Last week the winter league in Puerto Rico announced an agreement with the Pittsburgh Pirates for next year. It appears that the Pirates are getting an early jump on that agreement, with at least three players headed to the league for the winter season, which begins next week. Gage Hinsz, Jordan Jess and Jerrick Suiter will all play for Gigantes de Carolina.
Hinsz missed the 2018 season due to heart surgery back in May. He started throwing again during the Fall Instructional League this year and the Pirates said that he may play winter ball if all went well. Hinsz was trying to return from shoulder surgery late in 2017, making this is a double comeback of sorts because he wasn’t throwing long enough this year before he was shut down to see how well his shoulder recovered. He pitched through shoulder soreness for much of the 2017 season, so he really hasn’t been healthy since 2016. Before the setbacks, he was a rising prospect in the system, showing mid-90s velocity and a strong curve ball, with improving control.
Suiter played winter ball in Mexico last year after having a big season with Altoona. That didn’t go well, as he was there for a short time and got benched due to poor performance. This year he saw limited time in Indianapolis, so the winter action should give him a chance to catch up on lost at-bats. He should get a better chance to play in Puerto Rico compared to Mexico, where he joined the team a week before the playoffs and every game was crucial at that point. That led to a short leash, while an Opening Day assignment should give him more time to prove himself in case he starts slow.
Jess was in the bullpen for Bradenton for all of 2018. The 25-year-old lefty had a 4.71 ERA in 49.2 innings, but that came with 54 strikeouts and a 1.67 GO/AO ratio. He was the 31st round pick of the Pirates in 2016.
It’s possible that there could be more Pirates in Puerto Rico this winter, but the agreement for next year came with a stipulation that the players would be drafted into the league. This appears to be something that was worked out ahead of that announcement.