, committing 21 errors in 52 games. We have seen much worse at this level and his scouting report was solid. Hernandez struggled somewhat at the plate with a .623 OPS. His defense wasn’t bad, but he reportedly didn’t receive an FIL, so he could be back in the DSL next year.
The only other batter who received a six-figure bonus that we know of, was third baseman Emilson Rosado. There may have been others who received a bonus of $100,000 or more, but none were announced. Rosado is an intriguing player because he is big and strong, and he hits the ball hard. His rookie season wasn’t the best with a high strikeout total and just one homer, but a .746 OPS in the pitcher-friendly DSL isn’t bad for a 17-year-old.
The biggest surprise from the season came via infielder Yoyner Fajardo, who was signed in January and wasn’t a known commodity at the time. He hit .311/.402/.455 in 62 games, while going 17-for-20 in steals. He turned 19 in April, so it took him some time to impress enough to get a contract, and the fact that he was used at six positions usually points to defensive inabilities at this level, rather than versatility. He was the best hitter on either team though, and that got him an FIL invite.
Shendrik Apostel, the younger brother of former Pirates prospect Sherten Apostel, put up solid stats, but didn’t get an FIL invite. That doesn’t mean that he won’t come over next year for Spring Training, though there is usually a strong tie between FIL invites and players who make the jump to the U.S. the following season. Apostel hit .250/.354/.471, showing tremendous raw power that translated well to games. He needs some work at first base and his strikeouts are a little high, so there are still things for him to improve at this level.
Carlos Arroyo was also left off the FIL invites despite a solid season. He’s probably going to play winter ball in Colombia this year, where he was one of the top prospects going into the 2017-18 signing period. He hit .294/.416/.322 in 58 games, with 15 steals in 19 attempts. He’s a solid defender at second base, who had some trouble in limited time at third base. Arroyo is small at 5’9″, 170 pounds and showed that at the plate, with only three extra-base hits.
Infielders Edgar Barrios and Mariano Dotel were two late signings with some intrigue. Barrios was well-known in Colombia as a top player, while Dotel trained with his father, who made it to Double-A as an infielder. Neither player really impressed, but each of them received a lot of playing time and Dotel got a late promotion to the GCL. Barrios showed some plate patience, speed and defensive skills, which all give you reasons not to write him off at this point.
Third baseman Eduar Ramirez wasn’t signed until May, and wasn’t playing much early, but once he did get to play, he ended up with strong numbers. He hit .301/.397/.415 in 39 games, with ten extra-base hits. He split his defensive time between third and first base. Ramirez was one of the younger players on either team, turning 17 on June 4th.
Third baseman Tilsaimy Melfor got off to a great start, then injured his shoulder and missed about a month. Once he returned, he slumped badly at the plate. The fast start at the plate gives you some hope for the 17-year-old from Curacao. It’s not a great country for baseball, but he was one of the top available players from there when he signed.
Besides Jommer Hernandez and Robinson Ramos, who was the first DSL player to jump to the U.S. in mid-June, the Pirates stocked up on a lot of young catchers. Daniel Angulo, Yeison Ceballo, Juan Mena, Jhan Polanco and Darwin Baez represented a solid group of prospects, with no players who you would consider fillers. None of them really put up solid numbers at the plate. Ceballo put up an odd defensive split, showing below average numbers while with the affiliate known as the Pirates1, then switching teams and showing tremendous improvements on defense. He was the top prospect in this group going into the 2017-18 signing period and the youngest one as well.
The Pirates also signed a large group of outfielders. The top three signings (Pie, Basabe and Rivero) all played well, but none of the others impressed. Randy Romero was signed out of Mexico and was thought to be too advanced for this league due to past experience in his home country. He did the best of the remaining outfielders, but not nearly as well as you would expect. Stiwatt Valerio looked like an intriguing late signing due to above average raw power, but his entire game remained raw and he was the worst hitter for either affiliate, failing to collect an extra-base hit in his limited time.
As a group, the outfielders had a lot of speed, minus Valerio and Pie. Leading the way, Romero stole 12 bases, Germin Lopez had 15 steals and Fleury Nova had 14. Most of them put up strong success rates as well. The problem was that they didn’t get on base enough to put that speed to good use.
On the pitching side, the Pirates stocked up on arms, both lefties and righties, hoping to find some hidden gems. Bryan Torres from Nicaragua was the top signing, getting a $180,000 bonus. He pitched well, and has a lot of projection in his 6’2″ frame, as he just turned 17 in April. Besides the solid control, his stuff really didn’t impress. He was topping out at 90 MPH in most starts.
Pitching stats in the DSL can be deceiving, especially from lefties. Yeison Santos received a six-figure bonus and put up outstanding stats, plus he turned 17 in mid-April, which makes him look great on paper. His velocity, which was mid-to-high 80s, left a lot to be desired. Luis Peralta was another young lefty who received a six-figure bonus on July 2nd last year. He was quite the opposite of Santos on paper. Peralta had a lot of trouble keeping runs off the board, but yet he managed to pick up 62 strikeouts in 48 innings. At 5’11”, there isn’t a lot of projection in his frame. He does have some good baseball genes though, as his brother Freddy Peralta is a starting pitcher for the Brewers.
There were no other announced six figure bonuses, but there were likely others during the year. The most likely would be Estalin Ortiz, a 6’4″ lefty, who turned down $300,000 from other teams about four months before he signed. Ortiz pitched better as the season went along, but he finished with mediocre overall stats. He throws mid-90s as a starter, plus being a tall lefty, makes him a name to remember.
The pitcher with the best overall stuff according to those who I talked to, was Jesus Valles. It’s important to remember that he is already 20 years old. That being said, it was fairly unanimous that he was the best pitcher there. So while he lacks the projection of 17-year-old pitchers, his current stuff might just be enough for him to have success. He had a 1.11 WHIP and a 40:8 SO/BB ratio in 51.1 innings.
Yoelvis Reyes also got mentioned as one of the better pitchers. He was noted for his ability to pitch (aka pitching smarts) and not just being a thrower. The latter what you usually see from younger pitchers. The 18-year-old lefty put up a 4.14 ERA in 54.1 innings, with a 1.33 WHIP and 50 strikeouts. Batters hit just .216 against him and lefties had considerable trouble. Jose Maldonado throws low-90s and has the makings of solid secondary pitches. The 19-year-old right-hander has a solid 6’2″, 200 pound frame already. He was called up to the GCL after the DSL season ended and made one start, though the game was called due to rain after three innings.
There were plenty of pitchers who threw hard, with Luis Nova (pictured above) getting it up to 94 MPH, Jordy Ortega in that same range, Lizardy Dicent hitting 96 MPH and then there was Oliver Mateo. No one threw harder than the 20-year-old right-hander, who had a lot of trouble throwing strikes, though I’m told that he does have some feel for throwing strikes. Basically, he’s getting better at being around the plate. Mateo hits 100 MPH, sitting 95-99. That led to an incredible combo of 49 strikeouts and a 4.33 GO/AO ratio in 29 innings. Now if they can just get him in the strike zone more often, they will have a true power pitching prospect. I’ll note that Nova and Dicent will be covered in the GCL recap, while Ortega struggled for results, but he’s still worth watching.
The Pirates got great results from 18-year-old lefty Braham Rosario, who had a 1.84 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP, which helped him get a late promotion to the GCL. Mario Garcia, who is a 19-year-old righty out of Mexico, also pitched well. He had a 1.94 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP in 46.1 innings. Denny Roman, a 19-year-old lefty, was too good for the DSL, but he needed to wait for a visa to get to the U.S. Once he did make it, he went right to Bristol and got four starts. Roman is only 5’9″, but he also hits 94 MPH and pounds the strike zone. That led to 61 strikeouts in 38.1 innings.
Julio Rosario gets the award for most improved pitcher over one season. Last year he had a 9.25 ERA in 24.1 innings with 26 walks. This year he was 3.09 in 35 innings, with 12 walks and 41 strikeouts. He was one of two second year players who didn’t get cut at the end of the season, so that’s a good sign as well. A person I talked to, mentioned Rosario as one of the better pitchers on the Pirates1.
One final pitcher of note is Angel Suero, who was supposed to be a top prospect on last year’s team. He was pitching great during Spring Training (2017) and then suffered a minor arm injury late. When they brought him back, he couldn’t throw strikes in the bullpen and he never made it into a game. That says a lot because they have used plenty of pitchers who walked more than a batter per inning. He made his debut this year and had 11 starts, with poor overall stats (5.75 ERA, 1.61 WHIP), but he should still be considered an intriguing arm.
I’m mentioning only 16 pitchers, but from what I’ve heard from others, I’m not leaving off anyone of note. This area is where the fillers came in, but it’s also a lot of arms with some potential. The two Pirates teams finished 38th and 39th in ERA in the 43-team league, which tells you a lot about how the season went for them. That being said, just one pitcher was released at the end of the season, so they saw enough in all of the rest to at least keep them around for now. Plus, a total of eight pitchers made it up to the U.S. at some point, so that hurt the DSL clubs. They weren’t sending just anyone to the U.S., those pitchers were the ones who were ready for the next level.
We will post a top ten list for the DSL Pirates tomorrow. After that, we will have a recap and top ten for each affiliate over the next seven weeks (tentatively scheduled for each Sunday and Monday going forward). Below is a list of all of the players who were promoted to the U.S. during the season, which is the highest total ever for the Pirates. That’s followed by a list of the players who were released after the season. Six of them were second year players and Eddy Vargas was signed back on July 2nd last year.
Joseivin Medina, Robinson Ramos, Mariano Dotel, Andres Arrieta, Luis Nova, Lizardy Dicent, Braham Rosario, Jose Maldonado, Yerry De Los Santos, Denny Roman and Jose Marcano all made it to the U.S.
Pedro Castillo, Ronaldo Paulino, Ruben Gonzalez, Ivan Rosario, Matthew Mercedes, Rayvi Rodriguez and Eddy Vargas were all released.
Eddison Polonia was suspended 72 games for a violation of the minor league drug program.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.