The Pittsburgh Pirates released ten minor league pitchers on Tuesday morning. According to the team press release, Wilmer Contreras, Sergio Cubilete, Bret Helton, Randy Jimenez, Yeudry Manzanillo, Evan Piechota, Will Reed, Logan Sendelbach, Brian Sousa and Mason Ward were all let go today.
The list has a few surprises, but no players who were considered for our top 50 prospects list. Cubilete (pictured above) would be the biggest surprise. He has a mid-90s fastball as a starter and has shown the ability to be dominating at times, though he was an older international signing and had bouts of wildness, which sometimes led to big innings against him. He was still used as a starter for most of last year and even pitched one of the most impressive games of 2019, going from a line drive to the face that sent him to the hospital, to pitching five shutout innings on one hit allowed, just 24 days later.
Jimenez and Contreras are in the same category as Cubilete, just at a lower level. Both showed a lot of improvements last year, though they were coming from a low place, so their big jump still had them as projects. Jimenez in particular got a lot of praise last summer for his fastball/slider mix, which was unhittable when he could throw strikes. That just didn’t happen enough.
Ward barely got a chance to show his stuff, throwing 23.2 innings as a rookie in 2017, before going down with Tommy John surgery just over a year ago. Will Reed pitched even less, suffering an elbow injury that cost him much of his two seasons of pro ball. Both were late round draft picks.
Manzanillo was the top pitcher signed during the 2015 international signing period at $150,000, while Sousa was one of the top ones during the 2014 signing period at $160,000. Manzanillo’s problem was that he never added velocity from his early days, throwing harder in his scouting sessions as an amateur (where they admittedly try to throw hard and don’t worry about control sometimes) than he did as a pro. He was never able to get outs, as the Pirates slowly pushed him up the system. Sousa had more off-field issues than on field, though he only made it as far as Bristol before he was suspended by the team for all of last year.
Helton and Sendelbach made it to Double-A, highest among the players in this group, though both struggled at the level. Helton pitched this winter in Puerto Rico, where he put up very poor results. They were the ninth (Helton) and tenth round pick of the Pirates in 2015.
Piechota was the underdog in the group, signing three years ago as a non-drafted free agent, who had a fastball in the mid-to-high 80s. He was easily the best pitcher out of the ten, but was also the worst arm. He got the most out of what he had and it took him to High-A ball.
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.