DSL Pirates Top Ten Prospects: A Lot of Potential on Offense at the Top of the List

Yesterday we posted the season recap for the two Dominican Summer League affiliates of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Today we look at the top ten prospects from the two clubs combined.

This year I had help from two people who saw these players during the spring, the season and much more recently in the Dominican Fall Instructional League. I made my own top ten list first, then got their opinions on a top ten list, then combined those three lists to get an average ranking.

When you see the list below, realize that these players are far away from the majors and a lot can change on their way up the system. These rankings should really be broken into tiers, but the 1-10 ranking method is the most popular. I’ll note that there is a bigger difference between #6 and #7 on this list than there is between #1 and #6. I also included five more names that could easily be interchangeable with the 7-10 players on the list. So using the tier method, 1-6 would be tier 1 and 7-15 would be tier 2.

The Pirates invited a small group of international players to the U.S. after the season for the Fall Instructional League. I figured out the combined list of players first, then found the link to last month’s article announcing the FIL rosters. It just happened to work out that all ten of our top ten prospects below were among the 14 players invited. I say that because none of us had the same players in the top ten (two of mine are in the 11-15 group). The other four fall invites included three catchers, who were there just based on the need for catchers in fall ball. The fourth was Wandi Montout, a July 2nd signing who had already spent four months in the U.S. this year, so it’s no surprise that he returned. Basically, there were a group of ten high upside invites this fall and they all made the top ten below.

DSL Pirates Top Ten

  1. Juan Jerez, IF – When the Pirates signed Jerez on July 2, 2018 for $380,000, there was a lot to like in their opinion. He was a very athletic shortstop, with bat speed and raw power. He didn’t put up the best stats of these players, but with almost all of them being 17 years old, we are talking more about projection than current results here. Jerez hit .272/.324/.469 in 60 games, collecting 25 extra-base hits. In a league that slugs .346 as a group, he was well above average in the power category. Some scouts had questions about his strikeouts, but he had a decent 18.9% strikeout rate (strikeouts are lower in the DSL as a group, so 18.9% would look much better at higher levels). He played both shortstop and second base, seeing about twice as much time at the latter position. His older brother Mario Jerez is also with the Pirates and is one of the better conditioned/stronger athletes in the system, giving a potential glimpse of the future for Juan as he continues to fill out.
  2. Sergio Campana, OF – Campana was the top prospect for the DSL Pirates going into the season and didn’t disappoint. He got off to a slow start due to a minor injury at the end of Spring Training, followed by going 1-for-16 in his first five games. From that point on, he played well, finishing with a .281/.362/.374 slash line in 45 games. He mainly played center field, where his athleticism and speed should allow him to remain there in the future. Campana is listed at 6’1″, 160 pounds, and while he has filled out some since signing, there is room for much more growth. He didn’t homer in his first season, though he did finish with six triples, which tied for the lead among all Pirates. He showed plus speed on the basepaths, with 24 steals in 29 attempts. There is considerable upside here due to his bat speed, raw power, speed, defense and athleticism. His older brother plays in the Boston Red Sox system, making it to High-A this year.
  3. Alexander Mojica, 3B – Mojica led the DSL in OPS with a 1.048 mark, and he did it as one of the youngest position players in the league, turning 17 in early August. He was solid throughout the season, collecting 23 extra-base hits, while walking 37 times in 55 games. For a young player who hit for power, he had a nice 15.6% strikeout rate. Mojica was signed for his bat, given a $350,000 bonus despite some conditioning issues. That’s really the only thing that holds him back from the top spot here. He did a solid job at third base and he has a cannon for an arm. His 6’1″ frame is thick in the middle, but he still runs and moves well at this point. He could eventually outgrow third base and move across the diamond. He should be in the GCL next year (as opposed to going higher, not staying back).
  4. Deivis Nadal, IF – Nadal at #4 might be a little surprising to those who follow the DSL side closely, but I’ll note that it’s my own ranking that knocked him down this far. He was signed as a player who was more about projection, with a 5’11” frame that had just 150 pounds on it. It’s a narrow frame, so he’s not going to be a big power guy down the line, but he already makes plenty of solid contact. Nadal hit .294/.394/.397 in 54 games this season. He saw most of his time at shortstop, where he looked like he could handle the position, but he also put up some nice results at second base. He’s a switch-hitter who did well from both sides of the plate. The intrigue here is that he turned that projection into results sooner than anticipated, while also having room to still fill out. He’s an athletic player who does a lot of things well on the field.
  5. Rodolfo Nolasco, OF – Nolasco signed for a $235,000 bonus last July and impressed this year with his hard contact skills. Earlier this year, he had more 100+ MPH exit velocity readings that the rest of the DSL Pirates players combined. That was despite the fact that his stats were just mediocre at the time, showing that he was hitting into a lot of hard outs and led us to believe that the hits would start falling. He had a .741 OPS on July 24th, which is still 46 points above league average, but didn’t tell the whole story. After that point though, Nolasco posted a 1.043 OPS, turning that hard contact into hits and striking out just 8.9% of the time. He’s a strong kid already, with a wide frame that will lead to more power in the future. He’s a corner outfielder, who gets all of his value from the bat, but there is still a lot of potential here.
  6. Dariel Lopez, IF – Lopez had Tommy John surgery after signing last July. For a pitcher, that would have cost him this season, but position players have a shorter recovery time and he was at 100% shortly before the DSL season started. As someone who signed for $400,000, there were some high hopes, but they were also tempered a bit due to him missing so much time during rehab. Lopez exceeded all expectations with his playing, hitting .341/.405/.485 in 47 games, with 16 extra-base hits and a 15.9% strikeout rate. He mostly played shortstop, where he should be able to stick in the future due to his range, athleticism, hands and arm. There should be more power to his game in the future, as he has the bat speed, ability to square up the ball and a 6’1″ frame that has room to fill out.
  7. Carlos Jimenez, RHP – Jimenez was one of the youngest pitchers in the league this year, turning 17 in mid-July. He had quite the tragic story that turned into a high point for him when his brother (who played pro ball) was killed in Venezuela, while Carlos was on his way to a showcase in the Dominican, hoping to impress enough to get signed. He pitched well despite the circumstances, which eventually led to a deal with the Pirates (he was still only 15 at the time). Jimenez has a 6’2″ frame with a ton of room to fill out. He weighed just 140 pounds when he signed. Despite that size and youth, he pitched outstanding in his debut season, posting a 2.54 ERA in 39 innings, with 45 strikeouts and a .247 BAA. As you would expect with a pitcher this young, who will be filling out for the next few years, there is considerable projection. What you might not expect is the fact that his changeup has already been described as a plus pitch, or in the actual word I was told, “unhittable”. As he continues to improve his control and add velocity, his stock will continue to rise.
  8. Valentin Linarez, RHP – The 19-year-old Linarez has a frame that scouts dream about finding, standing 6’5″, with broad shoulders. He has already filled out, unlike most of the players here. He’s strong, with large hands and long arms. He tops out at 94 MPH, but mostly sits 91 MPH now, with a high-70s curve and a solid changeup that sits 82-85 MPH. Linarez is the only second-year player here. In his debut season, he had a decent 3.86 ERA, though it came with a 1.51 WHIP and a 29/22 SO/BB ratio in 39.2 innings. The control was much better this season, cutting down to 14 walks, while throwing 15.2 more innings. He had a 2.28 ERA in 2019 and also held batters to a .203 average this year, while striking out a hitter per inning (55 K’s in 55.1 frames). It’s the kind of progress you hope to see from a pitcher repeating the level and that (along with his age) should lead him to skip the GCL next year and take on a more advanced level.
  9. Enmanuel Mejia, RHP – Mejia is on the small side for a pitcher at 5’11”, 185 pounds. He’s also 20 years old already (turns 21 in December). There isn’t a lot of projection here due to his age and size/frame, but he’s also an advanced pitcher who should skip at least one level next year. Mejia throws 93-95 MPH and has a curve that was described as a plus pitch. He also throws a lot of strikes. With those pitches, he dominated the DSL, posting a 1.74 ERA in 20.2 innings, with a .137 BAA, an 0.82 WHIP and 37 strikeouts. Those numbers look great, but they were also skewed by his final outing of the season, where he gave up three runs. He came into the day with one run allowed all season.
  10. Jauri Custodio, OF – The Pirates lucked out on getting Custodio. He was originally signed by the Colorado Rockies in July 2018 for $150,000, but he failed his physical due to a deep bone bruise. By the time the Pirates signed him this February, he was fine physically and then he went on to put up a .324/.358/.448 slash line. Granted, he only walked ten times in 53 games, but he also had just 18 strikeouts, so he was putting the ball in play often. He showed a little bit of power in the pitcher-friendly league, while also using his speed effectively on the bases, going 15-for-19 in steals. Custodio played all three outfield positions, seeing most of his time in center field, where he picked up seven assists. He’s listed at 5’10”, 162 pounds, but he has started to fill out his frame already.

The 11-15 Group: Outfielder Osvaldo Gavilan would have been rated #2 on this list at this time last year, but he hasn’t started to live up to the hype of the $700,000 bonus he received. His .581 OPS was the lowest among all regulars on the Pirates1. Shortstop Luis Tejeda was another top signing who didn’t live up to the bonus ($475,000 or $500,000 depending on the source). He was one of the youngest players in the entire DSL, turning 17 years old days after the season ended. Tejeda had some strikeout issues, which led to a .634 OPS, plus he had some issues on defense, though the skills are there to play shortstop. Right-handed pitcher Sergio Umana was an All-Star, who put up a 2.39 ERA in 64 innings, with 59 strikeouts and a 1.11 WHIP. He was a late/low bonus signing out of Nicaragua, who missed out on the top ten because he turned 19 before Opening Day, so he was older than most players in the league. Listher Sosa is a 6’4″ right-hander, who posted a 2.72 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP in 11 starts. He received a $150,000 bonus due to his projectable frame and a fastball that already reached low-90s at 16 years old. Right-handed pitcher Domingo Gonzalez (pictured above) is the clear choice for most advanced player on either team. He last game in 2019 was six shutout innings and eight strikeouts for Morgantown. What kept him out of the top ten is his age (20) and the fact that he doesn’t have much projection left in his 6’0″ frame

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.

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