The Pittsburgh Pirates have signed 39 international players since July 2nd. In my opinion, this is their best international signing class ever. Part of the strength this year comes from having a larger bonus pool to spend than any year prior to 2017, so there aren’t a lot of fair comparisons from the past, but what I like about this group is the diversity. It has high upside pitchers, it has middle infielders with bats, power hitting outfielders and a top notch catcher. As a group, there is a ton of athleticism, speed and defense.
The Pirates have less than $400,000 remaining in their bonus pool, and another signing pending physical that would could hear any day now. Unless they add bonus pool space via a trade, then they have likely signed their top players from this class already. There’s always an intriguing name or two that pops up late, but those players usually require bigger bonuses to sign. I expect a large portion of the remaining money to be spent, but more likely it will be spread around due to what is left unsigned at this point.
With that in mind, I wanted to look at the ten names to watch from this class. I know it’s a big group and adding pitchers who hit low-90s, along with one athletic shortstop after another, tends to make each addition signing just background noise. This is in alphabetical order because it’s too early to make a top ten list for these players. I could be missing someone who deserves to be mentioned here, but this is based on my own opinion of the players after receiving reports (and sometimes videos) on all 39 players. I included bonus info where available, though I’ll say that all of the unknown ones received at least six-figure bonuses to sign. All of the players signed at 16 years old, except one as noted below.
I was going to make this 11 players to watch because I felt compelled to add outfielder Enmanuel Terrero due to his $600,000 bonus. The report on got on him was decent, but he’s a small outfielder, who will likely move to a corner spot. I thought there were ten better names on the list and ten just sounds/looks better in the title than 11. The Pirates obviously like Terrero a lot, so I could easily be wrong on my early judgement.
Ten Players to Watch
Gilberto Alcala, RHP – Alcala signed for $450,000 and he’s 6’3″, 175 pounds. He has a solid frame/build for future projection, great arm speed and already has advanced feel for his curve. He has a solid changeup and nice downhill plane on his fastball, which sits 87-92, and touches 93 MPH. The Pirates were very high on him and (you’ll hear this a few times) he could easily be the top player from this entire group.
Omar Alfonzo, C – Alfonzo is the son of former big league catcher Eliezer Alfonzo, who played six seasons split between four teams. The younger Alfonzo turned 16 in early August, which makes his one of the youngest players signed this year by any team (August 31st cutoff for eligibility). He’s an offensive-minded catcher, though his defense is also solid for his age. The bat is advanced, with power potential from the left side. It’s considered raw power now, but the Pirates like the swing and his ability to get to that power. He was one of their top offensive targets of this signing period. Alfonzo stands in at 5’11”, 170 pounds.
Jesus Castillo, SS – He’s a switch-hitter who grew a lot this last year, now standing 5’11”, 160 pounds. He turned 16 in mid-July, which will make him one of the younger players in the DSL next year. There’s room to fill out here, but this pick is more about the defensive upside. He’s described as having very natural instincts on defense, with solid hand-eye coordination. We talked about the reasoning behind the Pirates signing a lot of shortstops in this 2019-20 international class. Not all of them will remain at shortstop, but Castillo is one of the best they signed and projects to stay at shortstop ahead of most of the others.
Tsung-Che Cheng, SS – He is the old man in this group, signing at 17 years old and turning 18 since then. He’s from Taiwan, where he finished school first. The Pirates inked him to a $380,000 deal shortly after the July 2nd signing period started. Cheng is an exciting prospect on offense, defense and the bases. He’s not a big player, listed at 5’8″, but he can already drive the ball a long distance. He’s a line drive hitter, who makes consistent contact, with above average speed (described as elite) that helps him take extra bases. He is very athletic, and has nice range and a steady glove already, with enough arm to stay at shortstop. He has already been in the U.S. and will play next year in the GCL.
Cristopher Cruz, RHP – The top rated signing by the Pirates according to outside sources, Cruz is one of four high upside pitchers signed on July 2nd. Their bonuses range from $350,000 to Cruz at $850,000, but any of the four could end up being the best. At 6’2″, he’s a very projectable pitcher, similar to what you see the Pirates look for in the amateur draft. He already has a clean delivery, great arm speed and a feel for pitching. He will sit 87-90 right now, but he will touch 92-94 in outings.
Ewry Espinal, OF – Espinal is all about power right now and it has potential to be plus power not far down the line. He’s a strong kid already, so despite being 16, there isn’t a ton of projection. He’s currently a corner outfielder, who has a very good arm, but he may see time at third base in the future. For having a stocky build, he runs well. His cost was lower than the top players (in the $200,000 range), but that doesn’t speak well to his upside at the plate. What you like here is the fact that the Pirates sent him to the U.S. for the Fall Instructional League. That’s very rare for players signed at 16 just three months earlier.
Roelmy Garcia, RHP – Listed at 6’2″, 172 pounds, he already throws a plus changeup. His velocity is currently in the same range as the other players here, but he has some of the best arm speed, and could easily end up being the hardest thrower in this class. Very athletic player. Big upside potential here. He received the lowest of the top four upside pitchers ($350,000), but he isn’t being discounted when it comes to who could possibly end up being the best.
Yojeiry Osoria, LHP – The fourth pitcher here who could end up as the best in this group. Osoria signed for $600,000. He’s a lefty with a broad frame and long levers. He has solid arm action, possessing three pitches with life. He already spins a curveball with potential for a better shape when he adds some velocity. His changeup is above average already and has plus potential. His fastball is 86-89 MPH and he commands it all around the zone. That’s rare at this age and you won’t find “command” used for anyone else here.
Delfin Ramirez, SS – A big upside shortstop who has excellent bat-to-ball skills, making a ton of contact with some raw power. He gets high marks for being an intelligent player, with good makeup. He could possibly stick at shortstop, but if not he would be a solid second baseman. Ramirez has grown two inches recently, so there is still plenty of catching up to do on the strength side. He received a decent bonus, which wasn’t released, but from my talks, it sounded like they thought they still got a steal here.
Javier Rivas, SS – There is huge potential upside with Rivas, who could end up being the top position player in this class and possibly the best overall player ahead of the four high upside pitchers. He’s 6’3″, with plenty of room to fill out. He’s very athletic, moves well in the field, with good hands and smooth actions. He runs well now, but there is projection with his speed as he continues to get stronger. He projects to stick at shortstop. His bonus wasn’t announced because he’s from Venezuela and clubs try to protect those players by not releasing their bonuses, though some get out.
We posted a video article here highlighting five of the players listed above. Definitely worth checking out.
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.