Last week we looked at the players of note on the pitching side down at Pirate City taking part in Extended Spring Training. This week we go to the hitting side, which has 33 names, including a player we looked at last week. This week will focus mainly on a large group of players signed as international free agents over the last 2-3 years. Every player here is in the 18-20 range, so they are both a long way from the majors and they have time to reach their potential upside.
We start with the same player we did last week because he’s the high bonus player in this group, receiving $3M to sign away from a Clemson commit. Bubba Chandler will have two-way work this year, seeing the mound, as well as time at shortstop/DH. His hitting appears to be behind the pitching at this point, but he’s an extremely athletic player with raw power potential. He was only used as a position player after signing last year and had a bit of a rough time in the FCL in limited work, with a .167/.324/.300 slash line and 16 strikeouts in 37 plate appearances.
Lonnie White Jr. received a $1,500,000 bonus to sign him away from Penn State. He played nine games after signing last year, with a similar strikeout issue as Chandler, but he did it with a .258/.303/.516 slash line. Just like Chandler, there is a lot of athleticism here and high upside from the toolsy outfielder.
Braylon Bishop signed for a late over-slot bonus last year that was basically all that the Pirates had left to give him ($268,700) from their bonus pool, but a lot less than what most people expected from his bonus total. He was highly rated coming out of high school, rating more like a 4th-5th round pick than a 14th round. He has elite bat speed, to go along with being highly athletic and fast on the bases and in the outfield. If it sounds like I’m repeating the same stuff for these three players, it’s because the Pirates targeted those types of multi-sport athletic players. He hit .192/.250/.192 in eight games last year.
Deion Walker was basically the Braylon Bishop of the 2019 draft, selected late and signing for a similar bonus, possessing athleticism, raw power and speed. Walker is a little bigger at 6’4″, and he hits from the right side (Bishop is a lefty). He was fighting for a job in Low-A Bradenton this year, so he might be there before the FCL season starts. Walker hit .200/.340/.300 in 33 games last year in the FCL.
On the international side, Shalin Polanco received the highest bonus for a an international amateur position player from the Pirates, getting $2.3M last January. He had a rough debut in the DSL last year, but still made the jump to the States, and he will be one of the top players to watch this FCL season for the Pirates. He hit .204/.284/.338 last year, finishing better than he started. I’ll note that this group already has four outfielders listed and there are more to come.
Javier Rivas had a rough debut at the plate in 2021, putting up numbers that placed him among the worst hitters in the entire DSL. However, he was a player who the Pirates were very excited over signing, and he was said to have huge upside. Defensively things were fine last year in the infield, but the spring he has shown signs of the offense that we didn’t see last year. I was told that he was a player to watch this year
Catcher Omar Alfonzo was another player who was highly regarded when he signed on his 16th birthday. He has a bat ahead of his defense behind the plate, but room to grow in both areas, as his power was more raw than game ready, while the defense was good enough that it was believed he would be able to stay behind the plate. He hit .232/.429/.333 in his first season of work in the DSL last year.
Ewry Espinal is a corner outfielder with plus raw power. The 19-year-old did not do well in his debut last year in the DSL, hitting .155 in 45 games, with 60 strikeouts. However, he is going to get a chance to develop because the power is a legit plus tool, ranking among the best in the system. Obviously he needs to make more contact to tap into it, but we are talking about someone with fewer than 200 plate appearances in pro ball.
Solomon Maguire was big signing of the Pirates late in the 2019-20 signing period. They actually had to acquire more bonus pool space in the Starling Marte trade to be able to sign him. He’s a toolsy center fielder, rated as one of the best prospects to ever come out of Australia. Unfortunately, his 2020 season was wiped out due to the shutdown, and his 2021 season was sidetracked by injury. He was basically rehabbing two different times last year, but doing it at the level he was slated to play, since there was no other option. Despite a $594,000 bonus, which was everything the Pirates had in their bonus pool at the time, his name gets lost among other prospects.
Outfielder Gustavo Armas was a highly regarded prospect, who was signed as part of the 2020-21 international signing class. He offered an advanced approach at the plate, with a potential for four plus tools. His lowest grade was running, which was still average/50. He hit .231/.378/.265 in 51 games last year. Only one player saw more games for either of the two 2021 DSL Pirates teams last year.
Jesus Castillo is another player who needs time to develop and fill out before we see his true potential, but he has the upside to be a strong middle infielder with speed. Very athletic player, with great instincts and hand-eye coordination. While he finished with a .613 OPS, he wasn’t over-matched and the lower number came from low extra-base hit numbers, which should improve as he gets stronger.
Deivis Nadal receives high marks for his defense at shortstop and he’s still raw enough that there’s plenty of upside at the plate to make him more of a complete player. On offense, he did not do well in the FCL last year, hitting .165, while failing to collect an extra-base hit. He did much better in the DSL in 2019, putting up a .791 OPS in 54 games, so we will see if a second season in the FCL proves to be different.
Dioris Valdez can be summed up in three words. Power power power. He’s basically a DH with off the charts raw power. It’s so raw that he homered just once in 97 at-bats last year, but he showed a solid approach at the plate, drawing his share of walks, while not striking out too often. Did I mention power?
Enmanuel Terrero signed for a $600,000 bonus, which was the highest given to a position player in the 2019-20 signing class. He came as advertised, with a strong approach at the plate, and solid tools across the board. He put up a .707 OPS, with more walks (37) than strikeouts (24) in 174 plate appearances. He would have more value as a center fielder, where he has fringe defense, but most of his time in 2021 came in left field.
Jeral Toledo was one of the more noteworthy signings in 2019-20. He’s an athletic middle infielder, switch-hitter, who was a bit raw and had plenty of room to fill out. He managed to put up a .731 OPS in 52 games (tops among all DSL Pirates), with more walks than strikeouts. He also played 42 games at shortstop, which is quite a lot when teams sign numerous shortstops and have to get them all time.
Jauri Custodio put up nice stats in the DSL in 2019 and then repeated the league last year, though he was held back by an injury. When he did play, he had an .845 OPS. He was originally going to sign with the Colorado Rockies for $150,000, but he failed the physical, then signed with the Pirates a short time later when his medicals were clear. The injury was nothing more than a very bad bruise.
Esmerlyn Valdez is another bat with huge power potential, who showed a bit of it in games last year, with eight doubles and five homers in his somewhat limited DSL time. He still has room to fill out more and with experience he should turn some of that raw power into game power. His bat is his carrying tool, so he needs that power to develop to its peak.
Wesley Zapata is an interesting promotion to the U.S. When he signed, the reports said that he was very raw, so their weren’t high expectations for his season. That turned out to be true, as he had a .538 OPS that was fueled by a solid walk rate. He played at 5’10”, 150 pounds last year and he added weight to get to that number. He’s got plenty of filling out to still do, but he has all of the tools to stick at shortstop and he does an excellent job at the plate as far as his approach, understanding of the strike zone and making contact. He got singled out for being a baseball rat. In other words, if the team had a doubleheader, he’d be out early for practice and want to play a third game afterwards.
This list has 11 noteworthy outfielders and six guys who can play shortstop. At least with the infielders, you can play them at second base or third base, but the Pirates are going to have quite a time getting all of those outfielders playing time. Believe it or not, there are four other outfielders there who I didn’t mention. Nothing like a friendly competition for playing time.
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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.