It’s always hard to get a handle on players in short season ball. The two leagues in which the Pirates have short season affiliates are both intended as introductory leagues, the New York-Penn League for college draftees and the Gulf Coast League for high school draftees and players coming to the US from the two Caribbean summer leagues. It’s unpredictable which players will make the transition quickly and which won’t, as many are getting their introduction to wood bats and most are seeing a level of competition they haven’t seen before. There are some early trends, though, that might provide some indications of which players eventually will be worth watching closely.
The Spikes haven’t had much good news so far this year. Their 5-18 record is . . . well, incredibly, it’s not the league’s worst. Aberdeen is 4-19, but nobody else is nearly as bad as either team. State College is last in team batting, last in ERA, and first in errors. They’re allowing just a hair under one unearned run per game. Some of this is a product of the Pirates’ laser-like focus on drafting high school righthanders the last few years. There’s little hitting talent coming up from the GCL Pirates. There’s also little coming from the college ranks through this year’s draft. The Pirates drafted three college hitters in the top ten rounds, but one (third rounder Alex Dickerson) hasn’t signed and another (sixth rounder Dan Gamache) is hurt. The pitching staff also is short of legitimate prospects, mainly because the team failed to sign four of its top ten picks last year, all of them high school righthanders. In addition, the best Latin American prospect who was expected to spend the year at State College, lefty Joely Rodriguez, also got hurt and went on the DL after his second appearance.
Still, a few intriguing players have emerged. Catcher Samuel Gonzalez is hitting 327/373/404 and has fanned only seven times in 52 ABs. Gonzalez tore up the Dominican Summer League last year, his second season there, but he was old for that level. At 22, he’s still just a little old for a player from the Dominican to be in the NYPL, but he’s handling the jump over the GCL well. Centerfielder Taylor Lewis got off to a miserable 1-for-25 start, but since then he’s gone 12-for-37 (.324) with five doubles and he’s walked more than he’s struck out. He also has five steals in six tries. Lewis went to college in Maine, so he’s making a bigger jump in competition than most of the college draftees playing in the NYPL.
Of course, there’s plenty of bad news on a team with a composite batting average of .209. The Pirates thought they had a strong group of Latin American position players from their 2009 signing class. Two of the more prominent ones, infielder Jorge Bishop and outfielder Exicardo Cayonez, opened the season at State College, but haven’t done well at all. Bishop is hitting 162/238/162 and is playing less and less. Cayonez went 2-for-32 (.063) with thirteen whiffs, and has been demoted to the GCL.
The three high school righthanders from the 2010 draft who are at State College have held their own. Stetson Allie may have an unimpressive 4.85 ERA, but he’s fanned well over a batter an inning and has shown improving control. Considering that he pitched very little until his senior year in high school, it’s a better showing than I expected. Nick Kingham has been hit pretty hard at times, but he’s sitting in the low 90s and fanning a batter an inning. Ryan Hafner has done better, posting a 3.24 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. The three of them are competing against mostly older, more experienced players and hopefully will improve as the season goes along, which is what happened with many of the high school draftees from 2009 during the 2010 NYPL season.
On the down side, pretty much all the rest of the pitching staff at State College is getting hammered. This includes the two most promising college draftees from this year who are there, lefties Josh Poytress (18th round) and Michael Jefferson (22nd round). They’ve only pitched a combined fifteen innings, though, and Jefferson actually has allowed only eight hits and no walks, while fanning eight, in 8.1 IP. Vince Payne, a JC righty drafted in 2010, has done well, with a 2.40 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and fourteen strikeouts in fifteen innings.
Gulf Coast League Pirates
The GCL Pirates are a different story, as they’re currently 11-7 and tied for first. They’re third in the GCL in runs per game despite having the lowest weighted average age in the league among their hitters. The pitching staff is about league average, and the pitchers also are the league’s youngest.
The Bucs’ offense has come mostly from four players. Two are infielders just up from Latin America. Yhonathan Barrios is hitting 346/443/558, with five steals in five tries. Alen Hanson is hitting 323/391/581, with seven steals in eight tries. Neither is a big guy, so it remains to be seen whether they’ll show much power as they move up. Outfielder Jose Ozuna has hit for good power, hitting 377/424/660, and has fanned only five times in sixty at-bats. Jonathan Schwind is hitting 333/429/611, but he’s a college draftee. He was apparently sent to the GCL to convert from the infield to catching, although he’s mainly serving as a DH in games.
The guys who are not hitting fit a mold—tall, lean outfielder—that seems to be very popular with the Pirates’ front office, much as 6’4” RHPs are. Gregory Polanco is showing his speed (six steals in six tries) and has walked twice as often as he’s struck out, but overall he’s hitting 224/344/306. Willy Garcia is struggling badly, hitting .170 with no walks and sixteen whiffs in fifty-three at-bats. Luis Urena, whom the Pirates considered a potential power hitter, has played only sparingly and struggled to make contact.
The story with the pitching staff begins and nearly ends with Luis Heredia. He’s had some control problems, walking nine in nine innings, but he’s allowed only three hits and . . . well, he’s still just 16 years old. Of the other pitchers, the only one who’s been especially noteworthy so far is lefty Orlando Castro, who’s been the ace of the staff. In four starts he has a 0.90 ERA and 0.800 WHIP, with 17 strikeouts in 20 IP. At 5’11”, he probably faces some pretty long odds.
Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.