Back in July of 2015, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed a 16-year-old third baseman from Curacao named Sherten Apostel for a $200,000 bonus, making him one of their top signings in a year where they had one of the smallest international bonus pools in baseball. At 6’4″, 200 pounds, he had a big frame that started to fill out immediately. He also had a little brother who was very good at baseball, but that “little” brother isn’t so little anymore. Shendrik Apostel signed with the Pirates in July of 2017, and at 6’5″, 249 pounds right now, he offers some of the best raw power in the system.
Curacao isn’t a country that is well-represented in baseball history, but the sport is growing there. The Pirates traded away Sherten Apostel back in August as the player to be named later in the Keona Kela trade with the Texas Rangers. They still have 18-year-old Shendrik in the system, as well as 17-year-old third baseman Tilsaimy Melfor, who was in the DSL this past season. A total of 15 players from Curacao have made the majors, though five of them were active during the 2018 season.
To stand out in the country for scouts, you have to do it with tools, because outside of international tournaments, players aren’t seeing the best competition daily in their home country. With Sherten Apostel, the Pirates saw an athletic frame, with raw power and a plus arm. With his younger brother, it was all about the huge raw power.
Any time I have asked about Shendrik Apostel, the power is the first thing that comes up. When they signed him last July, he was impressing them with power in the Tricky League, which is a league that goes on at the same time as the DSL, but it is for July 2nd players and some players on rehab before they get back into DSL games. When I asked about him during Spring Training in the Dominican this May, I was told he was quickly getting a reputation around the league as someone who could hit the ball a long way.
Apostel soon found out during the regular season that it didn’t take much for pitchers to begin to work around him. After a few homers, he wasn’t seeing as many strikes or as many fastballs. He had some trouble getting out in front of pitches and his average suffered mid-season. Apostel also had a scary situation on July 2nd that set him back during his first year.
After homering in his first at-bat on July 2nd, Apostel was thrown at by a brave pitcher on the Brewers/Indians co-op team. He said that the first pitch was up near his head, then the second pitch hit him in the face, near his ear. From eyewitness accounts, Apostel took it like a champ and when he started walking towards to pitcher, that bravery on the mound quickly disappeared. There was no fight, but the benches emptied and Apostel was actually thrown out of the game. I talked to him shortly afterwards and he sounded fine and said he was okay. He ended up not playing again until 15 days later. During a short-season league, that’s a significant amount of time to miss.
(photo credit: Juan Berson)
Shortly after he returned, he started to find his groove. In his last 20 games of the DSL season, Apostel hit .319/.410/.542, with three homers and seven doubles. In his first 21 games, he had a .172/.293/.391 slash line. His .471 slugging percentage on the season was the best among both DSL affiliates for the Pirates. The 17:46 BB/SO ratio wasn’t the best, but some of that was due to not adjusting right away to being pitched around.
We heard that Apostel wasn’t one of the players invited to the Fall Instructional League. That was a bit disappointing until we heard that the DSL players were taking part in the rookie camp only and not actually participating in games. It was mostly physical training and team building exercises, with very little on-field work for the DSL players. The invites to instructs from the DSL weren’t all of the usual suspects (aka high bonus players), as many players just attended the Dominican Instructional League instead. Apostel was one of those players who went to the Dominican. His time there was interrupted by a nagging hip injury, but he felt that the extra work he was able to put in helped him out.
I talked to Apostel about his off-season plan. He wants to lose a little weight, but continue to get stronger at the same time. I’m not entirely sure that second part is possible, as he is one of the strongest players I’ve ever seen. He plans to get down to the 235-240 area, which should help him move better on the bases and at first base. During the season, he didn’t attempt a single stolen base and he committed nine errors at first base in 34 games. Apostel is currently working out with his brother daily, where they are putting in work in the gym, in the batting cages and on their fielding.
Apostel wants to be more consistent at the plate, which is something he repeated often. He wants to maintain a solid average while also hitting for power, not sacrificing one for the other. He also wants to be a much better first baseman. He felt like he had a good first season overall, but he qualified it as being good for a first year player, and said he did some of his best work during instructs at the end of the year.
He’s a very humble player, who knows he can’t just get by on power alone. He got a glimpse of what it was like when pitchers stop throwing you strikes in the DSL. It was something that we were talking about with his brother a year earlier when he had a breakout second season in the league. As soon as he showed power in game, the pitchers stopped pitching to him. Sherten adjusted a little quicker, though his adjustment was through extra patience at the plate. Shendrik saw his average drop first before he turned things around and finished strong.
Since Sherten Apostel continues to workout with his brother in the off-season, even though the two are no longer part of the same farm system, I asked him what he has seen from his younger brother as far as improvements and differences from last winter compared to this year.
“What I see from my brother is he is growing as a man first, understanding how to play the game, knowing when to do stuff and when not,” Sherten said. “What I like about him the most is he’s ready always to work, to put more work in to get better. He always wants to do stuff that he’s not good at so he can get better. We are really working together in the gym for strength, but I’m really proud of him for his first year in pro ball doing good stuff as you can see, so I don’t have any doubt if he continue to work as he’s doing right now he’s going to get better and better.”
(photo credit: Juan Berson)
Shendrik Apostel is a very smart young man (he speaks four languages) and he’s hard-working. He was in great condition before he signed with the Pirates, and he continues to put in the hard work to get better. He will be at Spring Training in Bradenton this upcoming season, with a chance to show what he can do against better competition.
When I talked to him for this article, he kept repeating the same thing in his answers. He plans to keep working hard to reach his goals and continue to improve on any weaknesses in his game. He has a plan and he’s putting it into action. The type of power he offers is huge in it’s raw form right now. If he can be more consistent at the plate and adjust when pitchers adjust to him, then the Pirates could have a very exciting power prospect in the near future.